Anyone who has followed this blog for very long must have noticed it appears less often and more unpredictably than it did in the past. I find it more difficult to write, I guess, for a variety of reasons: my wife’s unexpected death, the holidays, my increasing age and lack of creativity, the banality of what passes for “news,” and a general lack of motivation and inspiration. I also have been seized by a bout of genuine nostalgia.
I don’t know if things were better in the good ol’ days, but in many ways it seems to me they were. Looking back over my life I think probably the best period was during WWII when I was a teenager. I don’t know if this is because I was younger and not as well informed about the world as I am now, or if it was, in fact, a better and more satisfying time. I don’t enjoy the image of myself as a cranky old man complaining about changes I don’t understand, and I don’t know how one would ever really know what period of time was better than others. It does seem to me things were different and simpler back in those days. Life was much less frantic than it seems to be now. The music was softer, gentler, more romantic, and you could even understand the lyrics. While it is true we jitterbugged and there was be-bop and boogie woogie, it was in general far more dominated by the big band era and sentimental music for dancing. To me much of what passes for music today is little more than noise and the pace is frantic, the lyrics unintelligible, and the dancing painfully unchoreographed.
Motion pictures, too, were very different. It is true we enjoyed mostly westerns and detective and gangster movies, and there was a bit of shooting and violence, but the good guys always won and when compared to what passes for movies nowadays they were genuinely benign. Violence and sex, especially the latter, were not the dominant themes and, like music, movies were more romantic, featuring musicals and romantic comedies rather than the ubiquitous sex and violence that dominates what we are offered nowadays. In general the pace of life was slower without computers and the internet. We wrote our schoolwork out by hand or at best on the typewriter, copying things was more difficult, and things, in general, required more thought and effort.
With no television we received our news from the radio or from brief news programs that usually accompanied movies. With no television and computer games we played outside and had to entertain ourselves through activity rather than simply sitting and watching. We were much more physical. Obesity was not a national problem. Medicine was more primitive, I do not recall anyone having health insurance. If you were sick and could afford it you saw a doctor, people died younger and no doubt suffered more but they did not tithe money to insurance companies as we do now. Health care has always been a problem and while it is better now than it was it is still a problem. A single payer system would obviously be the best solution but at the moment this would appear to be out of the question.
I wasn’t much interested in politics as a teenager, but I was certainly aware of the war effort and followed Roosevelt and Churchill as they eventually prevailed against the Nazis. There was none of the bitter partisanship that characterizes contemporary politics. While there were differences between Republican and Democrats both parties had the best interest of the nation in the forefront of their behavior, no one would have placed party ahead of national interest. We had no “empire” to defend, no troops stationed all around the world, all of that began slowly after the war years and has grown like a sort of cancer on our foreign policy.
I find it impossible to say that things are either better or worse today than they were in the 1940’s and 50’s. Some things are obviously better, cars are better, tires are better, refrigerators are better, people live longer on the average, Black people and women are better off than previously, and so on. But there is still racism and sexism, poverty may even be worse, our politics are a mess, global warming is a terrible threat, the national debt is a threat, our infrastructure has deteriorated badly, our educational system is a disaster, we are killing each other at an unprecedented rate, and our government is dysfunctional. Are we better off than we were? As an old man I don’t think so. I think I was much happier back in the 40’s and 50’s. Sadly, it doesn’t matter.