"My faith was so much stronger then
I believed in fellow men
I was so much older then
When I was young
When I was young”
----- The Animals “When I Was Young” (1)
It is, perhaps, the lament of every generation that life has reached it’s zenith, perhaps civilization its apex, when ‘I was young’. Age, it seems, not only brings a catalogue of ailments and declining abilities but an increasing sensation that the polished brass of youth has grown rather tarnished and tawdry. Life begins to ape one’s aching body and society, in short order, follows the trajectory of body and soul. In any case, it appears to be a near universal human experience that life was better all those years ago. I was so much older then, when I was young.
2014 marked a century since the outbreak of the “Great War” when Europe became a killing field and the United States emerged as a world power. It also marked the end of the “American” century as, it was announced last December, China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy. The United States, the “Arsenal of Democracy”, which had held the pre-eminent position as the world’s largest economy since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, has now relinquished its place as the world’s greatest economic engine, with political and military power soon to follow.
This, too, is the legacy of the “Generation of Swine” who have managed in a span of 30 years to squander the national trust.. We have witnessed the wholesale gutting of the industrial base, the disinvestment in our workforce, our schools, our infrastructure, ourselves. We have engaged in a ‘every-man-for-himself’ race to the bottom. We no longer believe in government because we no longer believe in our fellow men. No longer do we heed Jeremy Bentham’s dictum of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ but charity, as well as public policy, are increasingly defined as, my wife would say, to “me, my four and no more”.
Life has become base, crude, uncivilized and tawdry. Rap music and ‘pants to the ground’. Television after you subtract out the 4 channels broadcasting, at any given time, ‘the world’s greatest pillow’, the religious howlers, and the conspiracy channels one is left holding an empty bag. The “History” and “Discovery” channels, which formerly broadcast content that at least had the pretense of scholarship are now nothing more than programs about witches, goblins, haunted houses, and conspiracy theories. There is the standard daytime fare: Jerry Springer and his imitators in which the lower intestines of American culture are daily flushed into the living rooms of the nation, if not the world. Then there is the news. Where once stood Murrow, Cronkite, Blair, Rather, Severied, Huntley and Brinkley, and a host of professional reporters we are now presented with the likes of O’Reilly, Beck, and a whole network of babbling buffoons. Jane Curtin, reprising her role on “Weekend Update” for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was moved to quip “40 years ago I was the only dumb blonde on television delivering fake news...now we have a whole network”, referring, of course, to the debasement of the industry by the likes of Rupert Murdock. And let’s not even talk about radio where hate speech is the order of the day, where either one is inundated with diatribes belittling the poor, minorities, women and those who struggle under ‘the new world order’, or with infantile paranoid conspiracy theories spun by the likes of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones where we are led to dance on ramparts. Once we could take matters in hand, as we did at the Pettis Bridge in Selma and march for freedom, today we huddle fearing anyone and everyone. Increasingly my country feels like my aging body, where once we marched in confidence, today we recoil and huddle in pain and fear waiting for the next blow from the hopelessly juvenile, cretinous, knuckle-dragging Tea-baggers,as they do the bidding of their corporate masters. We were so much older then, when we were young.
“I have left Act I, for involution
And Act II. There, mired in complexity
I cannot write Act III.”
----Senator Eugene McCarthy “Lament for an Aging Politician” (2)