To heck with the good ol’ days

Even this guy was a grump at times.

The other day I talked about why I don’t tell kids to get off my lawn and, in fact, invite them on. And I also mentioned this is not a new phenomenon, but has in fact been going on quite a while. Even Socrates said,

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Socrates, Ancient Greek wise guy

And if that’s not Greek for “What’s the matter with kids these days?” I don’t know what is.

There’s an extension of that which has been popular with the right-wing for a long time, exemplified by this here other guy:

Not my favorite person in the world

I think both these points of view stem from the same problem, and I think they’re both manure. And that problem is historical myopia.

I am old enough to remember when you could go walking in National Parks and see, littered about the trails, next to trees and rocks, cigarette butts and beer and soda pull-tabs. They were everywhere. This may be very hard for you folks under, oh, 45 to believe, but people would stub their cigarettes out against trees, rocks, or just drop them on the ground and leave them there. All the time. Cigarette smoking in the U.S. peaking sometime around 1965, I believe, and boy could you tell just be the sheer amount of detritus it left behind. It was disgusting. Parks, rivers, the sides of roads and highways; everywhere.

This used to be a thing!

What fixed it? The government, that’s what. Anti-smoking and anti-littering efforts, a legally-required change in can designs, and (starting with Lady Bird Johnson) highway beautification projects. And now you can go hiking or biking or rafting or whatever, and not see thousands of cigarette butts and sharp pull tabs discarded hither and yon. (Stubbed out in the sand at the beach, for Pete’s sake!) This was government solving a problem. Sorry, Ronnie! And furthermore, a time when things weren’t better “in the good old days”.

I can rip off a list of several other items where only Big Government made a difference, while Big Business would have just let you go hang. Lead in paint was removed by government mandate. Lead in gasoline: Government mandate. Catalytic converters put in cars to reduce pollution by government mandate. (The list of changes made to cars by government mandate over the screams by the manufacturers it would bankrupt them is long and hilarious and includes obvious stuff like airbags but also stuff like safety glass, shoulder harnesses, and seat belts.) Despite millions more cars on the road there now, the air in L.A. is cleaner now than in 1965. Because of the government.

Smog in L.A., 1975

Smallpox has been eradicated from the face of the Earth because of the government. Kids no longer get polio because of the government. We work 5 days a week instead of 6 or even 7 because of the government. Where do you think the term “federal holiday” comes from? Do you think you’d even get two weeks of vacation a year if it were solely up to big business? The list goes on and on.

Now look: I’m not saying government is perfect. Of course it’s not. Nor am I saying there weren’t possibly some things that were better “in the old days”. I for one would like things a bit less crowded, and with a lot less high-fructose corn syrup. But if we’re going to get, say, more manufacturing back on U.S. soil, or (ahem) less high-fructose corn syrup in foods, do you think big businesses are going to do it on their own or out of the goodness of their hearts? Or do you think we’re going to need the aid of an organization equally big, equally powerful, and with an equally-big stick to wield?

I don’t—and am not suggesting you should—”trust” government in any kind of absolute sense. It’s made up of the same set of people as the general population, and has all of our strengths and weaknesses. There are some great people in it, and there’s people like Louie Gohmert. But at least they’re publicly accountable, and have to (nominally) operate in the open. Big Business, well, not so much.

So if you find yourself longing for “the good old days”, remember that those days also contained things like lead-based paint, Thalidomide, cigarette butts everywhere, more smog, and no shoulder harnesses. It wasn’t all Coca-Cola made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Ya feel me?

L.A. skies, April 2020