# What is wrong with the past?

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Ok, this is gonna sound strange because everyone takes it for granted. We can't turn back time, so we don't have choice on that one. But we can resolve to older customs that were more successful than our own.

Whenever we deal with certain groups, or people come up with certain ideas, the response is "that would take us back to _th century!"

But I want to know what was wrong with the past, although yes, many of those particular centuries were pretty bad in England. There were societies which had very little crime, why do we not try to emulate some of their practices?There was a society which gave women equal rights, better than any country of today, why not use their laws and systems?

We don't actually care what century is mentioned, I think we assume that time passing is equivalent to progress, but if we observe, there are many evils which are increasing with the passing of time. Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in crime, drugs, promiscuity (and hence STIs and HIV) and many other banes of society. I'm not saying we just recreate a certain society and live in it (although that might not be bad for some of the greatest societies in history) but at least learn from them instead of trying to make up new systems that we think are better but actually fail us.

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Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Can you provide references for any of the claims you made?

Edit: link to religious writings deleted

I wouldn't say it was just after Islam that there were good societies, but Madinah is one of the best recorded. Read narrations on it, don't take my word for it. Even if you don't believe that the narrations are real there is much to learn from them. However in terms of reliability: Their chain of narrators, many narrations have multiple chains, have been recorded all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad himself along with their character and ability to memorize amongst other things.

I would also give the example of Somalia now. It was improving under the IC - there was much better security for the people, the Warlords and the sea pirates were stopped, and education was on the increase. The major thing that people (international people) have as a complaint is that they lacked "entertainment" because for example, cinemas (and perhaps other things) were closed. There are many societies which don't have cinemas, and they are much happier and more content than we are, even with just a football.

How can we say that we are better off with our cinemas? They were once used for brainwashing...remember how they were used to subconsciously encourage people to buy food/drink by flashing up images, they were used to promote smoking, and now they are used to introduce many concepts to people. Look how the Arabs have been demonised in so many movies, with no basis whatsoever.

In India, the western ideas are promoted (I am not saying this is wrong, if justice is promoted then fine but that is not the case); along with the idea of promiscuity and leaving religion. Its a tool for propaganda. I am not saying its all bad, I am just saying we say things without thinking them through. If there were to be pornagraphic movies being shown, and then adultery is punishable, how would that be fair - its like encouraging it and then banning it?

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Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
If you are going to make an argument of the form
We should adopt (some of) the ideals of society X, because society X was better than our society in aspect Y​
that you should make a suitable effort to provide an argument that society X really was better than our society in aspect Y.

A couple narratives don't really provide proof of such a claim. Heck, if I were to write a narrative on the places I've lived, you would think there was virtually no crime at all in both the Greater Detroit Metropolitan Area and in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area.

(and, incidentally, after a quick look I didn't find these narratives of which you speak)

This latest argument is quite specious. You decry cinema because it has been used for propaganda -- one would imagine that you would decry schools for the same reason, yet you exhibit education as an example of a good thing.

I'm not entirely sure as to the point of the examples you provided in your post; what bearing do they have on anything you said in the opening post?

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
There were societies which had very little crime, why do we not try to emulate some of their practices?
To which societies is one referring?

There was a society which gave women equal rights, better than any country of today, why not use their laws and systems?
Perhaps one is thinking of the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee).

We don't actually care what century is mentioned, I think we assume that time passing is equivalent to progress, but if we observe, there are many evils which are increasing with the passing of time. Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in crime, drugs, promiscuity (and hence STIs and HIV) and many other banes of society.
Perhaps one should reflect upon ancient Greece and Rome. I don't know a society that hasn't had some persistent level of ills cited.

Even if you don't believe that the narrations are real there is much to learn from them. However in terms of reliability: Their chain of narrators, many narrations have multiple chains, have been recorded all the way back to . . .
But are the narrators necessarily objective, or do they report based upon favorable interpretations of their observations? If narrators are sponsored by a governmental authority, would they not report favorable conditions in their residential society?

russ_watters
Mentor
Is there any society in the past that can match the life expectancy of an industrialized nation today? (assuming that fits your idea of "better")

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Is there any society in the past that can match the life expectancy of an industrialized nation today? (assuming that fits your idea of "better")
This is also especially important when bringing up issues of disease incidence in a society. When diseases/illnesses/health problems that were formerly lethal can now be treated, yes, you will see an increase in incidence of those diseases among the population, because it hasn't killed all those afflicted. And, the longer people live, the more opportunities for them to become infected with something some time during their life.

If you're going to pick and choose examples from various societies, it's important to look at the society in its entirety. Just because a particular society got a few things right doesn't mean it was a great time and place to live for the majority.

Afterall, I find it odd that you'd bring up cinemas as an example. Do people usually tout cinemas as one of the major improvements in society, or get overly concerned about what would happen if we no longer had cinemas? Do cinemas impact quality of life? Sure, before air-conditioning in homes was prevalent, heading to the cinema on a weekend used to be a good way for a family to spend a few hours in air conditioning to escape the summer heat, but this isn't very common anymore. Why not use other examples? Modern medicine is a big one, both in treating/curing illnesses and diseases that were previously incurable/lethal/disfiguring as well as preventing people from getting those illnesses in the first place (when's the last time you met someone wheelchair bound from polio, or knew of someone who died from a tetanus infection following a puncture wound?) I don't know how far back you want to go, but what about the impact of indoor plumbing on hygiene and control of disease spread? I don't know that your claim that STDs are increased in the population compared to the past is accurate (the burden of providing evidence is on you if you want to make that assertion), but we no longer have epidemics of cholera and bubonic plague.

Moonbear, Medicine and more
Ok, so a measure of progress is advances in medicine. Firstly, some of this progress involved the robbing of graves, and burying herbal medicine to replace it with pharmaceutical companie\$. Secondly, perhaps the increase in stomach cancers, heart disease due to smoking, liver disease due to alcohol and depression due to materialism that we have now is counter-significant. Worse still, it is self inflicted. There is also the increase in pollution, global warming, a widening gap between rich and poor (largely due to interest based economy; the haves and the have-nots, the lenders and the borrowers) and more. I am only providing one side because the other side is assumed by most people, that we are better now than in the past. I am not saying there is nothing that is better now nor am I particularly saying we are completely worse now!

All, Cinemas
Cinemas are not all bad, they have good functions as well. I was highlighting the bad bits, because again, they are a social norm that we do not really consider having major influence. I only highlighted cinemas because that was what they mentioned in a news report I saw, that was basically all that was bad that they had to say about IC government; they brought so much stability to the country. The apparent reason for fighting is because ethiopia feel 'threatened' by the existence of IC governance even though it was supported by the people. Sounds like a case of the old 'WMDs' palava all over again. Why does a modern society require a cinema, pornography, and alcoholism? I don't know, but it is often the case.

All again, The History of a City
Actually, I think you are misunderstanding the point. The suggestion wasn't to revert to an older society and just emulate it... but to take some points that we have diverged from or things that we perhaps never had in our history. About the link, even if the narrations promote the society functions with a bias (i don't think there is unfair praise), there is still much to learn. The narrations aren't just speaking of glory on glory; it speaks of real, practical solutions or methodology for governance, financial, and societal issues. Perhaps they aren't considered purely on the basis of them being in the past. Have any of you heard of this society before, its policies and laws? Well they cover many issues. How come you haven't heard of it? Could there a be a particular reason? Maybe. In fact, if you look closer, you will realise the lack of racism, the progressive abolition of slavery, and the right of a woman to speak if she had an issue with the governor. How would they know that all of these were 'good' things to record? We and our historians have largely ignored it.

Venturing further and in more depth
Another point, not all previous societies are the same all over the world; like I said, we are presuming that our developments are better. How do we know that health was never better than it is now. In fact, most of our recorded history is on societies such as Greece and Rome. If we go to medieval times in England it is particularly bad. We don't know how successful other societies were because our historians haven't ventured that far.

Thats all I was saying,,,hehe....sorry, quite long, but its a relatively rare proposal so requires more explanation

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(and, incidentally, after a quick look I didn't find these narratives of which you speak)
No, you did not find narratives. The purpose for the link ( i think i got a red card for it as well!) was not to find a narrative of how great somewhere was. It was there for you to consider that even a society so far back had consideration for things that we think have only cropped up recently. To consider that perhaps there were proposals that we haven't considered or implemented; even though they could be good for us.

This latest argument is quite specious. You decry cinema because it has been used for propaganda -- one would imagine that you would decry schools for the same reason, yet you exhibit education as an example of a good thing.
Ok, who here thinks education is more beneficial for society than cinemas? See that, thats a rhetorical question, because it doesn't even need to be answered. Sorry, i know sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I personally think literacy is a component of a good society. To discuss the ins and outs of propaganda, like whether it can be good as well as bad, is for another thread; the marketing of for example, smoking, I think is bad propaganda.

I'm not entirely sure as to the point of the examples you provided in your post; what bearing do they have on anything you said in the opening post?
Social, financial, Peoples' rights... close to 1400 year old society. We know nothing about it. Thats why it is relevant; an old society with advanced ideals.

Hope that helps.

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russ_watters
Mentor
...a widening gap between rich and poor and more.
Though there may be a widening gap between rich and poor in western societies, even the poor in western societies have ameneties that Medieval kings never dreamed of, such as flush-toilets (indoor plumbing in general) and electric lights. And the poor in such societies lived in dirt-floor shacks. So while the gap may be wider, the poor today certainly live much, much, much better than the poor did several hundred years ago.
Secondly, perhaps the increase in stomach cancers, heart disease due to smoking, liver disease due to alcohol and depression due to materialism that we have now is counter-significant.
Adding together whatever newly-common illnesses you want doesn't matter a whole lot. The bottom line is that the average life expectancy in industrialized nations has doubled in the past 100 years alone.
I am not saying there is nothing that is better now nor am I particularly saying we are completely worse now!
Nevertheless, you have a very heavy burden of proof. I would think most people consider most of the improvements listed to be some of the most important components of what makes life "good". Honstly, Tosh, these claims you are making, besides not providing substantiation, it doesn't seem like you've put a whole lot of thought into them. They are pretty absurd. But it isn't an uncommon view: a lot of people today really take for granted just how good they have it. The difference between how people live today compared with just a hundred years ago is truly spectacular.

More to the point, however:
I'm not saying we just recreate a certain society and live in it (although that might not be bad for some of the greatest societies in history) but at least learn from them instead of trying to make up new systems that we think are better but actually fail us.
Have you considered the possibility that it is those new systems themselves that make it possible for the advancements we see to occur and promulgate through society?

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Though there may be a widening gap between rich and poor in western societies, even the poor in western societies have ameneties that Medieval kings never dreamed of, such as flush-toilets (indoor plumbing in general) and electric lights. And the poor in such societies lived in dirt-floor shacks. So while the gap may be wider, the poor today certainly live much, much, much better than the poor did several hundred years ago.

Honstly, Tosh, these claims you are making, besides not providing substantiation, it doesn't seem like you've put a whole lot of thought into them. They are pretty absurd.
Dirt-floor shacks. Be careful before you generalise. It was not known in the Dark ages the illnesses caused by lack of sanitation. Illnesses caused by lack of cleanliness, of wearing the same clothes for a year, and not bathing regularly weren't a problem for all societies. You speak only of material advances. In some cases it is important, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Maybe some societies never had problems that needed to be solved by flush-toilets and electric lights; perhaps they focussed on decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor, on removing racism, and healthy recreation - not just wants on wants; an addict might just want his heroine, doesn't mean its good for him.

Yes, the poor (in America and England), live better than they did 'several hundred' years ago... there is history before that; and as I mentioned, time passing isn't equivalent to progress, it can lead to regress. A society is not bad if the whole society is poor, it is bad if the minority are rich and the majority are poor, particularly worse socially if the divide is governed by race. Might I ask, did you read anything from the link? Or did you ignore it and just post straight back. If that is the case, your approach is the problem? Never judge a book by its cover; you won't know what you don't know.

Its different, I know, thats why more care is needed to understand it before passing a judgement.

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I'm not saying we just recreate a certain society and live in it (although that might not be bad for some of the greatest societies in history) but at least learn from them instead of trying to make up new systems that we think are better but actually fail us.
Even the greatest society in history is irrelevant today for number of reasons.
-Context , this is the biggest reason why this will never work,and why so many of societies of today (hint: middle eastern region) which hoplessly look into the darkness of the past trying to recreate some ideal which they convinced themselves of , are failure in almost all aspects of social, moral, economical, inteligence, etc development. They ignore that past was there to bring future, not to stay in the past. Once we assume there is ideal which does not need constant vigilance and awarness from individuals and groups, that the "system" will take care of itself, we are doomed (here we can simply look at the US state of "democracy" which is 0) . And putting in some system into work while the context of all aspects of life have changed ,is pure idiocy with all respect (taliban, would be the most extreem of examples but there are many). It means ignoring context which is everything according to which we may interpret information. All such an efford will bring is stagnancy and ignorance.

What is there to be learned from the past is wisdom of things and mistakes of the past. Wisdom is context dependent and hence can by applied in various settings. Wisdom is not knowledge nor infomation about some quotes and past sayings and/or decisions. Widsom is to see the meaning of the decisions of past given the context so it can be applied today (with appropriate changes according to the context). I doubt there are many ppl with wisdom left in the world, be it secular or religious and not all ppl of the past which are considered by certain groups as wise were wise.

Evo
Mentor
under special topics on left toolbar might give you some idea.
Posting a link like this is not acceptable, first because it links to religious doctrine and second, you need to state specifics in YOUR posts , not make idle statements and then tell people to go read all Muslim dogma. Link deleted.

Evo
Mentor
Dirt-floor shacks. Be careful before you generalise. It was not known in the Dark ages the illnesses caused by lack of sanitation. Illnesses caused by lack of cleanliness, of wearing the same clothes for a year, and not bathing regularly weren't a problem for all societies.
Again you are making generalties that are meaningless. Before the Dark Ages the Romans were extremely clean, were well organized, advanced in many ways, but they weren't a perfect society.

During the same age, there were the Vandals, Visigoths, etc...that were completely barbaric.

Either post the society and time frame you wish to discuss (without religious references) and we can discuss. Otherwise thread will be locked for lack of direction.

Topic:
->IC governed Somalia- perceived as living in the "past" which is perceived as "bad"
->Places which other's think had some good ideals or things to learn

Once again, sneez, I am referring to learning individual lessons from the past. Each law/policy can also be considered independently... therefore this is not about imposing a system.

One of the problems with us is exactly what you said, we see ourselves as "0" and everyone else as either side, and therefore feel the need to police/occupy and "impose" our entire system on other countries which also have been living in other ways. It should be allowed for the people who are going to be ruled to decide who rules them, regardless of whether we, here in the US and UK think that they are backward or whether we think that all things from the past are bad. Why do those countries have to have cinemas, and casinos, and drugs, and promiscuity, and pop music? Its two-faced to impose a system against an "imposed" system and to create a market for ourselves. Would we help those countries "advance" beyond us? No, therefore we have no right to try and govern them.

Also, was wondering how much you know about the extreme example, the Taliban. I don't know much about all aspects of society under them in order to judge them...perhaps you could enlighten me beyond the demonisation - speak in facts rather than terms of just hatred and accusation so that we can really learn something here? We shouldn't all of a sudden lose our sense of objectivity in judging a society. If we were to show videos of just binge drinking, vandalism, a few of the terrible mass murders in the US, and some killings in the UK, we, in our duality, would look pretty bad. By all means stop oppression wherever it is; but specify what you want to change, rather than carpet bomb and ask questions later. Thats for sneez.

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Again you are making generalties that are meaningless. Before the Dark Ages the Romans were extremely clean, were well organized, advanced in many ways, but they weren't a perfect society.

During the same age, there were the Vandals, Visigoths, etc...that were completely barbaric.

Either post the society and time frame you wish to discuss (without religious references) and we can discuss. Otherwise thread will be locked for lack of direction.
A perfect society gives the impression that once its reached, everyone can just stop. I don't think that is the case; struggling against oppression, inequality and other crimes has to be the constant aim of a good society and the people will have to work hard to achieve one. Also, the dynamics of society, such as increasing numbers, integrating new cultures etc have to be accommodated in some way whilst still maintaining the society.

Evo
Mentor
Are you trying to claim that life is better under Islamic rule? According to the link I deleted earlier, that seems to be what you're saying.

One of the problems with us is exactly what you said, we see ourselves as "0" and everyone else as either side, and therefore feel the need to police/occupy and "impose" our entire system on other countries which also have been living in other ways. It should be allowed for the people who are going to be ruled to decide who rules them, regardless of whether we, here in the US and UK think that they are backward or whether we think that all things from the past are bad. Why do those countries have to have cinemas, and casinos, and drugs, and promiscuity, and pop music? Its two-faced to impose a system against an "imposed" system and to create a market for ourselves. Would we help those countries "advance" beyond us? No, therefore we have no right to try and govern them.
I dont understand what is your point here. We are not discussing US and UK politics. I was replying to your intial quesiton. You are totally disgressing from the question you asked.

Also, was wondering how much you know about the extreme example, the Taliban. I don't know much about all aspects of society under them in order to judge them...perhaps you could enlighten me beyond the demonisation - speak in facts rather than terms of just hatred and accusation so that we can really learn something here? We shouldn't all of a sudden lose our sense of objectivity in judging a society. If we were to show videos of just binge drinking, vandalism, a few of the terrible mass murders in the US, and some killings in the UK, we, in our duality, would look pretty bad. By all means stop oppression wherever it is; but specify what you want to change, rather than carpet bomb and ask questions later. Thats for sneez.
Read about taliban, there are books, videos, documentaries, there are many articles from afanistani ppl and their experience and plus there are many indicators that are available through fact books like literacy, etc. You are talking about bananas while asking about apples.

I digressed from my question in an attempt to answer you more fully. You said we "live differently," and although I don't think that is a good reason not to consider mechanisms of the past, you do. I likened that to imposing laws on another society that "lives differently." The reason why many societies are considered bad is on the basis of them being "backwards," but 'forwardness' actually seems to be a measure of how far, for example: cinemas, pop music, casinos, etc. have become a part of society.

Are you trying to claim that life is better under Islamic rule? According to the link I deleted earlier, that seems to be what you're saying.
I would be following the completely wrong religion if I didn't think that was the case. I believe it has great values and teachings and so would be good for a society; Islamic Law also has the flexibility to produce new rulings for the benefit of changing society and new advances. It is there for the benefit of the people, and to ensure justice. But NO, I don't think it should be imposed, and NO, that is not the point of this thread. Are you trying to force me to mention more on Islam so that you can close the thread or are you genuine in your accusation?

My point was exactly "What is wrong with the past?" in that we commonly assume that anything that was in the past was worse than it is now. But actually, if we observe, there are things that were better as well as being worse as well. The reason why I feel the need to mention Madinah is because I am sure that most people hear know more about Rome and Greece than they do about Madinah. So it was more about increasing awareness. Normally, you find information about different societies intriguing, but when it comes to a society such as Madinah, you suddenly want to shut down. Far from agreeing with it, you don't want to even know the information. Why?

I digressed from my question in an attempt to answer you more fully. You said we "live differently," and although I don't think that is a good reason not to consider mechanisms of the past, you do. I likened that to imposing laws on another society that "lives differently." The reason why many societies are considered bad is on the basis of them being "backwards," but 'forwardness' actually seems to be a measure of how far, for example: cinemas, pop music, casinos, etc. have become a part of society.
Tosh with all due respect re-read my post. I did not say anything like "we live differently".

I said that context of our time is different and no system that was developed under different context can be put this place. [There is world of differetnce between living differently and living in different context of things.]
Context is the keyword here, its social, economical, cultural, scientific, philosophical, individual awarness, etc which makes it very hard topic. I illustrated what systems of the past could teach us, but we have currently too many examples of societies that try to go back in time and restore the "good old times" while failing on all levels. And the most funny thing about it is that the society itself does not want those "good all times" as envisioned by the "leaders". Hence resulting in enforcing some out of context laws which are totally being broken routinelly by the individuals in the society. This whole thing to restore some government of societies past is inevitably doomed and the main reason is the context. There are few other that also show that the answer to your initial question is, No, its not reasonable to restore societies of the past and even strongly it would be wrong to do so.

Tosh with all due respect re-read my post. I did not say anything like "we live differently".

I said that context of our time is different and no system that was developed under different context can be put this place. [There is world of differetnce between living differently and living in different context of things.]
Context is the keyword here, its social, economical, cultural, scientific, philosophical, individual awarness, etc which makes it very hard topic. I illustrated what systems of the past could teach us, but we have currently too many examples of societies that try to go back in time and restore the "good old times" while failing on all levels. And the most funny thing about it is that the society itself does not want those "good all times" as envisioned by the "leaders". Hence resulting in enforcing some out of context laws which are totally being broken routinelly by the individuals in the society. This whole thing to restore some government of societies past is inevitably doomed and the main reason is the context. There are few other that also show that the answer to your initial question is, No, its not reasonable to restore societies of the past and even strongly it would be wrong to do so.

Agreed, you were talking about living in different context of things, apologies.

1)We actually research news laws and rulings at the moment, that is why old ones which have not been considered could also be considered.

2) It is difficult to think it can be realised peacefully but in reality, people will accept what is better for them if they understand it. Like we cannot ban smoking so easily, but it is now banned in public places and more and more people are being encouraged to give up smoking. This is going back.

3) People are being asked to cap the amount of drink they have for how much we drink; this is going back. Women are being told not to drink whilst pregnant, 9 months without drink is abstaining from it. This follows the ideals of many religions which had them for a reason.

4) More and more people are looking towards alternative, often ancient, therapies. This is going back.

5) Those in financial crisis might be counselled not to go gambling with what they have; because it would be worse for them. Is there anything wrong with this?

6) Recycling and returning to degradable packaging. This is going closer to what was before.

7) One of the flaws in law today is that people make it their be all and end all. If its not illegal, that makes it right; and its fine as long as no one (in authority) sees it. If this is an ever changing law even from the very foundations, then this will make a person being doing completely fine one day and then by the time of the next law they are criminals. People like to push the boundaries if they have no incentive to take what would be 'better' or to self-police.

These are all progressive steps to something which was before. This is what I mean. Positive change, not just, "Lets get rid of this, and this, and this" and "you are all banned to do everything but I as your leader will do whatever I want" straight out - that will never work. I proposed this on another thread; a leader should be a servant to the people and should be paid no more than the average wage; the leader should live like the people and should not be fed whilst people in the society are starving... but the societies that you mentioned as bad "backward" societies aren't following these ideals of the past. It is now a matter of money and power.

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Evo
Mentor
I would be following the completely wrong religion if I didn't think that was the case. I believe it has great values and teachings and so would be good for a society; Islamic Law also has the flexibility to produce new rulings for the benefit of changing society and new advances. It is there for the benefit of the people, and to ensure justice. But NO, I don't think it should be imposed, and NO, that is not the point of this thread. Are you trying to force me to mention more on Islam so that you can close the thread or are you genuine in your accusation?

My point was exactly "What is wrong with the past?" in that we commonly assume that anything that was in the past was worse than it is now. But actually, if we observe, there are things that were better as well as being worse as well. The reason why I feel the need to mention Madinah is because I am sure that most people hear know more about Rome and Greece than they do about Madinah. So it was more about increasing awareness. Normally, you find information about different societies intriguing, but when it comes to a society such as Madinah, you suddenly want to shut down. Far from agreeing with it, you don't want to even know the information. Why?

If you wish to start a purely historical discussion on the history of the area without religious overtones, feel free to do so.

russ_watters
Mentor
Maybe some societies never had problems that needed to be solved by flush-toilets and electric lights.
You're not serious, are you? Do you own a flush toilet and electric lights? Whether I knew about germs or not, I'd still use a flush toilet and I suspect you would too.

And I guess you're also claiming that there were some past societies where sanitation wasn't much of a problem. Do you have any actual proof of this or just baseless claims?

Rome, for example, was the pinnacle of the ancient world in terms of sanitation. When you compare it with people living in dirt-floor staw-houses, it sounds downright modern. But the fact of the matter is, when you compare it with the modern world, it was still a cesspool.
Walking Rome's street was frequently dangerous, for it was not unusual to dispose of trash by throwing it out windows....

Most of Rome's dwellings were ill-supplied with heat, light, and water. The sanitary arrangements, if judged by modern standards, were inadequate.

As one might expect, Roman water quality standards were remedial, taking into consideration only such factors as taste, temperature, smell, and appearance. Since the quality of water from the nine aqueducts varied, the worst waters were used for articial lakes and irrigation, and the best for drinking. The aqueducts carrying water to Rome were covered to prevent the water from being contaminated by dust, dirt, and other impurities and from being heated by the sun. The best quality waters came from the valley of the Anio River.

One source (Anio Novus) from that watershed, however, did have a water quality problem every time it rained. Roman engineers first tried mixing it with water from a nearby clear spring. Next they tried running it through a small settling basin. Because of design problems with the basin, this too was unsuccessful. Finally the condition of the water was improved by carrying the head of the aqueduct higher up the valley to a reservoir formed behind an immense dam near Subiaco. The articial lake served efficiently as a settling basin and the quality of the water was improved....

It has been hypothesized that Rome's dependence on lead water pipes lead to its decline. It has been suggested that the aristocracy died off from nothing more complicated than simple lead poisoning.....

The Roman sewers have been overpraised. Despite their longevity, they ignored basic sanitary principles. They carried sewage, urban runoff, and drainage water together. This multiple employment made it necessary to have large openings along the streets. These openings exposed Rome's populace to the effluvia of the sewers.
http://www.waterhistory.org/histories/rome/

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