If you travel to places in Europe with castles and history and like to head off the beaten path to smaller, out-of-the-way places you are likely to come face-to-face with some rusty old iron stuff complete with pictures and explanations hanging in the doorway of a little museum dedicated to torture.
Turns out that once upon a not so long ago, torture was a management tool used by lords, emperors, kings, queens, anyone really in the privileged, titled or religious ruling class who had law and order to maintain, or land, business or beliefs to protect. Torture was also the chief means by which people were punished and information and confessions extracted from heretics, spies and witches and other people who were out of favour for one reason or another.
Torture was perfectly legal in Europe until the mid-1700s when countries began to outlaw it and by the 1780s torture was no longer an acceptable thing to do to citizens, at least out in the open.
I knew..sort of .. about torture in a historic context, that it has been a sordid practice as old as civilization, if you can use torture and civilization in the same sentence. And that all stuff about torture jumped off the page when I was in London, England looking around the Tower of London, an infamous place of torture.
It was while visiting a medieval city in Italy where G_Mac snapped this image of a torture device. The description was so matter of fact and head-shakingly shocking that I had to put the brakes on the thought train of gruesomeness. Instead my thoughts jumped to wonder about the people whose job it was to torture other people.
Why did my thoughts go there, you ask?
Well, the lifecycle of jobs had been on my mind, so it wasn’t a complete leap of logic to wonder about the job and industries built upon torture or to wonder what transferrable skill set torturers might have highlighted on their resumé to move into other fields and what those fields could be.
As well, I’d been looking at historic labour market patterns and in passing noticed the census on the Tinker trade in 1900. The trade vanished from the census in two generations.
Reading about a trade no longer practiced had twigged another bit of information sitting in my brain: a few years earlier I had reviewed and catalogued some archived films from the late 1970s that talked about potential and significant social shifts that would result from technology and its use in business and in daily life.
As I sat far away from home, considering the changes that led to the drop in demand for state-sanctioned torture, and the torturers who went through job change, something clicked into place.
As much as some things remain constant, not everything stays the same. Think of food: our need for it is constant, yet WHAT we eat and how we prepare it changes. Think trade: once upon a time people traded beads, and cloth for food, then used money, and for a while used credit, now we’re back to money. Trade is the constant, the items traded are what changes.
While history does not repeat exactly, some patterns do emerge. What is acceptable behaviour in one era changes by the next. No leader is powerful forever. As much as change management consultants talk about change, the only thing that’s changed is the pace and mania about it and putting the word MANAGE to it.
It’s possible that state sanctioned torture fell out of favour in the 1700s because much of the western world that we see today — politically, economically, financially and socially — grew out of concepts and values seeded over the centuries that came to fruition in 17th century thought and ideas: freedom and rights, a move toward reason, science, separation of church and state, capitalism, and industrialism to name a few.
Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations published in 1776 was to some extent counterpointed (not in the musical way) by Marx’s Communist Manifesto in the 1800s, and here we are some hundreds of years later still debating which of the ideas and approaches is better. Smith did not question class structure, Marx, born to the middle class, not only questioned it,but had a lot to say about it too.
Shall I be blunt? The concepts put forth in their books have not exactly worked to the ideal in the real world. Debating which is better is moot: neither perspective can be proven unless the perfect and time-consuming process is in place to make it happen. It also means stopping the world and getting off the ride for a while, and in one case, finding that invisible hand. Thats not going to happen. Instead, ideologies arm wrestle each other, people get confused and some hurt.
I thought this a flight of fancy until I was at a meeting. I asked a question about dying industries and vanishing jobs of an academic/research who had made a brilliant presentation that didn’t answer the pragmatic question he’d been asked to present on. He said in all earnestness, “why not ship ALL of our backbreaking, monotonous manufacturing work overseas? Frees us up to do other things.”
Now I get that research is pure, and objective, but I had to mentally shake my ears. He was serious. Was it only me who saw the huge flashing sign of LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES flashing…? Was it Einstein who said that the level of thinking to get out of a situation is not the same level of thinking that got us into it in the first place?
I wondered if, like the 1700s, our world is currently experiencing a transition deeper and wider than what we can see. Shifting of social, economic, political tectonic plates so to speak. I wondered about all the political and economic debates raging and remembered the Push-Me Pull You. The ride might look like fun, but the reality…not so much.