In Barbara Tuchman's seminal work on daily life in medieval times, A Distant Mirror, and also in William Manchester's wonderfully similar book, A World Lit Only by Fire, they point out that common folks back then had an extremely narrow prism by which they viewed events. They were illiterate, poorly fed, prone to disease, and what opinions they did express often emanated from the local clergy, who were only slightly better off. Life was nasty, brutish, and short, and real information could often not be gleaned from the rash of rumors that surrounded it.
We like to think that we are more sophisticated than those poor
ancestors of ours, but a quick glance at the internet and whoosh of
white noise it contains should give us pause. Yesterday I read a piece
that purported to be an interview with Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann,
who wanted to ban falafel in public school lunches. Why? Falafel, she
said, is a gateway food. Pretty soon they'll be wanted to eat shawarma
and then who knows, maybe they'll start asking, what other good things
are there in Arabia? This is how suicide bombers get started.
I was going to use this space to respond, but halfway through
the article my critical thinking skills kicked and I realized that while
Michelle Bachmann has been known for some idiotic and wacky ideas, this
one was just beyond the pale. Sure enough, it was a spoof. A spoof
that was now all over the internet.
In an age where examination and research are in short supply,
and where the bonds that connect us frequently come out of a hair-thin
wire from thousands of miles away, who can say how far we've come from
our brothers in the 13th century?