"Palos Verdes Resident since 1947"

These Are Perilous Times

Originally written in May, 2009:

Please.  No, they are not. 
 
Every generation thinks they live in unprecedentedly “perilous times”. Remember the bucolic 1950’s? Ozzie & Harriet, Mickey Mouse, Howdy Doody, Elvis, and all that innocence? That’s not what people thought at the time! It was “head for the bomb shelter and duck and cover” ‘cuz them Ruskies could be sending a nuclear bomb over any minute. Not to mention polio and a bunch of other disesases since eradicated. We now know that none of that happened, and so are free to daydream about only the good stuff. 
 
And weren’t the 1960’s nostalgic and cute?  The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rat Pack, and those innocent anti-war protestors in their tie-dyed outfits? Are you kidding me?  A prevailing fear was of a Communist takeover instigated by those very protestors . . . some of whom were running the country in the 1990’s and one of whom is buds with the current CIC.  In retrospect, it was during this time that the country began to lose sight of what had made it the envy of the world.  The rise of Conservatism and the Christian Right were largely a reaction to this — conservatives retained the values that had made the country great, while liberals, ungrounded in anything that occurred before they were born and recently off the commune minus a bunch of brain cells, veered into all sorts of dead ends: experimental drugs, transcendentalism, pacifism, me-ism, elimination of poverty, pursuit of their idea of societal perfection, World Peace, and all sorts of other fruitless pursuits the futility of which, had they the least understanding of history, would have been apparent, and would have saved the rest of us all sorts of aggravation.
 
And the 1970’s — disco, leisure suits, hot pants, bell-bottoms, Malaise. Of course, at the time we weren’t sure the country would survive Watergate, Nixon “expanding the war”, the severe (at the time) recession of 1974-7, rampant inflation, 18% interest rates, and higher gas prices than today in constant dollars.  Actually, I wasn’t sure we’d survive Carter or disco.
 
And the 1980’s when the economy boomed, hair was big and inflation was small, and the Baby Boomers really came into their own.  The Baby Boomers, who had been spoiled by their parents’ attempt to give them the childhood the parents never had during the Depression, and who thought they were “special” and had everything figured out, with a sort of amoral “if it feels good, do it” mentality.  Heck, the lefties spent the most of the decade worrying that Reagan was going to start WW 3, that is until it became clear even to them that his “negotiation thru strength” policy was a whole lot better than Carter’s Group Hug one.
 
And, flipping the switch on the Way Back Machine, wouldn’t it have been great to be alive during the Renaissance?   Poets eating grapes and cooing to beautiful damsels by the River Bourne, Renaissance music echoing thru them stone cathedrals, knights slaying dragons and rescuing damsels from liscivious poets, Prince Henry the Navigator launching the Age of Exploration.  Sure, and you were lucky to live to 40, the cities were like sewers (literally), wars were incessant, and 2% of the population had all the money — chances are you’d have been living at a subsistence level.  Remember that history, prior to the 19th Century, was written by and about the upper classes, largely because they were the only ones that could read and write, other than the occasional monk, lest you bring up Bede.  There is very little in the surviving record that directly addresses the condition of the vast majority of people, so we tend to get a rosier picture than was reality.
Anyway, one big reason people think the “good old days” seem gooder than they were at the time, is because we now know how the “perilous times” in which they thought they lived turned out.  The crystal ball still has not been perfected, so they didn’t, and we don’t. 
 
Childhood is often cited as a better time.  Guess what — you were a child and probably weren’t aware of all the stuff adults (who were pining for their own childhood) were worrying about.  The expression “ignorance is bliss” probably has no better illustration than this — children tend to be blissfully ignorant of the world outside their immediate environs, and so aren’t troubled by concern about bigger events.
 
At some point in the not-too-distant-future, these days will be the “good old” ones because we will know how the current economic mess and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan turned out, George W Bush will likely (and regrettably) have  replaced James K Polk among the Top 10 Presidents, Obama will be a distant and painful lesson in the dangers of naivete in the White House (kind of like Carter is now), and of the pursuit of societal perfection beyond the point of diminishing returns, and we’ll have some new series of seemingly insoluable problems that make the current ones seem less serious.
 

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