Sunday, July 1, 2007
The Good Old Days
Do you remember the good old days? Those heady, carefree days of youth when the world was so much better then it is today. Now for me, who might be (and probably is dammit) a little older than the rest of you, this was the period between 1965 and 1975. So my good old days were full of the Vietnam War, the war protests and peace riots (a curious, contradictory term, but I'll use it anyway) in Chicago during the '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago, race riots in LA and Detroit... Wait, that can't be right. This doesn't sound like all that great a deal.
Maybe we just didn't go far enough back. Let's try further back. During that same period in my parents lives things were probably the good old days. We were just coming out of the Great Depression, recovering from the "Dust Bowl" droughts in the Midwest, going into World War II... No wait, that doesn't sound any better. Let's go further back.
We'll find those those good old days yet if we just go back far enough. Let's see, a little earlier we had World War I - nope, not back far enough yet. Before that we had the Spanish - America War, fought so we could steal Spain's possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Before than we were winning the West by slaughtering an indigenous people while the killing off the buffalo that fed them, all while doing a pretty good job on each other in the streets with "carry permit" six-shooters. No, none of these seem to fit the bill. Better keep going.
OK, before that we had the Civil War, where the dead on both sides of the conflict were Americans; and those not killed outright usually died from disease caught from their wounds or from the shock caused by the amputations that passed for surgery. Before that we had the War of 1812. (This may in fact, be the first war that the US lost by the way. The Capitol in Washington D.C. was burned to the ground and we pretty much lost every engagement fought, with the exception of the Battle of New Orleans, where Andrew Jackson won decisively in a battle fought after the war was actually over.) A little before that we had the Revolutionary War - nope, we aren't there yet.
Before that we were settling this country and enduring the hardships of weather, starvation, a hostile indigenous people resentful over the arrival of bunch of colonists intent on taking possession of land that they felt belonged to everyone. The colonists in turn, faced horrendous conditions during the voyages from their former homes, and the rule of a monarchy in England (and the rest of Europe for that matter) who sought only exploit them for their own gains. Maybe we need to skip through for a while until we find what we are looking for.
Before that we had the feudal system in Europe where most people were peasants or servants, the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expected by the way), the Black Death, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, conquest of the European and Asian continents by everyone from Napoleon and Julius Caesar to Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Wait this can't be right, or can it?
The truth of the matter is that the "Good Old Days" of the past are mostly a fiction created by our lack of responsibilities and the immature perspective of youth, when we barely understood the world around us. The reality of the past is actually mostly a series of dark and dreary days filled with wars, short lifespans, high percentages of infant mortality, plague, pestilence, starvation, torture, slavery, and one group of people seeking to impose its will on another group for either political gain, religious reasons, or out of just plain greed.
Even the concept of regular bathing and indoor plumbing (both near and dear to my heart) did not seem to have been terribly widespread until very recently (though there were notable exceptions throughout history which I will ignore since they fail to make my point).
My conclusion therefore is that people who talk about "The Good Old Days" should be bludgeoned with one of the history textbooks that serve to point out their error and distorted perception of the past. Most of history involves living in disease, filth, and terror in conditions that are so bad that you would be arrested for putting a stranger in them, even if they asked you to. The bright spots in the story only manage to illuminate the mostly sordid past of our species, shining a light on the pain and misery that has been the greater part of the tale.
Now I'm not trying to ruin everyone' s day here with a recounting of doom and gloom (well, maybe I am; but only for people that I don't like and only subconsciously). I just want you all to stop complaining about today and bitching about how great things were in "The Good Old Days". If anything, you should take comfort in the idea that no matter how bad things might appear today, that this is still the best that things may ever have been in history.
And remember, I'm carrying my book bag for those who haven't been paying attention.