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Friday, September 3, 2010

Nostalgia

Ever notice when an old white guy is talking about the "good old days" that he's never talking to a black guy?

Whenever I hear about someone waxing nostalgically for some halcyon days of yore, I like to point out all the bad stuff that was happening during the era they're supposedly pining for. Legalized segregation, men-only voting, extreme & widespread poverty, rampant disease & starvation, political & economic monopolies, an unfair & arbitrary justice system, oppressive local theocracies & oligarchies. Yeah, those sure were the days.

Fact is, more people are enjoying a better standard of living now than have ever enjoyed it in the past. That's right: despite the recession and whatever political or cultural Armageddon you want to buy into, humanity as a whole has never had it so good.

Sure, there are pockets of sheer hell, and, frankly, we could do a lot more to raise the standard of the average world citizen (rather than having a few with too much and too many with too little). But, even compared to a couple of decades ago, more of us are living better than ever.

Recently, I read an article written by a professor of English where he lamented the level of discourse on the internet. He likened the blogosphere to Hobbes's Leviathan, and he pined for the past, when learned men engaged each other in lively argument based on commonalities of high culture.

I call shenanigans. The times he harkened for never existed. Sure, the literature of the time is well-mannered and highly-wrought, and it seems that people engaged in oral argument that used classic rhetorical flourishes more than we do now -- but, we're talking about a very slim, select slice of the populace: mainly white men with educations and land. The rest of the unwashed and disenfranchized were too busy working 12-hour days, 6 days-per-week to, you know, memorize Robert's Rules of Order.

So, yeah, I love it when someone starts spouting off about how we should "return" to those great days of the past when everything was so much better. It usually only takes a little digging to figure out that what they really mean is they want to change things so that they have more power (or money or whatever) than they think they do. Most of the time, people who talk about "returning to the great days of the past" do so because they think they deserve more than they have.

And, yeah, I find that it's usually a white guy who who talks like this, but I've heard people of other skin tones and genders say the same thing. And it never takes long to find out that their vision of the past is more nostalgia than fact.

So, instead of taking about how bad things are compared to how they were, why don't we just chuck the rose-colored hindsight and focus on the here-and-now and engage each other in real and practical terms? Like what we're going to buy when it's time to upgrade our smartphones, or when the lease runs out on our SUV?

jjwylie@gmail.com
www.jjwylie.com

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