Tuesday, March 25, 2008

These Are the Good Old Days

A rant I wrote back in August and never got around to posting

There aren’t too many ways to get on my nerves, but one thing is almost certain to set me off: start whining about how much worse things are nowadays than they were 40, 50, how-many-ever years ago. Anyone, who didn’t sleep through every single moment of every single history class they ever had, should know better than to barf up that kind of slop.

“Morals have deteriorated in this generation,” is a perfect example. Um, no — or not nearly as much as blue-noses wish us to believe. The world has always harbored child molesters, adultery, teenage pregnancy, incest, and all the other nasty stuff on the other side of the line. I doubt it’s much more prevalent than it used to be, but we are more honest about its existence. Personally, I think it’s better to have this kind of stuff out in the open — sunlight, after all, is a disinfectant. Is it better to pretend your kid didn’t get molested, as was likely a generation ago, or to make a public legal example of the perpetrator? I hate to bring up the Catholic child-abuse scandal, but it was a scandal precisely because it had been covered up for so long. If the rogue priests had been immediately defrocked and turned over to the authorities 30 years ago, it certainly wouldn’t be an issue today. Another example: is it better to pack your pregnant daughter off to a relative’s, or to the abortion clinic; or would being there for her and helping her to cope with the situation be more like a… parent?

Pick a time in history, and just try to convince me that it was morally superior to today. We had Jim Crow from 1876 to 1964 and beyond, and slavery before that. Abortion, pornography, prostitution, and gambling were all legal and widespread until the Comstock laws of 1873. (They remained widespread after that, but went underground, enabling organized crime syndicates.) It took over 100 years of trying — from 1832 to 1938 — to get child labor laws on the national books. And if you think eminent domain gets abused today, study up on what the railroads did to people who happened to be in their way. Don’t even get me started about the abuses of feudal lords during the Middle Ages. No, morals are no worse than they’ve ever been — but we have correctly decided to talk about the problems and make them more visible. Being honest with ourselves probably makes us more “moral” than our ancestors.

What is happening is that people aren’t going to church nearly as much as they used to — and some of those who continue to go conclude that everyone else is morally inferior these days. But 60 or 70 years ago, church was often the only social connection available to common people, especially outside urban areas. In other words, people went to church because that was all there was to do after the chores were done. Nowadays, churches have to compete with lots of other ways for people to connect — including the Internet — and, as usual, conservatism (i.e. the inability to cope with change) has left far too many churches stuck in the 19th century. Look at the churches that are growing: they usually include more modern music styles, no dress codes, and outreach programs that are relevant to the world we live in. None of that is “diluting the gospel,” which is how most conservative church-goers dismiss any attempt to introduce something into worship other than what they grew up with.

Here’s another howler: “Kids (or pick a minority) have all the rights these days.” This is usually followed by an extreme (and rare) example, made to sound like it happens all the time. The people spewing this kind of garbage are usually the ones who enjoy(ed) abusing their kids, or lording it over minorities, and resent the very thought that those low-lifes could be their equals. And from what I remember about school, if “teachers don’t have any rights” nowadays, they (or their previous generation) brought it on themselves. In the not-so-good old days, any conflict between a student and a staff member was automatically resolved in favor of the staff — regardless of who was truly at fault. The only exceptions would be if the kid’s parents were on the school board or had other political connections. Disputes between students were resolved in the most expedient manner possible — in other words, the easy way instead of the right way. Don’t try to tell me it wasn’t so; I was there and saw it, several times from the wrong end.

Oh, and God help you if you caught out the teacher in class. Somewhere back in elementary school, we were studying inventors. The teacher had made a poster of different inventions and their inventors. Unfortunately for me, her poster said that Henry Ford invented the automobile and I knew he didn’t… and made the mistake of saying so. When she insisted, I started naming autos that preceded Ford and she started screaming about me contradicting her. I guess that’s when I realized that school was about something other than actually learning. There was never an apology or admission that I was right — and as a mere student, I never expected one. From then on, I pretty much coasted from (I think it was) 4th grade right on to graduation. Getting good grades was easy enough; just keep your head down, read ahead, and knock out the homework while the teacher was going on about something you’d already learned on your own.

I do feel for the teachers who are actually trying to make a difference with their students, but they’re usually the ones who aren’t going to have the worst problems anyway — even the bad kids know who’s phony and who isn’t. I also feel for the kids, like The Boy, who couldn’t cope with the boredom and conformism and drop out (which is not to say I approve, but I understand the motivation). Is it really asking too much to find out where a student’s talents and interests lie, and try to help them develop them? Oh yeah, that would mean increasing school taxes. Not on this planet… God forbid you pay another $10 a year in school taxes to improve the local schools. It was a bore-a-torium for your generation, why should it be interesting for the next? The only idea that seems to be gaining traction these days is to make school a year-round prospect. Daughter Dearest has just two more months of this; I hope she can avoid flaming out.

Is it any wonder that people are simply opting-out? The deck is stacked, the casino’s rigged, and the smarter ones are simply choosing not to play the game. “It builds character” is something I’ve never heard said by anyone who actually had to do whatever onerous chore someone else was stuck with. If you’re not going to help: stick your smarmy platitudes where the sun don’t shine, waddle away, and let me either deal with this on my own terms… or not.

Carole King said it back when I was a kid: “These Are the Good Old Days.” They are now, anyway. Enjoy them while they last.

4 comments:

  1. Hey Far! You're damn toot'en the good ol' days, weren't so good! At least not from my perspective..

    "Corporal punishment" was a standard rule (in more ways than one) of practice, in the school I attended. Not only would I take a lick'en there, but rest assured a worse one would be awaiting me when I got home...

    All and all though, I took my lick'ens in stride. Perhaps, this was preparing me for a life of "lick'ens"? I'm not complaining though and thank God for each and every one of them..

    Thanks, yooper

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  2. The question is, why does everything have to go to one extreme or the other? I managed to avoid anything worse than detention at school, myself — like I said, I learned early on what the real score was.

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  3. Great rant, FAR. Just goes to prove the old French maxim of Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Still, it's no fun to have to experience Nietzsche's 'eternal return of the same' when it involves one's own life.

    I still remember all the foaming at the mouth and ranting and raving about Madeleine Murray O'Hare and banning school prayers when I was a wee lad in 1st grade ... and they're still ranting about that today. Not to mention the whole 'moral turpitude' meme ... I just shrug and remember the wise Baudelaire prose poem Anywhere Out of This World where he advances of the idea of being in this world but not being of this world ... such is our so-called post-modern lot, I suppose.

    To them, all I can say is I fart in your general direction!

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  4. Hey IVG… yeah, that whole prayer in school thing is a big fat red herring (if not an outright lie the way it's spun), and a topic I've ranted about in the past. When people start realizing that “moral values” come from within, instead of being imposed from without, the world will be a better place.

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