There will always be other opinions and judgments. These are the stuff of life, and help to form new thoughts and opinions. The problem is that opinionated peeps tend to cluster around other people with the same opinions and analyses. This results in a shrinkage of choices in opinions, which in turn leads to flat and one-dimensional thinking. That’s why Notoir Books is proud to have the diverting, informative, and sometimes bizarre book CURIOUS PUNISHMENTS OF BYGONE DAYS in its collection.
I am of the opinion that everyone should be able to say everything he or she wishes, even when this results in perhaps the most egregious form of offensive speech. Even when the words hurt somebody, and even when the remarks make eyes go wet. Every person should have the right to spew their opinion.
There is a lot of buzz lately about people being digitally pilloried and shamed into submission when they commit some form of wrong-think. Authentic thinking folks are doxed. Houses are doused in red paint and dog urine, and sometimes the controversial people get yelled at in restaurants and other public places, for no other reason than that they said something about something. One can say that this is barbaric. But I think that this word is way too extreme to describe this phenomenon of allergy to other opinions. Intolerant, oversensitive, infantile, might be better descriptors of this simplistic behavior.
All in all things are not as bad as they may seem. In the old days, say a couple hundred years ago, the outsiders, heretics, and independent thinkers were treated in a more harsh fashion. Opinions had real, physical consequences. For example, gossipping, or voicing opinions that were at odds with your surroundings, could result in a weirdly sadistic contraption around your head.
Branks and Gags
The use of Branks and Gags as punishments in the Middle Ages had several unintended consequences. Branks were heavy metal masks or cages that were placed over a person’s head and locked in place, while gags were devices that were inserted into a person’s mouth to prevent them from speaking. Both punishments were often used to publicly shame and humiliate individuals who were accused of the crime of “saying weird stuff”.
Off course this had unintended consequences. These contraptions often caused physical pain and discomfort to the person wearing them. Branks were sometimes designed with sharp edges and spikes that could cut into a person’s skin, and gags could cause gagging and choking if they were inserted too far into the mouth. Talking, eating and drinking was nearly impossible.
Another unintended (and unwelcome, from the punisher’s viewpoint) consequence was that these punishments could actually increase sympathy for the person being punished. In some cases, people who saw someone wearing a brank or a gag would feel sorry for them and might even offer them some liquid food or other forms of support. This could lead to the person being punished gaining sympathy and support from the community, rather than being shunned and isolated as intended.
Curious punishments of bygone days
Before you start to think that we at Notoir are a bunch of sadistic creeps: we are not.
The reason that this kind of information is of interest to us, is that we often recognize that history has a tendency of rhyming. So happenings from the past will not exactly repeat themselves, but they will look like, or be similar to current affairs. Whether it happens in the political arena, or in our societal environments.
Yesteryear’s branks and gags are today’s demonetization’s. It was a communal thing, a treatment meted out to persons who fell outside the norm. Branks and gags resulted in the destruction of ones mouth and face. You could say goodbye to your dental works. Your tongue might not survive the ordeal. But more serious was the consequence of the destroyed reputation. You became literally an untouchable. Any person that came too close to you, or felt a iota of pity, was at risk of being infected by your crazy ideas. Chances were, that the law-abiding holier-than-thou thought-police would come for you. You had no more income, and where better off packing your stuff and moving to another community.
So the punishments might change over time, but the reasons stay pretty much the same. CURIOUS PUNISHMENTS OF BYGONE DAYS is a grim reminder that some things change, but other things don’t. It is a cool little history of public punishments in colonial America, and a testimony to the destructive power of group-think.
Let’s not judge the past. But at the same time, let us not believe that in modern times we are more enlightened then back in the days. A small part of us maybe is. But the majority will watch in silent glee, when you are demonetized, shunned, isolated, kicked off the socials, or worse.