The Wild, Wild New York

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the books that changed my life was a pop history tome called “The Good Old Days… They Were Terrible!”  In little, bite-sized chunks, it discussed how awful it was to live in 19th century New York – being amazed at how much higher the crime rates were back then, how filthy the streets were, how likely you were to die of disease.
That, in turn, led to me discovering Luc Sante’s “Low Life,” which delved deeper into what it was like, living in old times, and from there I’ve read probably fifteen different books on New York in the 1860s-1890s.  They all tell the same stories: gangs pretty much dominated the streets, rarely killing but beating people up at a moment’s notice, causing riots on a regular basis, tearing life apart.  The politicians paid lip service to fixing the problems but were really terrified of the gangs, and when they were serious about it on occasion, their solutions tended towards “Jail them all and make them miserable,” overlooking the fact that they were pretty miserable to begin with – that’s why they turned to crime.  Sans education or any opportunities to better yourself, mugging and crime was at least an option to feed yourself.
But people who I’ve told these stories to always wondered: “How did people put up with this shit?”  I mean, you’d think people would wake up and say, “Holy crap, the continual terror of living on unsafe streets, the worry of being assaulted by some maniac for your wallet – that seems like the kind of thing folks would eventually rebel against!”
But no.  If anything, history shows us that when violence happens, we just get used to it.  We say, “Well, that wasn’t me” and we cluck our tongues and go, “That’s horrible” and our shoulders hunch in a shrug of, “Well, what can we do?” And the people with simple, satisfying solutions ram them through and they don’t do anything to fix it at all, and the real solutions – which are complex and not very satisfying or popular – take years to get enacted, if they do at all.
And all the while, we start to take it for granted.  This is what happens.  It’s just the way things are.  The horror fades and we start to just accept it all as a cost of life here.
I bring this up because for the third time in a month, there’s been a public shooting.  And the Onion gets it right: “Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play Out.”
We do.  Over, and over, and over again.

2 Comments

  1. Skylos
    Aug 13, 2012

    If we don’t accept the environment in which we live, we make ourselves miserable in our inability to change it.
    I’d rather be content and at risk than miserable, wouldn’t you?

    • Astrogirl
      Dec 15, 2012

      Hell no! Better to actually live your life and try and change something for the better.

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