The Not So Dark Ages

Actually, it depends what period you label as the Dark Ages, but here is an excerpt from a longish interview Douglas Rushkoff gave at HiLobrow that gives us a counterintuitive perspective:

PN: They didn’t get money from Rome to fund their cathedrals?

DR: They did not. The Vatican and central Rome did not build the cathedrals. The funds came from local currency, which was very different than money as we use it now. It was based on grain, which lost value over time. The grain would slowly rot or get eaten by rats or cost money to store, so the money needed to be spent as quickly as possible before it became devalued. And when people spend and spend and spend a lot of money, you end up with an economy that grows very quickly.

Now unlike a capitalist economy where money is hoarded, with local currency, money is moving. The same dollar can end up being the salary for three people rather than just one. There was so much money circulating that they had to figure out what to do with it, how to reinvest it. Saving money was not an option, you couldn’t just stick it in the bank and have it grow because it would not grow there, it would shrink. So they paid the workers really well and they shortened the work week to four and in some cases three days per week. And they invested in the future by way of infrastructure — they started to build cathedrals. They couldn’t build them all at once, but they took the long view — with three generations of investment they could build an entire cathedral, and their great-grandchildren could live in a rich town! That’s how the great cathedrals were built, like Chartres. Some historians actually term the late Middle Ages “The Age of Cathedrals.”

Here’s the really interesting part:

They were the best-fed people in the history of Europe; women in England were taller than they are today, and men were taller than they have been at any point in time until the 1970s or 80s (with the recent growth spurt largely the result of hormones in the food supply). Life expectancy of course was still lower; they lacked modern medicine, but people were actually healthier and stronger and better back then, in ways that we don’t admit.

That was right before the corporation and the original chartered monopolies were created, before central currency was created and local currencies were outlawed. When everything gets moved into the center, things began to change.

PN: It seems like the Dark Ages were not perhaps so “dark.”

DR: Yes, I think that’s disinformation. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist about these things, but I think the reason why we celebrate the Renaissance as a high point of western culture is really a marketing campaign. It was a way for Renaissance monarchs and nation-states, and the industrial age powers that followed, to recast the end of one of the most vibrant human civilizations we’ve had, as a dark, plague-ridden, horrible time.

Read the whole thing, it is a very engaging reflection on the history of corporations and currency. Depending on your interests, that may sound as appealing as watching paint dry on a muggy day, but really, it’s quite good and comes complete with imbedded video including scenes from Monty Python and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Oh, and I almost forgot to add: No, I don’t want to be a medieval peasant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s