Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

The Disaster of the Past

I’ve started reading Matthew Connelly’s book Fatal Misconception, which is a history of the population control and eugenic movements. So far the book is quite good, and I hope, once I’ve finished it, to write up a more formal review. For the moment, though, I’d thought I would quote from the book’s opening, which I found quite striking:

Imagine a world with an average life expectancy of less than thirty years. Many babies do not live to see their first birthday. Subject to chronic malnutrition, children are vulnerable to disease, grow slowly, and find it hard to learn. Those who survive to adulthood seem stunted, with an average body mass a third smaller than our own. The great majority live off the land. The few who inhabit cities – dwelling with their own waste and drinking water alive with microbes – are even more likely to die early deaths. Altogether, there are not even a billion people on earth, less than a sixth as many as there are today.

This is not some post-apocalyptic future. It is the world we left behind two hundred years ago.

The amazing thing is that historically speaking conditions 200 years ago weren’t particularly bad. They were, if anything, better than they had been for most of human history. What is atypical is not the poor condition of people 200 years ago, or of many people today. Rather, it is the high standard of living the West currently enjoys that is out of the ordinary.


May 22, 2008 - Posted by | History, Poverty


  1. I’m eager to read your review of Connelly’s book, which I’ve been interested in getting reading — in my plentiful spare time.

    The point you quote here is staggering, and yet one which most people seem incapable of grasping, or if they do, do so only with derision: “What, I’m supposed to be greatful because things aren’t even worse?”

    In a word: yes.

    Comment by Darwin | May 22, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yeah, I’ve always been troubled with such negativity and ingratitude. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel disappointed about things in my life, etc., but it only takes a moment to put things in perspective. The worst in modern day USA, is infinitely better than the average in most of the world, and it’s all better than before Christ and infinitely better than before the Covenant. To have lived in the days prior to Abraham would have been more akin to being an animal than what we now recognize as the norm. But ahh, praise the grace of God…

    Comment by Rick Lugari | May 23, 2008 | Reply

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