The Myth of a Golden Age
There’s this idea that I see that pops up quite often. And it’s my pet peeve of the day. It goes something like this: A sports fan says “I wish it was like the good old days, when the players were good people, didn’t care about the money, etc.” Or a teacher says “The education today is so much worse than it was when I was in school. Kids don’t learn as much, and don’t care, and there were no problems with drugs, or violence, etc.”
Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson
I call it the myth of the golden age. It was a time when everything was great and perfect, and there were few bad things going on. Life was simple and easier back then. Most of the time, I see it when people are talking about their childhood. I think it’s not a question of what the times were like back then, but a question of what the person remembers and perceived during that time. When you’re five, and the world is new, and every day is full of interesting wonderful things, it can seem like the world is perfect. You are not aware that your parents have problems. You have no idea that the world has problems. You are only exposed to the good things. You didn’t worry about work, or your own kids, or your future, or money. I think childhood really was a golden age for most of us. But these conditions were our conditions, and not the conditions of the world, or our own homes. The other thing is sometimes the golden age is the time when we are first exposed to a subject that we come to know quite well. For me, sports had a golden age in the 90s. It was all about the 49ers and the Cowboys. It was the Dream Team and Michael Jordan. Nothing else can match up. But I’m sure that if you ask someone 20 years older, they’ll give you a golden age about 20 years earlier.
I think that in general we talk about how terrible the world is, and what a mess we are in, both as a country and as a planet. But really, I think we’ve never had it better. We have cell phones and internet. We have cable and satellites. Microwaves and central air conditioning. We have pressurized water, hot and cold. We have sewage systems. We have electricity, and light. We know where to build and how to build, and we have bigger homes than at any other time in history. We have more knowledge at our fingertips. Democracy has never been stronger over the entire earth. Several decades ago, we had MAD (mutually assured destruction) policies with the Russians. All of civilization could have been destroyed within a matter of hours. We know about environmental destruction now. There was slavery, and then institutionalized racism, and then illegal discrimination, and now we have a black president. The US has never really been stronger when compared to others, than in these past two decades. We have a strong safety net for the less fortunate. Each is able to get educated and pursue happiness according to his or her desire and ability. Many problems that were once ignored or considered too unimportant to focus on now receive detailed attention. There is focus on making the future better than the present. Has there ever been a society as free from hunger and malnutrition as our own? Has there ever been a time when the less fortunate are so well looked after that their biggest concern is obesity? We don’t worry about having clothes, or having enough clothes. Some worry about clean and new looking clothes. Many worry about style. I think that today is the real golden age.