5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever


There's a particular mistake almost everyone makes when either reading or reporting the news: acting like all of the stuff going on is new. Gay marriage, worldwide terrorism, international-banking crises -- the fallout and debate surrounding many of our most newsworthy events is almost always portrayed as symptoms of the modern world. But if you owned a time machine and took a tour of the past, you'd see the same shit coming up over and over again. For instance ...

Same-Sex Marriage Was Legal Centuries Ago

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Clodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The whole argument against gay marriage is that, after tens of thousands of years of "one man and one woman," suddenly these homosexuals want to totally turn this marriage thing on its head. What better symbol of 21st-century debauchery than this brand-new concept of legalizing marriages between two people with matching genitals? What's next, marriage between a man and a dog? Or between a dog and a zombie? Hold on, we have a sitcom to pitch.

But If You Go Back In Time ...

Set your time machine back just a few hundred years and you'd probably be surprised -- maybe horrified, if you're on the board of directors for Chick-Fil-A -- about just how many gay-married couples were running around in various places, remaining un-harassed by government agencies.

alipaiman/Wiki Commons

That would explain why the paintings look like Rainbow Marches.

In medieval Europe, which people mostly regard as the most prudish period in human history, same-sex marriage was pretty normal right up until the 1300s. The Christian church allowed them even if they preferred to dance around the sexual implications by referring to them as "spiritual brotherhoods." It wasn't until Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II outlawed gay marriage in 1302 that we decided that such a thing would surely ruin society if allowed.

In Africa, a 19th-century Nigerian woman named Ifeyinwa Olinke is well known for having a harem of nine wives (and one husband -- feel free to imagine what the sex looked like, you perv). And among the Nuer people of South Sudan, marriages between women are common, and if one of the women has children from a previous sperm donation, the other woman is unambiguously regarded to be the new "father."

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Sarah Taylor/USAID

"She loves it when I call her 'Big Poppa.'"

And speaking of laws that come and go in seemingly arbitrary cycles ...

Marijuana Was Legal Until 1937

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After hundreds of years of resistance, the U.S. government is finally starting to realize that millions of law-abiding citizens partake in marijuana (aka reefer, Mary Joanna, the devil weed, goofy grass, Satan's Cigarette -- we only made some of those up). Recent decisions on the legalization of marijuana have been lauded as victories against the end-boss of freedom across the Western world. Finally, the world is waking up from these ancient taboos!

But If You Go Back In Time ...

And we're talking way back on this one. According to archaeologists, marijuana was first used as medicine in China as far back as around 4000 B.C. and was legal for most of its history, only being criminalized for the first time in 1378 by the Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni. Despite the emir's efforts, marijuana remained largely legal outside of the Ottoman Empire and was only sporadically criminalized. So how did we end up with this whole situation where we're having a discussion about legalization? Because of the good old U.S. of A. Well, that and Mexico.

It all started with the Mexican revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920.

Charles C. Harris

Those aren't bullets in those bandoliers.

The civil war in Mexico resulted in an influx of over a million refugees into the U.S. This, combined with violent spillovers of their civil war, an agricultural recession in the USA, and increased tension resulting from earlier disputes between the two, lead to a "brown scare," which is even more gross than what you're imagining when you hear that term.

As the Mexican immigrants brought recreational marijuana use with them, marijuana was conflated with already-existing prejudice and fear toward Mexicans, which was further fed by William Randolph Hearst, who wanted hemp out of business to further his lumber and paper interests. A slew of studies were produced linking marijuana with violent crime and all sorts of other undesirable behavior, helping to finally get pot criminalized in 1937, thus making the free world drug-free forever.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
irina88w/iStock/Getty Images

A CG re-creation of what scientists believe the plant may have looked like.

And on the flipside of that scenario ...

Europe Started Smoking Bans In The 1600s

smell Flowers Not smoke Smoking is prohibited in NYC'S publie parks law beginning May 23, .2011 by
Daniel Barry/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that tobacco companies finally admitted under duress that cigarettes might carry some negative health consequences. Since then, governments of the world have been enacting legal restrictions on smoking, to the dismay of those desperate to engage in a drug habit that said companies continue to deny might be addictive.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Scott Barbour/Getty Images News/Getty Images

"Take this, The Man."

But the big question you have to ask yourself is, how in the hell did it take so long? Tobacco has been around for centuries (in Europe since the 1500s, in the Americas long before that), so how did it take so long for the world to realize its heaviest users eventually started coughing up their lungs ... and still couldn't stop smoking the shit?

But If You Go Back In Time ...

All the way back in the 1600s, the European Catholic Church started to take note of increasing tobacco usage by priests during Sunday mass. Supposedly, after one snuff-using priest vomited the body of Christ all over the floor of a holy temple during Communion, Pope Urban VIII enacted the first recorded anti-tobacco ban in public spaces -- specifically, near a church.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Pietro da Cortona

"I mean, it's cool with me, but Jesus is being all whiny."

Admittedly, the cost of smoking in and around churches according to Urban's decree was a little more severe -- today, the punishment is a fine, but back then, it was excommunication, meaning that you couldn't go to heaven and were damned to spend eternity burning in the fires of hell, prodded by devils, for the crime of indulging in a Marlboro near God's house. Even a Marlboro Light.

But even more extreme laws were enacted in 17th-century China. In 1639, Emperor Chongzhen announced a law that anyone caught smoking faced the death penalty. And, really, what better way to keep people from getting cancer than to just kill them before they get the chance? We're kind of surprised nobody else has thought of that. Seeing the insanity behind that decision, the law was revised by the next emperor, who announced that anyone even possessing tobacco would be executed. Kind of puts things in perspective for any smoker who watches Mad Men and longs for the days when everybody could puff away around the conference table.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
shyflygirl/iStock/Getty Images

And on planes. Why do they even still remind us? We get it, planes.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever

The "War On Terror" Has Been Going Since Ancient Rome

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

"Terrorism," depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on, is either the go-to strategy for heartless sociopaths or a buzz word for political ideologues who want to admonish their opponents as heartless sociopaths. Either way, the term really only came into American parlance in the 1970s, like some extremist folks suddenly decided over the past few decades that strapping a bomb to yourself is an effective military strategy. After all, didn't people fight wars like gentlemen before? You know, where everybody lined up in civilized, controlled formations like in 300 or Kingdom Of Heaven?

But If You Go Back In Time ...

Terrorism was a thing long before any suicide bomber or airline hijacker made headlines. Way before -- even as far back as the time of Jesus there were groups who violently opposed Roman rule over Judea (approximately the region now known as Israel), even if their methods didn't involve explosions. For example, the very word "zealot" derives from those groups of Jewish extremists. An offshoot of the group, whose ideology was considered even too extreme for the Zealots, was the Sicarii, whose name derived from their favorite tool of stabbery, a short dagger called a sica.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Alexei Novikov/iStock/Getty Images

Sick Sicarii soldier silhouette shown sica stabbing.

Equipped with their murder-knives, the Sicarii blended into crowds, looking for Romans and Roman sympathizers, which they then promptly shanked before escaping the scene. The Sicarii were also known for hostage-taking, intimidation of wealthy Jews, and the massacring of Roman POWs. And yes, they were successful -- they got the Roman-free Judea they sought. For a while, anyway.

The First World Financial Crisis Happened In The Year 1345

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Of course, countries have always had periods in which they fall on hard times. It's just that there used to be some kind of tangible reason for it -- a drought that killed the crops, a long winter that wiped out the cattle, a volcano that buried the entire country in magma. Contrast that to the kind of depressions and recessions we have today, which are always the result of complicated bullshit involving banks and interest rates, everyone getting slapped by the invisible hand of the modern free market. Can anyone reading this even explain in plain English what happened in 2008? ("Something to do with Lehman Brothers defaulting on a subprime mortgage, right?")

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Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There were definitely graphs involved!

For instance, the Great Depression was, as you probably heard in school, the worst downturn the world had ever seen. The collapse of 2008 was almost as bad. In both cases, they were something only the modern, global economy could have dreamed up. Just like the planet had never known the concept of a "world war" before the 20th century, nobody had seen a worldwide economic catastrophe caused by a bunch of banking fuck-ups until the modern era.

But If You Go Back In Time ...

Let us introduce you to the Florentine banking collapse of the 14th century, which led to mass famine across Europe comparable to or exceeding the most well-known financial crises of the modern era. You think it was bad for you when you got laid off in the wake of the 2008 collapse? Be thankful you weren't alive in 1345.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Wellcome Library/Wiki Commons

"I'm here to deliver your severance package, which involves me severing your package."

The major banks in Europe at the time were those owned and run by the Florentine noble families of Peruzzi and Bardi, and the financial crisis they created started in an eerily similar fashion to so many of our better-known modern crises, with bad loans and under-regulation. Those bad loans were doled out to the city-state of Florence, the kingdom of Naples, and King Edward III of England, mostly to finance wars -- some of which were goaded on by the banks themselves to further the interests of their commodity speculation business. The Peruzzi and Bardi banks also knowingly gave out what were essentially subprime loans to farmers and merchants so they could repo all the valuable land they were quite literally sitting on.

By 1340, Edward III, the kingdom of Naples, and the city of Florence found themselves essentially owned by the two banks, as most or all of their income was now going to the servicing of their debts. Unsurprisingly, they eventually defaulted instead of somehow conjuring money from nowhere (wasn't this the age of wizards? Where's Merlin when you need him?), resulting in the collapse of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks.

5 Modern Controversies That Have Been Around Forever
Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

They tried the old "Our raven's in the air; it must be late or something" trick for a while, but eventually it fell through.

The crisis drove enough farmers to bankruptcy that it led to a famine throughout Europe, and millions began to starve. Then, as though it had just been waiting for Europe to be at its weakest, the Plague struck and wiped out millions of impoverished people. If nothing else, that at least helped people take their minds off their late fees.

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For more things that aren't new, check out 30 'Modern' Things That Are Way Older Than You Think and 20 Annoying 'Modern' Trends That Are Older Than You Think.

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