Y1K Was a Traumatic Time Too! SF Chroniclegreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Y1K Was a Traumatic Time, Too
John-Thor Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times Friday, December 24, 1999
The world was very old, precisely 4,952 years old, according to learned brains of the time, and novel and disturbing things were happening.
Never had so much money been in circulation, and never had so many seemed so eager to possess it. As Europe approached the year 1000, the population
--and cities -- had begun to grow. Tracts of forest were being cleared and planted to feed the additional mouths. On the fir-fringed shore of Lake Paladru, here in the foothills of the northern French Alps, three new settlements surrounded by stockades of thick oak logs were erected, distant forerunners of suburban sprawl and the gated community.
New technologies were afoot, as powerful in their way as a 667- megahertz microprocessor, and older technologies were working their way even to backwaters of Europe. A strange type of computing machine, the abacus, was arriving from the East, championed by the pope himself.
To the north of this lake, in a monastery in Burgundy, a restless and asocial cleric, Ralph the Bald, surveyed the Western world a millennium ago and decided that he didn't like most of what he saw.
``Alas, since the beginning of time, mankind has ever been forgetful of the benefits conferred by God, and prone to evil; like a dog returning to its vomit,'' wrote Ralph the Bald in his quirky, imperfect Latin.
``The leaders of the clerical and temporal orders alike fell into avarice, and they resorted, even more than had formerly been their wont, to robbery to satisfy their lusts. Middling and lesser people followed their example and plunged into monstrous sin,'' he wrote. ``Whoever before heard of so many incests, so many adulteries, illicit marriages between those of the same blood, shameless concubinage, and so much competition in evil?''
Ten centuries behind us -- a mere blink of an eye in the span of human history -- life and times around 1000 seem in many ways more remote and harder to fathom than the ancient civilizations of Greece or Rome.
The centralized model of political authority incarnated by the court of Charlemagne 200 years earlier was collapsing. Modern nations of Europe were in their infancy or yet to be born. For centuries, invaders had been sweeping in from the north, south and east.
Firsthand accounts of the time are scanty and mostly limited to the writings of monks. Even leading contemporary historians say they have a nearly impossible time imagining how the common people thought and felt.
Yet between this vanished world and our own, there are parallels. Some alive at the end of the first millennium, like critics of moral permissiveness in the United States now, lamented how much better and more upright life used to be. In an age of contradiction and confusion, there was a longing for order and the old and familiar.
The evidence that exists indicates that, like now, many people felt unsafe -- not just from robbers and murderers, but also from the never-distant threats of starvation, marauding nobles and foreign invaders.
At Charavines, the rising level of the lake forced colonists to abandon their three lodgings of logs, dried earth and thatch after less than 40 years. When they departed, they left behind an unparalleled trove of clues about their lives.
Preserved in the straw that settlers used for floor covering and the chalky mud of the lake bed, objects including flutes, fishhooks, chess pieces, backgammon counters and dice have been found by scuba divers. One of the carved wooden dice was obviously used by a cheater: It has two sixes.
Leaving their stockade for the last time, the long-ago inhabitants of Charavines ventured out into an uncertain world with a questionable future.
Ralph the Bald, one of the most meticulous reporters of these times, was hardly alone in his pessimism. Common wisdom was that the world was on a downhill slope, headed for the Last Judgment. The first long poem in the nascent French language, written down in this period, starts on this wistful note: ``Before, the world was great.'' Europeans didn't think they were living in the Middle Ages, but in the Final Age.
Unceasing warfare and pillage, recurrent crop failure, famine, epidemics, floods, the breakup of central authority, upheaval in society, ignorance and superstition -- such were the facts of life. In the lands that would become modern France, at least nine-tenths of the population was made up of illiterate peasants, serfs or slaves living in meadows or in clearings hacked from the forest.
It was an era without such now commonplace items as sugar, the potato, eyeglasses, the table fork, chocolate, coffee, tea, corn, the magnetic compass, mechanical clocks, wristwatches and the printing press.
It was a quiet, machine-free world. It also stank. The 400 monks at the Cluny monastery in Burgundy, the largest building in the Western world at the time -- and an establishment that Ralph the Bald was kicked out of -- took two baths a year. Many peasants lived in hovels with their livestock and might have slept next to the privy.
The Western world seemed to be at an ebb. Readers of Latin could peruse the works of classical writers and sense how inferior life had become since Rome was sacked in the fifth century. Arabs were the leading scientists and thinkers. Western Europeans also had little to rival the dazzling wealth and artistic sophistication of their Christian brethren in Constantinople, the center of the Byzantine East.
For Christians, a third of the year was made up of holidays and feasts, when it was a sin to work. There is some irony in this: Medieval men and women may have had to engage in long, back breaking drudgery at planting and harvest time, but their 20th century descendants, including Americans, put in far more hours, week in and week out.
Around 980, something of a building boom began in Western Europe.
A caste of traders and merchants, often Jews, formed. This was the embryo of the bourgeoisie and middle class that would play the key role in the social, economic and political revolutions to come centuries later.
As a war between the English and Danish invaders was at its most pitched, one of Ralph the Bald's fellow clergymen on the other side of the English Channel, Archbishop Wulfstan of York, shared his dire thoughts on what lay ahead. His words are a caution to those today who would try to predict the future.
``Dear friends,'' Wulfstan wrote in a sermon meant to be read by monks and parish priests from their pulpits, ``this world is in haste, and is drawing ever closer to its end, and it always happens that the longer it lasts, the worse it becomes. And so it must ever be.''
YEAR 1000 CONFUSION
At the end of the first millennium, it is doubtful the average peasant was even conscious of what year it was, or when 999 (or DCCCCLXXXXIX, as experts say a monk would have written it with his pen fashioned from a sharpened reed) segued into 1000.
Depending on the place and social circle, the year began at Easter, Christmas or the day the Virgin Mary was said by the church to have begun carrying the Christ child. In some areas, people counted the passage of time according to how long the king or local sovereign had been on the throne.
As for later historians' lurid reports of a ``Great Fear'' around that time, and supposed mass panic at the imminent coming of the antichrist, these conclusions now seem false to most scholars.
There appears to have been more unease as 1033, believed to be the 1,000th anniversary of Christ's crucifixion, loomed.
In his five volumes of writings, Ralph the Bald, a cleric in Burgundy, reported an upsurge then of pilgrims setting off for Jerusalem, presumably to get their spiritual affairs in order before the world came to an end.
Los Angeles Times
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)1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A18
-- Sheri (email@example.com), December 24, 1999
-- Sheri (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 24, 1999.
On the one hand the Chronicle declares, "Y1K Was a Traumatic Time Too!"
And on the other hand, the article states, "Even leading contemporary historians say they have a nearly impossible time imagining how the common people thought and felt. "
So in other words, the Chronicle has nothing to say, but says it anyway, and does so with more certainty and precision than do the histrians.
-- Scarecrow (Somewhere@Over.Rainbow), December 25, 1999.