Us from the future

• January 28th, 2011 • Posted in All posts

I’ve read a couple of books lately about the Tudor era: Anna Whitlock’s book about Mary Tudor, and Chris Skidmore’s book about Edward VI (Edward and Mary being a brother and sister under whose reigns first Catholics and then Protestants were persecuted).   I also recently saw the film The Other Boleyn Girl, which I enjoyed, and seemed true to what I had read about the Tudor world-view, though I gather its not that strong on historical accuracy., and which prompted me to think more that time in history.

I’m struck – as I always am when I see Shakespeare plays – with how different people’s world view was.  The acceptance of extraordinarily cruel punishments.  The killing of political opponents as more or less standard procedure.   The way that family duties flow upwards (children to parents) rather than downwards, and the way that the needs of a family’s ‘head’ trump the wishes of individual members.  The strange mix of a very frank and earthy way of talking about sex with strict rules about marriage and inheritance.  The massive double standards about chastity and sexual fidelity.  The seemingly cynical manipulation of religion oddly combined with a faith so intense that people are willing to die horribly for it…

The Tudor world-view  seems strange and even perverse from the perspective of now, and I wonder what about our own present western world view will seem equally strange and perverse from the future.  My guess is that we will be seen as having elevated the human individual to an odd degree: with individual freedom of choice as the supreme good, or in any case held up as such.  (For of course just like the Tudors we are capable of holding something up as supremely important but not necessarily treating it consistently as such in practice) .

I’m not very well-read in these matters but I guess this sanctification of individual choice is a product of capitalism.   The customer is always right.  (Again, as a matter of theory and rhetoric, though not necessarily in practice).  In the modern UK,  even the citizens of the  state are constructed as its customers, always justifiably aggrieved by the poor service, and always deserving of a better one.   In Tudor times, from what I can see, the idea of ‘citizens’ as customers of the state would have simply seemed bizarre.  Rather they would have been component elements within it, each one supposed to play a part, like cells in the body politic.

I guess there are other ways of seeing this relationship between individual and society, perhaps as yet inconceivable.

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