Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Different Worlds We Live In

Beloit College every year publishes a list of things that this year's college freshman take for granted. It started as an aid to professors, who have a different set of things that they take for granted, because they are older and have lived through different happenings, like wars and changes in media. So this year's first-year class(sorry, that changed too) are
is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.
So Gen X, enough older than first-year college students to feel the displacement, tell us of their disillusionment today. Happens to all of us. For some reason, today's papers have an unusual number of those contrasts between past and present.

Smoking was once considered highly sophisticated. Now it just seems deadly, and graphic pictures are planned for cigarette packs to emphasize that. Back when smoking was considered sophisticated, air travel was a delightful adventure. And they served up mini-packs of three or four cigarettes with meals. I stashed them in my purse for experimentation later, on the infrequent times I donned hat and gloves to fly to or from college. Never did get the hang of it. Smoking, that is. I would be happy to go back to pleasant flying.

Ruby Bridges, the little girl among the US Marshals in the Norman Rockwell painting of school integration, is still working to improve schools. Her account of her perceptions dduring that experience is enlightening. Kids don't notice things the same way adults do, and her parents seem to have done an admirable job of protecting her from the hate.

Ted Koppel bemoans the end of what he considers the news business, but he does it in such an even-handed way, finding Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, as much at fault as Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Faux News, that it's hard to regret the losses he otherwise totes up. Maybe this is a transition period to a time when we can appreciate the real news again. But the old press "objectivity" just doesn't work in a time when teh Crazy is mostly on one side, for example the Congressional investigations that are likely and that are desirable, the facts of a warming earth that are being denied. The hopeful side is that teh Republican Crazy is being called out by some: David Frum has a nice list of lessons that should be learned, although he was drummed out of the corps a while back, and Tom Friedman delivers a shockingly unbalanced evaluation of rightwing stupidity.

Maybe most important for a reality check is the New York Times's budget game. Actually add up what it takes to balance the budget, Republicans! And Tea Partiers! Should be required for all members of Congress.

Then there's history, which keeps getting rewritten. This account seems strange to me, although it may be partly a matter of younger folks rediscovering what actually happened. It never was particularly a secret that Werhner von Braun, who was a major player in American rocket development, had been removed from defeated Nazi Germany, where he had developed the V-2. And he wasn't the only one. Dr. Strangelove's German accent and uncontrollable arm owe something to this history.

It's convenient, of course, to remember a cartoon of World War II in which all the Nazis were killed, but that would hardly have been practical. Tony Judt notes in Postwar that the bureaucrats who knew how to run the country were, by and large, Nazis, and taking them out of their jobs would have undermined the rebuilding of Germany and Europe. Likewise, the governments of the Baltic nations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union were made up of many of the same people who had run them as Communists. They had been more nationalist than Communist, however. But the cartoon prevailed in Iraq, and all the Baathists were removed from government. We see how well that worked.

Back a lot further in history, we have the period (generously defined here) of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which have fascinated me, particularly European developments, for a very long time. I'll add that Chaco Canyon saw its zenith during the thirteenth century and collapsed. Why did so many civilizations peak and collapse at that time?

1 comment:

troutsky said...

I have never heard a good explanation of "politically correct". If none exists, I suggest it's usage be stopped.