Sleep through the night

A while back, I read an interesting anecdote over at Andrew Sullivan’s site. Some historian had made the comment that in the Middle Ages people didn’t sleep through the night. Often, they would go to sleep around sundown, then wake up for an hour or two, then go back to sleep and wake up in the morning. What did they do in that middle period? Well, often they had sex. But sometimes they would just stroll over and visit the neighbors.

I was thinking about this sleep arrangement today. Would it work in the modern era? I had to concede that I have absolutely zero interest in talking to my neighbors at any point during the day. I’ve never really talked to them, but I have to conclude that they, like most people, would be incapable of meeting my standards for intellect and personal hygiene. I have to admit that I felt a tinge of sadness at the thought. I would like to like my neighbors. I would like to have someone I could go chew the fat with.

Nonetheless, I’m stuck with the conclusion that we of the modern era really don’t have a lot of interest in interacting with each other purely for the sake of interaction. I think most conversations and human interactions are fundamentally an act of bargaining favors. You play golf with your neighbor so you can feel out whether there might be any openings at his company that you would be a fit for. You chat with an old college friend because he’s on the board of a school you’d like to get your daughter into. We interact to engage in the act of climbing the social hierarchy.

So were people of the Middle Ages not doing this? I imagine some of them were. But I also presume the following: everyone was so shit eating poor back then that it was possible to converse as equals. There were very few favors your neighbor could bestow upon you — after all, he was living the same impoverished existence as you — so, you might as well just chat.

Now, you might be saying, “Wil, that’s horseshit. In the Middle Ages there were indeed different classes, and they were separated by even greater distance than today.” And that’s of course true. But a peasant in the Middle Ages had little interaction with the king on the hill. Additionally, he or she knew they had about zero chance of ever ascending their social station. But nowadays, we are aware how the “betters” live. It’s broadcast on television, in movies and romanticized about in music. (See “bling.”) On top of that, we can move through the class system (I recall reading a while back that most people will go through about three different classes during their life.) So how do we ascend our station? Well, partly, by engaging in social commerce — trading favors with our neighbors. Which isn’t a bad way to do things, but it does kind of corrupt human interaction. You can’t talk to someone without wondering what you can get out of them, and what they might be trying to get out of you.

It’s too bad we can’t all be shit eating peasants.

1 Response to “Sleep through the night”

  1. John Saleeby

    They talked about God and the Devil. And pussy.