All right… this one put me into fill-tilt rant mode! It’s a reaction to one of those email circulars that our crazy uncles keep sending us – you know the kind, offering vast, sweeping, counter-factual assertions in lieu of evidence, logic or even common sense, all in order to justify hating half of their fellow citizens. I generally ignore them, but this one is wildly popular among millions of “values” Americans who have been talked into full-scale nostalgia. It needs an answer.
So read on only if you’re in a mood for pyrotechnics!
By people who respect skill and knowledge and the folks who have them.
America was not built by fellows like the author of this maudlin paean to yesteryear: HIGH SCHOOL — 1957 vs. 2010 who claims to have witnessed “how far our nation has declined socially, morally and spiritually…” proceeding to list scenarios such as: “Billy breaks a window in his neighbor’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.”
Let’s follow along the author’s (fanciful) comparison between 1957 and 2010:
“1957 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.
2010 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy’s mom has an affair with the psychologist.”
But go ahead and read this spectacular feat of tendentious-nostalgia* and temporal myopia. You’ll laugh… when you’re not crying.
In fact, let me be honest and admit – two of these little tales, about how America had some simpler, more earthy aspects in 1957, resonate with parts of me that are – well – kinda conservative at-heart… in the old-better way William F. Buckley meant it. Still, most of this “1957” screed is drooling imbecility. Scenarios 6, 7, & 8 are merely sick fantasies.
Oh, but I was inspired! So, with the other guy’s list of time-comparisons in mind (in fairness – do peruse his versions), try on these additional contrasts between 1957 and 2010.
Hmmm let’s see.
1957: Gracie (age 13) is raped by her stepfather. Shamed into keeping silent, she’s guilt tripped for “asking for it.”
(Her eventual shrink, a Freudian, tells her she imagined it all.)
2011: Gracie has a black belt. Sucker is never going to attack a woman again. And just to make sure, she goes public.
(Oh, and Freudians are extinct, thank God.)
1957: Thomas attends a segregated school without textbooks, heat or windows. Or hope. Every media message tells him he is destined to be a servant.
2011: Thomas attends Caltech. He carries no handicaps of preconception because of his race. We all benefit from his research.
1957: Jimmy is a “four-eyes” who loves science. He is bullied, harassed, buggered and tormented. Everybody shrugs. “boys will be boys.”
(I was there, in 1957. I fought back, really well. But I saw other boys crushed, pulverized, even driven to suicide.)
2011: In most middle class areas, severe physical bullying is almost nonexistent. Today Jimmy is the CEO of a software company, making life better for everybody. Geeks and nerds are cool. And whoever wrote that “fights were honorable” in 1957 can screw himself. I was there. Some fights were like that, I recall. But the other kind – pure, vicious terrorism – were far more common. (Only jerks who used to be bullies are nostalgic for those “good old days.”)
1957: Gracie’s rape turns into a pregnancy that will ruin her life. Or she goes to a back alley abortionist. Dies in agony.
2011: Rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, STDs, early marriage, and domestic violence are far LOWER in Blue America than they were in 1957. Divorce rates are higher, because women are empowered… but in Blue America even divorce is tipping downward, along with steeply-falling crime.
One could go on and on, showing a thousand ways that THINGS ARE VASTLY BETTER today in the 21st Century! Indeed, shouldn’t they be? Didn’t those wise moms and dads of 1957 work damned hard to help make a better world?
Don’t we praise them by admitting they succeeded? Don’t we insult them by sneering that they failed? Think about that! Which of us here is deep-down more respectful to folks of earlier days? And which of us insults them as failures?
== Not everything is better ==
But to be fair… I admit that some things today are worse today than they were in 1957! Here are a few examples.
1957: Thalidomide babies are born armless. The bald eagle almost vanishes. Unregulated, toxins leak into places like Love Canal. Lakes are dying everywhere. People die unnecessarily, neglecting to use seatbelts or helmets. School kids cry because the air hurts to breathe. Polio so terrifies parents that they keep children locked inside during summer, forbidding them from going to the public pool. (I remember it all.)
But in 1957 wise and good people dream of an era when scientists can help us all figure out what substances work and which ones do harm. Following 1957’s Sputnik scare, Americans think scientists are wonderful! Soon, Jonas Salk is the most popular man in America.
2011: Ungrateful imbeciles rage against science, following radio ignoramuses into snits against vaccination, economics, meteorology, evolution, medicine and biology. Science has made terrific progress and we know tons more! Blue America keeps getting healthier and living longer. It’s an age of real wonders and American science literacy is second only to Japan’s.
But meanwhile, there’s another America – that keeps smoking and shovels down pork rinds, while self-righteously screeching that liberals are ordering them what to eat — (a damned lie). And they die young.
And the War Against Science (and every other profession that knows stuff — like journalists, teachers, doctors, professors, civil servants, attorneys and skilled labor) rages on. Yep, some things are much worse.
1957: The greatest enemy of freedom and enterprise is Soviet Communism. A terrible threat and an evil empire! Democratic president Truman establishes NATO, the Marshall Plan and containment as national policy. Republican president Eisenhower maintains consistency and establishes a tradition of consensus negotiation between parties. Disparities of income and wealth (among whites) are at the lowest point in all of human history. The rich pay a lot of taxes, yet still have plenty to invest in the most vibrant capitalism of all time. Under Rooseveltian tax rates and regulation, the middle class grows by leaps and bounds.
Yes, there are Joe McCarthys on the right. But there are also Buckleys and Goldwaters who love science and intellect and negotiation and the kind of respectful argument that features – above all – curiosity and an eagerness to learn. Likewise, liberals and democrats utterly reject communism. Extremism is dumb. Moderation is in.
2011: Communism is gone and the far left is a joke. The greatest enemy of free enterprise is a cabal of 500 billionaires who appoint each other to director boards, protect each other and vote each other mega compensation packages, no matter how poorly the company does. They combine to take over American politics through secret slush funds and to finance culture war. Anyone who complains is pushing “class war.”
The nation is sucked into a decade of trillion dollar quagmire wars of attrition in Asia — but for the first time in our nation’s history the rich refuse to help pay for a desperate military struggle. The nation is deliberately ripped by Culture War, weakening us worse than anything has since the Civil War.
OKAY, SOME THINGS ARE WORSE. I admit it.
On the other hand… I must recall that in 1957 there were vastly more awful voices on the crazy right than the jerk who wrote this “comparison.” Men who fulminated against Martin Luther King and desegregation, instead of claiming (as Glenn Beck does today) that “we invented civil rights and Dr. King was one of us!”
Men who called it a commie plot to assert that cars made smog. Who screeched that only communists thought that tobacco caused disease. Jerks who helped cancer-causing companies to lie about it for an entire generation. Men who promised to get us off the habit of wastefully suckling the teat of foreign oil states… only to do everything in their power to keep us hooked.
Yes, 1957 was a better time…for crazies. But we still have plenty of those, and they are trying hard to catch up to the good old days.
* Fascinating recent (and relevant) science: People who are better at memory, and especially telling the difference between true memories and imagined ones, seem to have a better-developed fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS). This brain variation is present in roughly half of the normal population. It’s one of the last structural folds to develop before birth, so it varies greatly in size between individuals in the healthy population. Researchers discovered that adults whose MRI scans indicated an absence of the PCS were significantly less accurate on memory tasks than people with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain. If verified, a stunning and important finding.
But well, that’s science.