Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/497

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493
THE NEW OPTIMISM

has for its motto—The world is pretty good, and we will make it better. In the first place, this view repudiates wholly the theory of the good old times and is able to show the fallacy upon which the theory depends. In the museum at Constantinople the writer saw an inscription upon an old stone. It was by King Naram Sin of Chaldea, 3800 years b.c., and it said,

We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked.
Politics are very corrupt.
Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

This old and ever-recurring complaint does not depend upon any actual deterioration of the times, for the times are constantly growing better. It comes usually from older people whose outlook may be biased by subjective conditions due to decaying powers and by the tendency to regard all changes as changes for the worse, the only really good times being the bright days of our own youth. It is encouraged also by the fact that, since the springs of progress are in the human mind itself, it comes about that the present times are always below the standard set by our ideals and are regarded, therefore, as bad, being compared not really with the past, but with the ideals of our constructive imagination.

Careful historical comparison leads us to the result that there has been a rather steady progress forward in all things which conduce to human happiness. Anthropologists tell us that the health of the primitive man was nothing to boast of. He had little reserve force and slight power of sustained attention. His daily sufferings from hunger and thirst, from heat and cold, from dangers from wild animals and human enemies, from constant warfare, from loss of property by theft, from sickness and accident unalleviated by surgical care, and, worst of all, from never-ceasing fear of supernatural agencies, make his life seem in comparison with ours as one of extreme hardship and unhappiness.

In the palaces of the Homeric heroes, life was far too simple to seem to us very comfortable. Apparently they had commonly no nuts or fruits to eat, no green vegetables, no butter and usually no milk, no sugar, sweets or cakes, no boiled meats, no fish, no potatoes, no relishes, perhaps not even salt in the inland places, no tea, coffee, chocolate, or tobacco. Coarse bread with roasted meat, and sometimes cheese, honey, and wine, constituted the diet of the wealthy, and what the poor had to eat it is unsafe to say. The meat, which was their chief article of food, had to be killed just before it was eaten and right on the premises. This latter circumstance, together with their perpetual sacrifices of animals to the gods, must have made their homes most untidy, to say the least.

If, rather than the Homeric heroes, we consider the most highly civilized of the ancients, namely, the Athenians of the fourth and fifth centuries b.c., their daily life seems to us hardly more attractive.