Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Good Old Days That Never Were

After a cornucopia of delightful workshops with folks at the BCMEA Conference in Vancouver,
I came to my friend Pam and Michael’s house where I’ll stay another few days and had the usual scrumptious Michael dinner with convivial and stimulating conversation. Lamenting the state of the world, Michael asked, “Can you name a time when you rather would be living?”

Now there’s a thoughtful question. Anything before 1900 would mean no flush toilets, no running water, a severely reduced average life-span, bad dentistry and no Trader Joes. Not to mention war, pestilence, disease, famine, the specter of slavery, woman out of the workplace and voting booths, children working in factories. If you really think about it, marvelous works of art and music came out of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical periods, but would it really have been fun to be living then? In China, there was the lovely practice of binding feet, in Japan, samurai marauding around or protecting the village from marauders, in India, the chance of being born into the Untouchable caste, in West Africa, the chance of being captured in a tribal war and then bought as slaves, in South America, perhaps sacrificed to the Inca or Aztec gods. And so on.

Then take it decade by decade in Europe and the United States. Getting run off the road by the first “horseless carriages” and factories replacing farming? Getting sent off to the trenches of World War 1? Getting arrested for teaching evolution in schools, watching Al Jolson in blackface in The Jazz Singer, prohibition and the rise of the Mafia, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti? On to the glorious Depression. Then comes the lovely World War II and the atom bomb. On to the arms race, Leave It to Beaver next to Jim Crow, the false promise of technology as salvation. That brings us to the turbulent 60’s and Kent State and the Vietnam War and youth lost to drugs, Guru Maharaji, born-again Jesus cults. Nixon’s betrayal opens the 70’s, Reagan’s Star Wars Shield, trickle-down feed-the-rich bullshit, continuing the new Jim Crow incarcerating black folks and the turn to conservatism. Finally the 90’s with Clinton’s hopes dashed on the rocks of Nafta, outsourcing labor, deregulating a greedy Wall Street, the beginning of the next wave of technology to distract us while promising to connect us. The next century opens with Bush's election steal, 9/11, Katrina and the like. Obama's glorious victory is the closest I can be nostalgic for, but soured by the Tea Party and the refusal of Republicans to put the country's health at stake and just taking their ball and refusing to play the game. And don't even mention 11/9, 2016. Which would you choose for “this is when it all was good and honest and beautiful?”

Like I said, a provoking question. Name a decade in the entire history of the species when people were not facing the sensation of a world gone mad. Now I do believe there were pockets of peace and prosperity and places where indeed, issues were reduced to a manageable proportion. “Hmm. We could use a bit of rain right now.” “The roof is leaking.” “Ward, I’m worried about the Beav.” And I do feel like the magnitude and intensity of today’s issues— climate change, nuclear threats, terrorism, the swing to fundamentalism, the rise of “truth doesn’t matter,” addiction to machines and alienation from nature and our own nature, “my ignorance is just as good as your education” and so on is indeed daunting and overwhelming and in a different realm altogether.

But beside the fact that even the poor amongst us in most of the world live more comfortably than kings of any bygone era and much longer lives as well, the other heartening news is that there are more and more people awake to and awakening to these problems. I often think of the “beatniks” of the 1950’s running so counter to mainstream America that they must have felt isolated in a way that I didn’t when I joined the “hippie movement” in the 60’s. And every time I go to a rally in San Francisco, I remember how many of us are outraged by what it is and determined to try to keep working for what might be. And yes, the stakes are high, but our freedom to publicly write and disseminate posts like these, to gather and raise our voices both in protest and song, our hope to convince yet more that content of character supercedes skin color, sexual preference, gender and religion is not to be taken lightly. As we say to the preschool kids, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” This is what we have to work with. And again, would you prefer any of the other decades?

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