The myth of the golden past
You have heard it before for it is a common refrain. People like to lament about how things in today's world are on a downward spiral and they verbalize a wish to return to happier, better times—the good ol' days. I have heard folks say things like: “I think I would have done better if born in a simpler time.”
This idolizing of the past may seem to be harmless babble. I call it the Myth of the Golden Past and it is not harmless. It is my objective to point out this damaging myth and the damnable belief that all is lost as if humans are swirling around the drain.
What about the challenges of modern life? There is terrorism, the opiate crisis, political dysfunction, refugees, a resurgence of overt racism, the abuse of women, economic inequality, attacks on democracy and climate change. It is all presented to us in detail via our hyperactive media and millionaire television hosts. I get it. Yes, we have much work left to do and challenges to conquer but ignoring the incredible progress and glorifying some yet to be identified golden past time is not going to help.
You know, the days when men where men and the women were damn glad of it! The days when we all attended school, studied hard, respected our elders and cared about learning. The time when dedicated politicians listened and worked for us, everyone had a job, mothers loved their children, there were no drugs, no gangs, no threats of terrorism, and little crime.
I do believe it is time to push away our bowls of Dreamos, focus, and get real. I demand to know exactly when was this Golden Age? It is a righteous demand for idolizing the past depresses people, contributes to sad, struggling souls taking their own lives, and in part, gave us the horror of white supremacist Dense Donnie Trump.
Let's dial in the time machine for the correct era for this Golden
Past. If anyone wishes for a return to early humanity when the Black Plague and smallpox killed millions, when the Catholic Church controlled everything and tortured or killed anyone who did not conform to their belief system, when people still believed that the earth was the center of the universe, when folks lived short, difficult lives, when women were second-class citizens viewed as property of men, when slavery and serfdom were common experiences for much of humanity, then they must be required to read and study history.
Anyone who believes the Golden Past coexisted with slavery is racist and mentally ill. So, let's eliminate dialing in any time before the Civil War was over for a society filled with slaves both from Africa and those indentured from other areas was anything but golden.
Some claim the Wild West was a Golden Time. Well, for those folks I must call bullpucky for the supposed Wild West was not wild for the native people of North and South America who had lived for tens of thousands of years in successful societies. It was only wild for the invaders who fled the misery of Europe and Asia to risk their lives for possible rewards on a new continent bringing with them superior weapons, a conquering attitude, religious dogma, and unknown diseases that ended up killing 95% of the native population. No, forget the Wild West.
Perhaps it was at the dawn of the 20th Century. Could 1900 be seen as the golden time? Nope. Get real, people. Half of humans were not allowed to vote for women did not receive such a “privilege” until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. We were still mostly on horseback, there was no such thing as air travel, no food regulation, no child labor laws, only six percent of the society graduated from high school, kids used to picket to have the right to attend school, railroad workers would lose an arm on the job and receive five bucks and their walking papers, monopolies controlled most of the economy and life expectancy was stuck at 48 for whites and 34 for black men and women. Twelve percent of whites and four percent of blacks could expect to make it to 65.
Okay, how about the decade from 1910-1920? Well, there was this little thing called WWI that killed millions of people during this time. A flu epidemic in 1918-1919 killed over 600,000 people—our country ran out of coffins—in the United States alone and 30 million worldwide. If you call that time golden you have to be a psychopath.
The Roaring Twenties then, perhaps that was the golden era.
Flappers doing the Charleston seems like a symbol of happier times. But compared to what? Soldiers—tens of thousands— returned to society shell-shocked from WWI and thousands of families were still mourning the loss of their loved ones. Prohibition allowed gangsters to take over many of our cities and thousands died each year from bad batches of homemade booze. I seem to remember that decade ended with the stock market crashing and people diving out of skyscraper windows.
The 1930's? Few are silly enough to claim unemployment rates over 25% and people waiting in blocks-long lines in our cities for a bowl of soup and perhaps an apple or cup of coffee was a golden time. It certainly couldn't have been the 1940's with Hitler threatening and almost succeeding in taking over the world, murdering millions of Jews and throwing the world into the most terrible global conflict in the history of the world where millions of people died. I know, I know. . . it was the 1950's. That has to be it.
Leave It to Beaver, I Love Lucy, Chuck Berry, Doo-Wop music and total peace. Hate to bum you out, but I lived during this decade and although much good did happen in that time period it was not all a golden time. How about discriminatory policies, including separate drinking fountains, bathrooms and the shame of segregated schools? I was in grade school during this decade and lost my father to diabetes—a disease that now can be managed—back then it was a likely death sentence. I can remember how handicapped children that needed Special Education, love, and acceptance were hidden away in bleak classrooms in the basement near the furnace room. Oh, we also lost 35,000 soldiers in the Korean War and nutcase
Republican Joseph McCarthy terrorized his fellow citizens with the Red Scare. The curse of polio was alive and well, killing over 52,000 people in 1952. Only 51% of students graduated from high school.
Hmm. . . could it have been the 1960's? Beach Boy music, the Beatles, skateboards, muscle cars, Woodstock and flower children were all pretty great but yikes, what about the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther, Jr. and Robert Kennedy?
Millions of us actually witnessed a real murder live on television when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Campus unrest over the ludicrous Vietnam War and bodies coming home daily from the Southeast Asia debacle were constantly with us. Black people being beaten and sprayed with water hoses for peacefully protesting their place in society, a full century after the Civil War, was a traumatic time. Golden time?
There were problems in the decade of the 1970's including the continuing of the Vietnam War and the shame of the thousands of needless deaths there, the idiocy of spraying poison to kill large swathes of jungle, military leaders lying to us, secret bombing campaigns, Watergate, a psychotic president, the Kent State shootings that were supported by 57% of the population, and the energy crisis. Iran took over our embassy and held hostages. The 1980's had some good music but is too recent to be called the good ol'days as are the 1990's.
Yes, we have problems now. There have always been difficulties.
It doesn't help to spread or believe in myths about how great things were in some mysterious time long ago. It is not a harmless myth either. It causes people to see only the bad in modern life and ignore the good. It causes young people to become depressed and discouraged and encourages mentally ill crap like those who look forward to the End of Times and the crazy sounding Rapture.
The next time you hear me or yourself or another spouting about how great things were look around for a moment or two.
Aren't computers, phones and the Internet amazing? Haven't we made progress in nearly every aspect of life over the years? I met two people this week who would be dead if not for the incredible advances made in the medical field. People live longer, are more educated and despite the many conflicts around the globe, the world has never been more peaceful. We can fly across the country or across oceans in a matter of hours— and bitch if our plane is an hour late—on trips that used to take weeks or months not so long ago. At any given moment today there will be 5,000 airliners in the air.
People of all colors are more integrated into all aspects of modern life than ever before. We have recreational time and entertainments that our ancestors could not even dream about or imagine.
Just judge your reaction to this statement: On the long trail of human progress, there has never been a better time to be alive than today.
Too many will shake their heads in disapproval of that proper statement. Here is my final evidence, your honors.
A hundred million people died in the World Wars. Smallpox—now cured—killed a million people in 1968. Thirty million people died of influenza in the 1918-19 epidemic. Many mothers in the past watched their precious babies die before age five. Losing kids was a part of life for most of human history.
We primates sent a space vessel out of our solar system and have access to all types of knowledge at our fingertips. More people died in the Civil War years of bacterial infections than died of wounds because the doctors of the time had no understand of the importance of hygiene in operations. The positive progress from that ignorant time to now is unreal. We can replace specific body parts now to extend lives. Life expectancy was in the mid-forties at the turn of the 20th Century. It is now close to eighty.
Grab someone's hand, find someone who needs a hug, be an encourager, show gratitude and appreciation for our ancestors for we all stand on their shoulders.
The lecture is now over so please pass around the collection plate. Folding money is appreciated more than spare change. Thank you for the honor of your time.
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