Putting on Blinders: The Musée du Bagage

The other day I came across a radio documentary about a French luggage museum (much less banal-sounding in French:

“Musée du Bagage”). The reporter made a big deal of the large travel and sea chests which were in use a hundred years ago, pointing out that traveling with thirty pairs of shoes was no rarity in the year 1900. He continued to describe how a class of professional porters back then was operating in the streets to cart these huge chests between train stations, hotels, and other destinations. Then he said that this profession had by now disappeared since today we travel lightly, with baggage we lug around ourselves. He went to the trouble of adding yet another justification for the huge, heavy chests of the past: namely that, back in 1900, the ladies were changing their clothes six times a day.

That’s the moment where I couldn’t contain myself any longer and uttered a comment about how our “journalists” of today keep turning a blind eye to the kleptocratic rich folks who run our often sad lives and the huge inequality in our society which we have inherited from those past times he was reporting on. Did he truly not realize that he was comparing apples and oranges?

The simple truth he kept carefully stepping around and avoiding to mention is that, back in 1900, only the rich could afford to travel long distances for fun. If or when a poor (read: working) person traveled long distances, it was to emigrate to greener pastures or escape war or persecution, and he or she was traveling even more lightly than we do today for lack of much property to take along and for having no money to pay the extra costs of a lot of luggage and the services of porters, anyway.

The real reason why today the cart-wheeling porters are gone (in most but not all parts of the world) is the invention of cars. With this came limousines for the wealthy in which to transport their dozens of shoes and a mini-bar for cocktails to boot. Besides, why bring so many shoes when the main reason for your international travel in your private jet is to go shopping for new shoes of the local variety? Lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear that I don’t mind the rich their wealth; I mind the constraints on the rest of us.

What should be clear to this “journalist,” and anybody hearing him talk, is that comparing rich and poor people is like comparing apples and oranges — or, more accurately, caviar and collard greens. This is no less ridiculous when one compares the robber barons of a hundred years ago with working people of today. Regular folks, a hundred years ago, did not own thirty pairs of shoes or change their clothes six times a day to give them to a maid to wash any more than we working folks do today. The robber billionaires of today live lives at least as lavish as their peers of the past and, in summary, enjoy a god-like existence compared to the rest of us who slave away much of our time on Earth to earn an often quite meager living. Our lives, which range from painfully poor to not very well off, result from a lot of hard work we do for remarkably small returns in a system which is rigged to divert much of the wealth we produce to the top where nobody works as hard as we do, if they work at all. And all this occurs in a world where science and technology have advanced to a level which makes it possible to create a comfortable life for all of us. There is no excuse for poverty anymore.

That is the real story of interest and relevance to be told — not how rich people a hundred years ago traveled differently from poor or modest-income people of today. “Journalists” who place blinders on us and waste our time to distract us from the real story are doing us all a great disservice, because they contribute to the perpetuation of a sadly warped society which – if we all came to realize its fundamental flaws – we could change for the better.

All this also easily goes unnoticed in the customary media brouhaha about our day-to-day politics, which is why I regularly choose to write about the big picture, the fundamental issues, and a vision for a better future. This is where our focus should be.


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