The Lady of the House spent the holidays visiting relatives in the homeland. She mentioned to me that her family apparently eats off of paper plates now due to the tedium of arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes.

This gave me a new way to think about the fall of the Roman Empire. From our perspective, we look back and wonder how shepherds and peasants could have lived among the ruins of Roman infrastructure without being motivated to replicate those technological achievements. Perhaps in addition to the usual answers given, we should consider the possibility of an entire culture essentially sitting back-to-back, arms folded, glaring straight ahead in silence. Oh, you think I’m going to be responsible for the maintenance on those giant stone buildings and paved roads? I guess we’ll just share this dirt-floor wooden hut with our livestock instead!

We moderns have inherited the Renaissance perspective that contemplation of the lost glories of antiquity was always tinged with melancholy and nostalgia, but the British historian Chris Wickham claims that the Roman ruins were seen in the early medieval period as emblematic of the righteous and inevitable triumph of Christianity over paganism. Likewise, perhaps the use of paper plates in lieu of perfectly good ceramic and china will be seen by future scholars as a symbol of the equally righteous and inevitable triumph of domestic egalitarianism over the gendered division of household drudgery.