Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. My favorite show since Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead is up there too. Future psychiatrists can make of that what they will. Today however the topic is Game of Thrones and feudalism. Game of Thrones does appear to be roughly based on a western model of late middle ages feudalism. While there were (and are) feudal societies all over the world, they definitely varied in the particulars.

So, feudalism. A very class stratified society. There’s royalty, from the king/queen down to the knights. Maybe 1.5% of the population (7% in feudal Japan though, but it was an outlier.) Mostly sworn to a lord above them, so all ultimately in service of the ruler at the top. Next, freemen. Or free people I guess. They could own property, travel, and engage in business. They paid taxes and were obligated serve in the military if so called for. They could also appeal all the way to the ruler in disputes with other freemen and royalty.

At the bottom, the serfs. They were agricultural laborers attached to a Lord’s estate. They couldn’t leave without their lord’s permission, and worked in their lord’s fields. On the plus side, they didn’t pay taxes and were not required to serve in the military. And thus the wealthy often believed serfs made out like bandits, and all had gold and silver buried in their hovels. Just like privileged people today believe in the myth of the welfare queen. The sad truth is that poor people now and throughout history have mostly lived brutal lives of hardship and want.  And let’s not forget slaves and Jews, they were at the bottom, and worse off than serfs in almost every respect.

Since feudalism spread over the globe, like insects colonies, it was a viable strategy for the preservation of large human populations and cultures. And while there was little social mobility in feudal cultures, one generally lived and died as the class they were born in, at least one knew their place. So if times were good, everyone did OK.  Except pretenders to the throne. In the Game of Thrones show/books, if one tries to get a throne, the game is win or die. Worked pretty much that way in feudal societies. Hell, maybe most societies. People that tried to claim a throne often died trying. And people that even just had a claim to a throne, even little babies, often were killed “just in case.”

Of course when humans got more civilized, they moved on to more civilized forms of government. The Magna Carta, Age of Enlightenment, etc. Snort. No, feudalism was pretty much destroyed around the globe by one thing, gunpowder. Feudalism depended on ruling the land with essentially invulnerable armored knights. Peasant with pitchfork vs knight, no contest. Peasant with gun vs knight, lots of dead knights. Also gunpowder made castles less and less tenable. Granted that’s a little simplistic, but the gist of it is correct. Not terribly surprising that gunpowder had a huge impact on human societies.

And while we are on the topic, for fun, let’s clear up a misapprehensions about the Middle Ages. No, during castle sieges the defenders didn’t pour boiling oil on enemies trying to scale the walls. Oil was an incredibly valuable commodity in the Middle Ages, even if one did have the oil to use in such a fashion, it wouldn’t be cost effective to use a king’s ransom worth of oil to scald a few foot soldiers. They used boiling water, often with sand in it. Why sand? Because if a suit of armor got a bunch of sand in it, it would require laborious cleaning in an era without even running water, let alone pressure washers. And while boiling water probably won’t kill anyone, the defenders weren’t trying to kill the attackers, wounding them was preferred. A wounded soldier fights less effectively if at all, and still requires food and shelter.

In any event the last episode of Game of Thrones was Sunday. The end of an era. It started in 2011, I was a young and naive man back then. GoT was a great series from the start, especially since none of the main characters were sacred. They could, and did, get knocked off unexpectedly. And there were other fabulous scenes, Hodor, etc. Alas, I tend to be with the critics, the last two seasons were kind of rushed. And didn’t do justice to some of the characters. Still, as one wag put it, how do you wrap up 1500 separate plot lines in six episodes? Speaking of The Beaverton, this made me laugh too, but it’s pretty much directed at fans only.

The news yesterday was so bizarre I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Some stuff about Iran, and the Trump impeachment saga in congress. Both situations are divorced from reality, but fortunately Washington lives in its own little Oz. And yet most Americans go on about their lives as if this was perfectly natural, an empire run by besuited hucksters for their own gain. Consequences, American or global, be damned. And this morning the big headline on the BBC is “She Giants Urge Trump to End Trade War.”  No wonder someone came up with Lizard people trying to make sense of it all. I rest my case.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A castle. Image credit: LalouBLue. Public Domain according to Snappygoat.)


Written by unitedcats

May 22, 2019 at 11:07 am

Posted in History

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