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Past is Pornog

archaica brings to my attention this thread at Marginal Revolution, in which a reader solicits comments on what he should do in the event he is transported back to the year 1000AD.

I find this sort of thing fascinating, because it is both speculative and useless, qualities I highly value in projects on which I expend a lot of thought. Some of the comments are funny and clever, some are pretty moronic, but all certainly set you to thinking. In my case, I very seriously doubt I could accomplish the sorts of things most frequently suggested, given that I lack most practical skills and don't know anything about engineering or applied science. I might be able to make it as a military leader, because I know a lot about strategy and tactics and physically, I would be at least a foot taller than most anyone else I met, but that would still be a ticket to an early grave. I do know a lot about European history, but most of what I could tell people would involve predicting horrible disasters, so eventually I would probably just be shunned or killed. My knowledge of basic hygiene would certainly be useful, but I'm not sure if I could accumulate power and influence just by telling people to wash their hands and not throw shit out the window.

Probably my best hope would be to amass lots of money (first through wagers, then managing small-scale resources, and then through the introduction and master of modern financial instruments), and then by prematurely birthing latter-day concepts like democracy, trade unions, psychology, sociology and certain aspects of Machiavellian politics. I'd still probably either get assassinated or outstripped by my own creations, but assuming I could manage to avoid getting buboes or what have you, I might end up as a widely reviled but begrudgingly respected elder statesman of sorts. Also I would invent baseball.

What about you?

Comments

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calamityjon
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
"Get me Adémar de Chabannes! Adémar? You know that unique sound you've been looking for?"
My primary goal would be, when in attendance at some sort of fete or celebration or what-have-you, to get really comically frustrated by the old-fashioned music being played by the minstrels and then burst up on the stage, take the mandolin from one of them, and then shred out with totally awesome rock-and-roll music. And it would be so infectious that the other performers, despite having no experience with this form of music in any capacity, would immediately intuit the structures and melodies of the rocking-hard guitar jams I was blasting out and join in, and everyone would get totally into it and surprisingly begin dancing the Pony and the Mashed Potato and the Twist and other dances they had no way of knowing until I blew their medieval minds, and we'd totally show the stuffy old Eleventh Century what partying is REALLY all about.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
"It's your cousin! MARVIN de Chabannes!"
I briefly thought about that kinda thing, like, whoa, I could take credit for postmodernism, "write" the works of Pound, etc. But hardly anyone knew how to read back then, and them that did would find anything I wrote either incomprehensible or blasphemous.

It's also fun to consider that unless you got plunked right straight into London or Paris, or somewhere within walking distance of where the Pope or a king lived, you'd be pretty much fucked no matter what you could do. It ain't like you could just go catch a train. I remember reading in some Eric Hobsbawm book that until, like, the mid-18th century, 99% of all humans on the planet never went any further than five miles from where they were born. I was completely flipped by that.
Re: "It's your cousin! MARVIN de Chabannes!" - ludickid - Jun. 11th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: "It's your cousin! MARVIN de Chabannes!" - ludickid - Jun. 11th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
tx_cronopio
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes. Way back when I first read about Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, I reflected on how useless I would truly be.

I'd rather go back to 1960 and buy Xerox stock.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
Shit, I could do pretty damn well for myself if I could go back in time to, like, 2003.
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eatsoylentgreen
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
probably raise pigs, like everyone else
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
But you'd be a pig farmer --- FROM THE FUTURE!
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brandawg
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
It's depressing when practicality is applied to the idea of trying to swindle 1000 year old people out of their money.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
Depressing...or AWESOME?
Hey, man, if you're 1000 years old and you haven't learned how to hold on to your cash in all that time, you deserve to get swindled.
Re: Depressing...or AWESOME? - brandawg - Jun. 11th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
shashalnikya
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
I'd build a DeLorean out of wood and somehow get it up to 88 miles per hour, thereby getting myself the hell out of there pronto.

1000AD was a shitty time period all around.

On the other hand, I could probably figure out how to invent gunpowder, given enough time. Hell, if Captain Kirk could do it...

I'd also be obsessed with leaving stupid messages for the future. Like for instance I'd carve Autobot symbols into rocks or build life-size statues of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and leave them places where archaeologists would stumble across them.
calamityjon
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
I once promised myself that if I ever went back to prehistory, I'd carve internet memes on rock walls. All "OH HAI" over cave paintings ...
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perich
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
I'd like to think my revolutionary technique of "pouring alcohol on wounds" would earn me some scratch as a battlefield chirurgeon or the like.

Failing that, I could always dig ditches.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
It occurs to me that I could demonstrate really basic principles of Newtonian physics, but unless I happened to run across an engineer people would just shrug and go, "Okay, what else you got?"
blue_straggler
Jun. 11th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
I was reading that thread this morning and spent an undue amount of time annoyed at all the folks saying they'd just build a printing press or invent the steam engine. Wha...? Because that's something you know how to do right now, internet slug? Or, just as good, "get a job with the pope or some rich noble." Because no one at the time had the idea to try that? I'm sure the pope was very lonely, waiting for dudes from the future to show up and ask for the 1000 AD equivalent of a slacker office job. /rant

Anyway, the first thing I thought of was that being able to write would get you somewhere, as would knowing some basic probability, and being the first to try any number of scams based on those two skills. But being bigger would probably be the most useful thing, as you would have less trouble finding the sort of backbreaking physical toil which you're going to be doing for the rest of your life.

Inventing baseball is a swell idea. Inventing basketball is even better--less equipment needed, and you'd definitely be the tallest player.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the number of people who claim to have a working knowledge of how to build technological devices is pretty ridiculous. Like I said above, I could show people the THEORY behind a steam engine, but unless those people were engineers, it would be little more than a parlor trick. And building a printing press? I know how one works, I have no fucking idea how to BUILD a printing press and even if I did, I know nothing about mining or any of that shit.

Also, I cracked up at the dudes who said they would use their knowledge of martial arts. Yeah, that'll help you against a whole army.

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tritium
Jun. 11th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)
Die, probably. I mean, even quicker than most European peasants. I would probably be able to build a crude printing press with movable type, but that's be useless without some ink, and I seriously doubt anyone would give me some.
ludickid
Jun. 11th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of something that Boyd Rice once said when he was asked about 'rugged individualism' and the idea of libertarianism: "The majority of people in the world today couldn't even make a pencil on their own, so don't talk to me about the power of the individual."
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brandiweed
Jun. 11th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Alfred Bester hashed a lot of this out pretty well in his story "Hobson's Choice."
kleenexwoman
Jun. 11th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
Not being able to speak Old English or even Middle English, I probably wouldn't be able to understand anybody and would quietly carve out a niche for myself as a deaf-mute village idiot with fortunate teeth. Perhaps some wise woman with a lot of cats would take pity on me and teach me her folkloric ways, and I could sit around stewing herbs and trying to tell Disney versions of fairy tales to the cats until we both got burned at the stake. Fun times.
kudaspeaks
Jun. 11th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, I was pretty much going to stand near kindling to make it easier for the time-natives to fry my witch ass too.
feisty_robot
Jun. 11th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)
Shockingly, my PhD in Robotics would not be much use, so I imagine instead I would die, screaming and alone, in a ditch. Either from wounds inflicted by some passing violent drunkard, or from a hideous plague to which I have no immunity (and no penicillin).

I know a crapton of fascinating stuff that is absolutely useless before about 1970. Even my Boy Scout days only made me self-sufficient if surrounded by hundreds of dollars of high-tech equipment. Man, I suck.
slammerkinbabe
Jun. 11th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
(I deleted my previous comment because how did I think we were talking about the Mayans? Yeesh.)

I'm pretty sure I'd wander around trying to invent third-wave feminism until I had a seizure or an episode of bipolar, at which time it would be decided that I was possessed by demons and I would be burned at the stake or put to some other variety of painful death that would look great on IMAX screens a thousand years later. There is the small possibility that I would be declared a saint and my every epileptic grunt or rapturous manic utterance would be considered to have been channeled straight from God. But I'm sure I'd still wind up being put to death in that case, eventually. The only difference would be that in a thousand years some little girl who wouldn't be me, because I had already existed, would go to Catholic school and hear all the gruesome details of the Saint Kylie who had perished for her godliness a thousand years before.

Edited at 2008-06-11 07:28 pm (UTC)
flying_blind
Jun. 11th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
After infecting those around me with modern viruses and other evolved disease agents I carry and to which I have immunity but they wouldn't, I would most likely die of one of medieval viruses or other disease agents to which they had immunity and I didn't.

Should I survive the medieval illness, and should the survivors of the illnesses I'd brought not put two and two together and kill me for having brought them an epidemic, I'd take myself as quickly as possible to the nearest Muslim city, where I would at least be surrounded by people who believed bathing was not a sin, and who did not allow pigs to run loose and shit in their streets.

Then I'd probably live out my days on their charity as one of the afflicted of Allah, being the crazy guy who thought he was from the future.
oilyrags
Jun. 11th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
I dunno, man. With skills like literacy and life drawing I might possibly be able to eke out a living as a scribe or printmaker. Maybe.
feisty_robot
Jun. 11th, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC)
I dunno. How literate are you in 1000-year-old languages? And your life drawing skills are so informed by renaissance and post-renaissance concepts like perspective that your art would be nigh-incomprehsnisble blasphemy to the nobles and church. I think you'd die in a ditch next to me and slammerkin. I'll save a rat for you.
BLANK - oilyrags - Jun. 11th, 2008 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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