The past was awful. It was a time of choleric ignoramuses flopping around in their own shit and killing each other for entertainment. I feel bad for everyone who lived before today.

Imagine how many generic night skies you would have to stare at in a row, and for how long you would have to stare at them, before you would recognize the individual stars well enough to give hundreds of them names. Imagine how much longer you would have to stare up there before you would figure out, simply by observing their movements—without the aid of textbooks or telescopes or satellites or spacecraft—that some of them revolved around others. Now imagine how bored you would have to be to consider doing that. Imagine how bad everything else would have to be before you’d voluntarily choose to devote your life to figuring out, with primitive writing tools and your own brain and nothing else, the stars’ relative positions and the duration of their orbits and the Earth’s orbit around the sun and its axial tilt. Imagine living in a world where all that would seem like a preferable alternative to looking down.

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That is what the past was like. A nightmare. You stared at the sky because there was nothing else to stare at except horror and pestilence and open-air rivers of shit, and you imagined that maybe after you died you’d get to go up there, and you prayed for it to happen quickly. And you probably shat in your hands because nobody knew anything about hygiene yet.

Pregnancy was a death sentence. A gash on your leg was a death sentence. Accidentally offending the local rich person was a death sentence. Everything was a death sentence. Everyone was stupid as hell and bad-smelling, and there was shit smeared everywhere, and if George Carlin popped out of a time-traveling phone booth tomorrow and informed you that you had to go live in an earlier era but could choose which one, the only sane response would be, “Does yesterday count?” And if he said no, then the only sane response would be to bash your own head in with a door.

With that in mind, here is a ranking of the eras in descending order of how good it would be to be a human being during them.

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1. Tomorrow
If nothing else, many people get paid tomorrow, so they’ll be in good moods.

2. 1993-today
The dawn of civilization. The first time in human history that being alive was (marginally!) better than being eaten by a bear.

3. Being hit by a car

4. The future
It’s probably gonna be like The Road!

5. 1976-1992
Bad clothes. Bad hair. Bad music. No internet. No cellphones. If you needed to learn something, you had to go to the library and hope they had a book about it. If you needed a phone number, you had to have a phone book. How did we do anything. How did we live. We did not. Life was garbage back then.

6. 1968-1975
Imagine going back in time and having to deal with the peak years of Cold War hysteria and the perceived threat of nuclear annihilation looming over everything, plus everything was fucking chartreuse and burnt orange, and everybody listening to fucking Styx all the time. Christ. No way that’s better than being dead.

7. 1946-1967
Much of the same bullshit as above, minus the gains (in the United States, at least) of the Civil Rights movement.

8. 1928-1945
Depression and war and horror. If you were a regular person during this era, you probably were catching a bayonet in the guts or being squashed to jelly by a piece of industrial equipment. You probably had polio and smallpox at the same time. What passed for “entertainment” was the privilege of falling asleep; if you didn’t have any dreams, it could almost be like a dream where you were dead, which was the best kind to have.

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9. 1913-1927
More war and horror. Plus flu pandemics! World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic combined to kill something like six percent of the human race during these years—the flu in particular reached virtually every inhabited corner of the earth and, like the war, took its heaviest toll among people in the prime of their lives—and left the world a shattered wreck. Plus, penicillin wasn’t discovered until 1928.

10. 1865-1913
Sure, there weren’t any global wars during this period, but still: Only the tiniest fraction of humanity had indoor plumbing. Medicine was ridiculously primitive, as were travel options. You lived in a mud pit on the “frontier”; daily life was a frantic struggle to ward off death. Even wealthy people were filthy and gross and smelled bad and had bad teeth; the cities that the rich people’s miserable workers built to be close to the factories where they got their limbs ripped off were soot-choked hellscapes. Water fluoridation was decades off. Only the rich could make a phone call, and there was nothing to talk about anyway. “Oh, nothing much, just shitting myself inside-out with dysentery, gonna be dead soon; give my love to typhus.”

10. 1820-1864
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, now you could get a job being cooked alive in a coke oven instead of farming hogs you fed with your own shit. We’re getting back to the “day-in day-out wallowing in rivers of feces” times in human history, here. Everything was disease and misery and death for everyone all the time. Oh also the United States had a civil war.

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11. 1440-1819
Remember at the beginning of Mad Max: Fury Road, when all those filthy armless bastards are shambling up to the skull-face guy’s mountain for the privilege of fighting over the dirty water he pours on them? Even those motherfuckers would jump-kick their own heads off before they’d go live in fucking 1732. You couldn’t take a shower. You couldn’t turn on a light. You couldn’t travel anywhere. You dug a hole behind your crumbling shit-brick hovel to take a dump, unless you needed the shit to make a fire so that you could cook some shit on it.

12. 1-1439
The printing press hadn’t even been invented yet. Not that it mattered, of course, because nobody could read anyway.

13. Before that
You wore a tunic so that you wouldn’t have to stop to shit while you ran away from a bear.

Screencap via YouTube


Contact the author at albert.burneko@deadspin.com or on Twitter @albertburneko.

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