So Much Has Changed in Just 60 Years
Popular AFP columnist takes a brief look at how America has changed
By Charley Resse
A new year is a good time to review one of the principles of general
semantics. Not only are all things unique, but all things are in a constant process of change. Alfred Korzybski, who is the father of general semantics, devised a learning tactic to help students remember it.
It simply states that cow-1 is not cow-2. Similarly, the United States-2006 is not the same as the United States-1945. Of course, when we actively think about it, we say, “Sure, that’s obvious.” For some reason, though, the human mind tends to forget that and to blur the identity of something by mixing it all up with memories.
When I think of the United States, images from my childhood come to mind—the great generation coming home triumphant from the good war; the industrial might of the United States; peaceful, prosperous cities; and a benevolent government that left most people alone.
The United States-2006, however, is no longer a great industrial power. The industrial base has been seriously eroded. Government has expanded to gargantuan proportions and can no longer be called benevolent. One survey a few years back showed that a full one-third of the American people fear the government.
It has become intrusive and secretive. Franklin Roosevelt managed a truly global war, with 12 million Americans under arms, using a White House staff of about 15 people. There are now thousands on the White House staff, and they can’t even manage a very small war in a little country. Running over poorly trained troops in obsolete equipment is a long way from standing toe to toe with the Wehrmacht or the Japanese Imperial Army.
Our population has nearly doubled, and our culture is much more corrupted. I, as an elementary-school kid, could roam my town and even out in the country and woods alone without fear. By the time
I had children, I wouldn’t even leave them alone at a school bus stop. I waited until they were safely on the bus. Where did all of these child molesters come from? I’m sure there were some in the past—probably always have been—but when you look at the thousands of registered sex offenders, it makes you wonder.
Of course, in those days, you had to rely on National Geographic magazine if you wanted to see a picture of a naked woman—or you could just look at the mothers who nursed their babies in public. The public media—the movies, radio, magazines and advertising—were not saturated
with sexual images.
It could be that the current saturation of sexual images and violence in the media is a factor in producing so many sex offenders.
We have certainly become a more vulgar, profane and violent country, and I think the reason is plain: Bad behavior is tolerated because government has intimidated good people.
If you whack some lout over the head today, you’ll almost surely be arrested, prosecuted and packed off to prison. A government that cannot control crime for some reason often gets hysterical when good people defend themselves.
That is less true in the South than in the North, but the attitude of 100 percent dependence on the government is reinforced constantly on television. The message is that regardless of the circumstances, it is bad, bad, bad to “take the law into your own hands.”
To which I reply, horse apples. In a sane society, it would be the criminals who lived in fear, not the good people.
The point, however, is not to bemoan or try to resist change. Change is inevitable and unstoppable. The point of general semantics is to remember to always base our actions on the present reality and not on illusions made of memory.
If you’re over 30 years old, then the country you grew up in is gone forever. Life is a process, and just as we change, our environment changes.
I freely admit that if I could, I would choose to live in the past, but we can’t. The only world we’ve ever had, have now and ever will have is the present moment. Whatever living we are going to do we must do right now.
There’s a phrase I’ve heard preachers quote: “Now is the time, and the time is now.” That’s quite true. The world you wake up in is never the same as when you went to sleep.
(Issue #5, January 30, 2006)