A quick browse of the internets yields…
Do the uppercrust of Victorian England, as they appear on Downton Abbey, really live like that? This blog post discusses succinctly the 19th century political and economic conditions that make up that world. Yes, they were wealthy. But were they powerful?
They were scared of social unrest but also completely ignorant about the hell that was boiling beneath in the factories that had disconnected most of the populace from the land.
The span of relevant history starts out with a major bailout of the landed gentry and the banking system, and ends with the rise of the financial sector providing much of the income for the Downton Abbeys of the time. It progresses through the Industrial Revolution to a late-Victorian English ruling elite that was smug, narrowly educated and scientifically illiterate, rich from the financial sector but with a manufacturing base that had been increasingly starved for the capital to keep up with the technological pace of change. It spans a time of tectonic social shift from an agrarian economy to one where a rising industrial middle class needed workers for its factories. Because of that fundamental change, the working poor were largely cut off from the land and social structure which produced the food they ate, making them dependant solely on the factories that provided their wages.
It would seem that most of the upperclass were out of touch with the rest of England. And well, that isn’t so different in our own 1%. My own dissertation project will overlap with this historical moment. It makes for a good sum.
Also in the queue this morning was an article I skimmed yesterday from the UK Guardian about a woman who found out her husband had abducted and raped two women only a month after they were married. It triggered a series of responses on the truereddit site about what makes people do these kinds of horrible things. That is a common concern. But also reflected on how the media tells the same narrative about the awful perpetrator and little is exposed about the people who surround the crime. This article, from the perspective of the wife, describes the moment from when she found out through his arrest, release on bail, sentencing, and then imprisonment. Her life has “moved on” as they say, but clearly, it has been radically altered by the actions of her husband.
The comment from the truereddit site that stuck with me:
It only takes a moment to ruin a life, and he ruined dozens in the span of a few hours. 99.9999% of his existence was spent not being a monster, but just being a man, an often victimized man. But then there is that brief space, only a few combined hours of his life, in which he destroyed everything.
The cognitive dissonance that comes with something like this story is humbling. We sympathize with the victims, but yet we also sympathize with him, and very much with her.
My final feeling is that we could all do with a little more empathy, and that most people are not always monsters, but sometimes they do monstrous things. So they should be punished fairly and with an eye towards justice and, if possible, rehabilitation.
But for this particular story, there is only sadness.
This goes with the recent story about the mother who was sentenced to 99 years in Texas for abusing her two year old while potty training–abuse that had been ongoing but then that put the two year old in a coma. The woman is 23 years old. Her sentence could have been as light as probation, but it would seem that they wanted to make an example of her and also that her defense was poorly prepared.
In both cases, the people made decisions which then ended their normal lives but were also decisions with long histories of trauma. I follow these kinds of stories to track how fragile and unscripted it all is.