Sunday, December 4, 2016
It always takes me a couple of weeks after the cold weather sets in to get over my impulse to hibernate and get my ass out of the house. But we don't often reflect on the way life changed in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
I heat my house with wood -- and so far there's been plenty of deadfall in the neighborhood, along with trees felled for other reasons, that I haven't had to kill anything just so I could burn it. It's quite a lot of work but it's good for me -- otherwise I suppose I could join my neighbor's gym in Norwich. But I have a log splitter, two chainsaws, a tractor and a pickup truck. So yeah, there's some fossil fuel in there but there's still a big energy return on investment. However, most people just turn a knob and presto, their house is warm. Of course they send a check every month for the privilege.
Also, I turn a knob and get water. I push a lever and my excrement disappears. I turn another knob and my food cooks. I flip a tiny lever and it's bright as day at night.
None of this was true for even the wealthiest people until a little more than 100 years ago. In winter, you were cold. With immense effort using handsaws and hammering steel wedges and loading horse-drawn wagons vigorous young men could lay in the 8 or 10 cords of wood or more they needed to keep one room of a drafty house reasonably warm all winter. When the sun went down people sat in the dark with maybe a couple of candles. You had to go outside to get water, and to relieve yourself. Alternatively you could use a container and carry it outside later.
This was everybody -- including the most prosperous farmers and merchants. This was how Thomas Jefferson lived. Of course he had slaves to do the firewood, but that didn't mean his bedroom wasn't cold in January. There is a great deal more that was very different. I don't think we allow our imaginations to encompass what an astonishing change in the condition of human existence has happened, certainly in the wealthiest parts of the world.
So now, think about the people who feel deprivation, who feel their life circumstances are bleak and who are deeply disappointed and anxious -- people right here in the U.S. who have jobs, who have average incomes of about $70,000 a year, who live in warm houses with indoor plumbing and electric lights. Those are Trump voters -- yes, they have average incomes higher than Clinton voters, higher than the general population. There were plenty of Trump yard signs out here and they weren't in the trailer parks. They were in front of big houses with expensively landscaped and beautifully kept grounds. Swimming pools. Outbuildings. And they feel oppressed.