Thursday, September 30, 2004

Tom Ehrich: Life Wasn’t Better in the ‘50s

Have you ever listened to somebody long for purer, simpler times? You know, when Western Civilization wasn’t crumbling around us? I took a history degree, and it’s my considered opinion that it’s always been crumbling. Pick out bits of literature from any given generation, and you’ll find laments about how the younger generation was going to destroy them all.

It’s not a new phenomenon. And it’s similarly silly when people go on about how the values of consumerism, materialism, et al. that have been spontaneously generated by my peers is going to destroy us all. No generation spontaneously generates its own values. We receive them and build upon them.

Here’s a bit from Tom Ehrich, though I do recommend that you read the whole piece.

Having experienced the 1950s, both as idyll and as truer stories encountered later, it perplexes me when that decade is held up as a golden era, a model of what modernity ought to be, as though everything would be right in the world if we reclaimed neighborhood schools, restored women to the kitchen and male dominance in the workplace, if churches "got back to basics," if diversity and immigration could be discouraged. And everything were made simple again.

It wasn't simple then.

It only seemed simple because we were children. In fact, the 1950s were as odd in their own right as subsequent decades, the only difference being that post-war Baby Boomers experienced the 1950s as children, the 1960s and 1970s as adolescents, and the years since then as adults vulnerable to uncertainty.

Besides, not all Americans in the 1950s were safe and serene, as gossamer stereotypes insist. Many experienced the '50s through Jim Crow laws, broken marriages, unacknowledged incest and alcoholism, an artificially induced arms race and pillaging by the wealthy, which would bear horrific fruit in later decades.

The retro yearnings of our day claim to be a search for better ethics, better religion and better citizenship. In fact, they are a search for lost childhood.

We were young, naive and safe. We lost that seemingly golden era, not because communists, secular humanists, moral relativists, situational ethicists, Presbyterians, hippies or liberals stole it from us, but because we grew up. And no amount of anti-modernist yearning will put Humpty together again.

From the Texas Baptist Standard

1 comment:

+ Alan said...

Here here! I'm sick, that's all I can say.