Have things changed that much?

I wouldn’t want to live in the middle ages. As much as readers of romance novels might think the days of knights and royalty were amazing, I think modern life is better in many ways. I wouldn’t even like to have been born a hundred years ago. Life has changed for the better for many people, maybe even most people, since the end of World War 2. Even so, I wonder how much has really changed in the broad structures of society.

We might have adopted democracy as a ruling system instead of monarchies, but power is still inherited, with those not born into money extremely unlikely to ever rise above their beginnings. Elected leaders also seem to be powerless, toothless. Financial giants now call the shots, certainly in Europe and the USA. Those are the real rulers of the world: a small, powerful elite which most certainly don’t have the greater good in mind. The recent scandal of the Anglo tapes shows that bankers called the shots and laughed at the government, screwing Ireland over and walking away with enough money to keep a small town salaried at the average wage for decades. More, they either kept their jobs with the associated staggering salaries, or were given other, equally or more lucrative positions.

Industry still exploits those who work for them, and not only those in countries we perceive as distant geographically as well as culturally. Supermarkets often use “temporary” staff to avoid giving people the benefits due to them, and to keep employees on a short leash, with zero job security. This has been shown to be the case with WalMart in the USA, land of the free (that is one of the biggest jokes I have ever heard, I can never help but chuckle when people call it that). I know from back when I operated a till at Hypermarket in South Africa in 1990 that it was true then, in that country, and I know some supermarkets in Ireland do the same. That is one example, in one industry: there are many more, in many different areas.

Nations waged war with the fodder generals threw at each other paying the price for diplomatic squabbles often manufactured or important only to people living to all intents on a different planet from those dying for their causes. You need only look at the death toll from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to see this is still true. For those who automatically think of soldiers killed or maimed – tragedies, no doubt – I would also like to point out that Afghani and Iraqui people have paid a far heavier price in lives, sometimes being murdered with impunity.

Strong nations did more or less as they pleased, shrugging off the suffering of innocents as an unavoidable price for… um… that important thing, you know the one. You saw this clearly in the concentration camps of the Boer War. The same thing is evident in the USA’s handling of the Bradley Manning affair, Guantanamo Bay, and the most recent flabbergasting incident with the president of Bolivia.

Heroes were punished, people of conscience persecuted for doing what was right. And you had empires which called the shots, paid lip service to proper conduct but did what they liked in reality, with little if any consequence. Again, the situation with Edward Snowden comes to mind. His revelations reveal just how little the USA and UK walk the talk, the way he is being persecuted puts an underline and exclamation point to them.

So tell me, have things really changed that much? I’m not sure they have.

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Hooking in Strange Places: Roche Castle

I really like a can-do spirit in a girl. When I say ‘girl’, I of course mean any human of the female gender. It’s a fantastic attribute in all people, but with the historic ‘you can’t’ attitude there’s been to girls and women, for us to say: “But I can!” is sometimes even today an achievement. Mind, I distance myself from the ‘If you believe in yourself, you can do anything!’ camp. That is a ridiculous thing to say. You can believe in yourself until you’re blue in the face, but you’re never going to fly without some kind of mechanical aid. You’re not going to become a commercial pilot, either, if you have to wear glasses as thick as bottle bottoms. Nor are you going to become a professional footballer if you can’t kick a ball straight.

You can get close to that, closer than anyone would have guessed you can. You can get a limited licence to fly with someone else, or practice your kicing until you can make the local team. Yet I think it’s in fact stupid to pour huge amounts of energy into learning to kick a ball so you can get into the team even though you have zero natural talent, in the process neglecting piano lessons and thus never developing your natural musical skills.

‘Can-do’ means, to me, knowing what you’re capable of and making a plan where your own skills fall short. Thus female pirates were likely not strong enough to do the most strenuous work involved in sailing and maintaining a ship, but they were good at leading people, so they did just that. I like a spot of ruthlessness as well, though those who use this quality to get what they want regardless of the cost to others will never have my unconditional admiration.

Thus it is that Roesha de Verdon is a woman I really shouldn’t like, but do. My feelings of course don’t interest her at all, because she has been dead for about eight hundred years. She lived in a time when Roman influence had, through Christianity and conquest, inflitrated and weakened the Brehon laws that had governed life in Ireland up to then. Therefore the progressive attitude to women was broken down, and the oppressive, alien, patriarchal system we still struggle to overcome today had long taken its place. I wonder, though, how much of that spirit remained. At least some of it found a home in Roesha’s heart. Continue reading