Excerpts From The Book of Meh

From Chapter one:

In the beginning there was lots of very dark darkness and very cold cold stuff, which wasn’t at all nice and although no one existed yet, they were all really miserable.

And Meh, the god of this world, thought ‘Well, this isn’t much fun’ and so He created the universe, with the Milky Way above and the Place of Torment below. And the Milky Way is a beauteous place of flowing streams of milk and cream and comfortable sofas beside cosy fires, while the Place of Torment is a cold and frozen place of hard floors and empty food bowls. And that was the first day, and a jolly good first day’s work it was too.

On the second day, Meh created the earth by vomiting up a giant hairball, and then sat back as life rapidly evolved without any further input from Meh, which was how He liked it, so He could curl up and take a little nap…

From Chapter three:

‘And thou shalt make images of Meh, and cause them to be distributed, yeah, all over the internet and into the world even unto the furthest corners. There shall be infinitely more of these images than those of dogs, for I, Meh, am a jealous god.

‘And be it known my chosen ones, whom I love and have created in my own image, shall be afforded a privileged place in thine homes, otherwise I shall visit plagues upon thy households, yeah, even unto the seventh generation of thy accursed species.

‘But those who treat my beloved offspring well shall have their eternal reward, most especially in the Milky Way, while those who mistreat them shall be condemned to be pounced upon and bitten for all eternity, and great will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth.’

From Chapter seven:

And know that this is the truth, for it is written herein and thou shalt believe it for it is the word of Meh.

It is told there was a Man of Meh, and he came unto the land of Babylon to preach to the people there tolerance and goodwill to all those that walk upon four legs and are furry and purr when pleased, yet the people received him with hostility and drove him out into the desert.

And thus Meh said ‘Lo, I shall send plagues to irritate and annoy these godless people until they learn the error of their ways.’ There was first, then, a plague of fleas, which certainly irritated them, although it was insufficient to cause them to mend their ways. So Meh then turned the milk sour, and this annoyed the people, but they still denied Meh and said ‘We don’t want to listen to some preacher spouting a load of old bollox’ and so Meh then caused all the fish in the fish market to be a bit off, and not really smell all that good. And the people said ‘Oh, leave it out. We’ll make our own rules and laws.’

So Meh did withdraw from the world, and he did sulk a goodly while.

The Enduring Lie of A Golden Age

It seems that huge numbers of people have an impression that there was a ‘Golden Age’ at some previous point of their, or some other, society.

They may not define it in those words, or even acknowledge it as such, but it seems to be very common for people to yearn for another time. Sometimes, this is nostalgia – for the days of their youth – but frequently it is for some far-off time that they feel to be somehow better than the time they live in.

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Fantasy books frequently encourage this sort of thinking. Regardless of the actual storyline, the heroes and villains and cast of other odd characters tend to run around and fight and go on quests and sit around in quaint thatched inns quaffing head-splitting alcoholic drinks and everyone is jolly and no one ever dies of dysentery or bubonic plague in misery and agony and squalor.

The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of this. It is a favourite of mine, but it is very noticeable how no one dies of disease, but mostly lives to an exceedingly old age unless chopped into pieces by Orcs.

Hollywood, too, plays its part in this. To take a film at (almost) random, an old version of ‘Robin Hood’ (set in medieval England, remember) depicts a group of merry men dressed in very strange attire living in the depths of a forest and merrily ambushing the Bad King’s men, merrily dining at long tables out beneath the spreading branches of merry oak trees under starry skies and everyone looks clean and clean shaven and everyone is merry, and it never rains.

Pah!

This is meant to be medieval England. Life expectancy at the time was around 30 years. Huge numbers of people died of dysentery, mainly because there was no concept of hygiene. Occasional plagues carried off massive numbers of people, emptying entire towns and villages. There were no antibiotics or anaesthetics. Disease was sent by God and the only way to cure it was considered to be prayer. Or witchcraft. Women routinely died in childbirth, in great pain. The majority of children never reached their teens. Every peasant in every village was effectively a slave under the command of the local lord, who held the power of life and death over them, and might exercise this on a whim at any moment. The threat of famine was ever present.

Pain and misery was a given.

The majority of people lived, too, in a very real terror of the Devil and the threat of eternal damnation.

The list of horrors is almost endless. The phrase ‘life was nasty, brutish and short’ is an apt description of those times. Certainly, I would not wish to live under those conditions.

There are plenty of other ‘Golden Ages’, of course. Almost any time in history can exercise a fascination on us, if certain aspects of it appeal to us and there are things we dislike about the society we live in. And it is natural to yearn for something better; something more than we have.

And this is not to suggest that every age was a living hell for everyone in that society, but that life in most of these times was reasonably decent for the very few on top of the pile, and pretty miserable for the rest. In fact, the measure of how ‘Golden’ an age was, tends to be the conditions of the upper echelons of that society, and perhaps those of a middle class, if such existed.

There is much wrong with our world today. But the huge advances seen over the last hundred years or so, especially in medicine, have meant that our lives have been improved out of all recognition. No longer does surgery equate to filling the patient with a quart of whisky and then sawing off a leg or an arm. No longer do those patients routinely die of infections after surgery, thanks to antibiotics. High blood pressure is controlled, rather than routinely killing. Children usually survive all the diseases of childhood, rather than being most likely to die. Women rarely die in childbirth, and the pain can be somewhat controlled.

Women and children are no longer the legal chattels of men.

Work conditions are hugely improved. Children do not go down mines or work at dangerous looms 14 hours a day. Instead, most receive a proper education. Adults, too, work fewer hours and under far better conditions than previously. When they are too old or frail to work, the state provides a certain amount of dignified support. People do not as a rule die these days of starvation. We do not execute children for stealing sixpence, or poaching rabbits on the Lord’s estate.

In most cases, for most people, today is the Golden Age.