Last week I was talking with my son about the past.
He asked whether I thought things were better 30 years ago.
30 years ago, I was 20, my son’s current age. (He’s 19).
Better is vague.
It encompasses multitudes.
Bad, better, best?
We didn’t finish the conversation.
Perhaps there was too much to say or maybe the answer would have been too bad.
The moment passed.
We might have been talking about music.
30 years ago, which would be the 1990’s.
I was 20, in my second year of university. Worrying about psycholinguistics and staying warm.
Today, warmth is another issue.
In the 90’s I had little money and sometimes had to decide between Iceland frozen drumsticks and a night out with friends. It was all a false economy. I was lucky and I didn’t know it.
Today, as I write, winter 2022, the temperature outside is seven degrees centigrade. In the house it is a little warmer. We are opting to restrict the heating, perhaps out of solidarity with those who can’t afford to heat, but also out of an acknowledgement that by heating the house we are burning hydrocarbons which are overheating the planet.
All of us wear Oodies indoors.
I sense the dogs are cold. I haven’t asked them what they think about austerity. They wouldn’t understand the war in Ukraine or the rising sea temperatures.
Last week I finished Noah Hawley’s latest book ‘Anthem’
It is supposedly one of the first major post-Covid novels to come out of America.
On several occasions, I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this (reading)? It is so depressing.’
It is a dystopia, set in an alternative modern America with Republican and Democrat ideologies even more fractured that we see on TV. The country simmers on the brink of a civil war that does indeed spark and the planet is so far beyond the tipping-point that everything, everywhere is on fire. Fire or flood. It is no Candide.
If you ask the social psychologist Steven Pinker the same question as my son, he will tell you that the world today is the best it’s ever been. He has a glass that is so half-full that the Kool-Aid is spilling over the rim.
He cites examples of global literacy, especially for women, child infant mortality rates and deaths during wars as out time being the best in human history – ancient or modern.
And yes, if you are a woman living in Saudi Arabia, I gather they are considering letting you drive to the supermarket without a male chaperone, but still.
And, if your house was one of those hit by a Russian or Iranian rocket in Donetsk last week or your mum, dad, sister or brother are dead following an atrocity you might not concur.
30 years ago, there was no iPad, iPhone and the internet was perceived as a source for good. The World Wide Web was in its infancy and not dominated by advertising and click-bait data collection. Apple, Google, Twitter, and Facebook were all starting out or not yet conceived, their first steps towards world domination still part of Gate’s, Brin, or Wozniak’s onanistic dreams.
Now social media has overtaken democracy. It has created Bolsonaro, Trump, Johnson, and Netanyahu.
We live in post-truth times where every scientific fact is doubted and second-guessed, where conspiracy theorists occupy the soundwaves and people believe anything.
Chesterton said, in one of my favourite quotes, ‘When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.’
And so, the religious fundamental right in America either believe in God or they believe in armed resistance. They don’t believe in logic or reasoned discussion, they worship the ‘God King’ (Hawley’s allusion to Trump in the novel) and they see only what they want or are told to see, black and white and grey become relative terms that exist in the eye of the beholder.
In 1819, Schopenhauer wrote a book entitled, ‘The World as Will and Idea’ containing the concept, ‘The world is my idea’ in that, it is in my head, it is from me; there is no you or other, only my constructs. Our perceptions create the reality. And yet, there is something called fact, unless you suspect fact is a distortion of truth and someone is trying to hoodwink you to steal your freedom, have a vaccine or pay more tax.
In the 1990’s I had little money, but I did not feel particularly poor. Conspicuous wealth wasn’t something I noticed or paid much attention to.
I don’t remember mega-cars that exceed the value of a home. I don’t remember reality TV or vox pop news channels. As far as I know we didn’t fret too much about the food we ate or the water we drank (see above re Iceland drumsticks).
Animal welfare and the death of the insects was not a mainstream worry.
In the 90’s more people died from heart disease and stroke than today. I can quote this with confidence.
At the weekends (and sometimes on Thursday nights) I would drink too much and dance until three. The clubs were filled with clouds of cigarette smoke. Today the numbers of those smoking in the UK has dropped massively (Labour Government). Now you are much more likely to die from old age or dementia than a cardiac arrest or a blocked coronary artery. Joy.
30 years ago, or a little after, I worked in an A&E department in North London. There was no such thing as trolley waits or bed breaches, the NHS manager’s concept of ‘flow’ ‘discharge to assess’ and ‘right to reside’ were still glimmers in the eye of NHS England’s orgiastic fantasies.
I remember patients waiting 20 hours to be seen by a doctor. I remember beds in the emergency department with people trying to sleep as they waited for a place on a ward. (These were the dying days of Thatcher’s England).
Today, people are routinely waiting more than 20 hours to see a doctor. You might wait eight hours (in agony) at home for an ambulance to arrive, then there is the wait in the car park (was miserable this summer for already dehydrated people). Patients are not waiting. They are leaving the departments across the UK and going home as 15 or 20 hours is too long to wait. They are dying in their beds instead. Unnecessary, avoidable deaths that are a consequence of Tory austerity and a systematic deconstruction of the NHS.
In the 90’s Rabin (my now long-dead, assassinated hero) and Arafat shook hands outside the White House. Today, Netanyahu has become Prime Minister of Israel, a lurching to the Right that causes me despair. The electorate forgetting the fraud, cheating and bullying, opting to worry about their own petty self-interests, the devaluing of a once exemplar society, a proposed light unto nations is dimming.
In the 90’s Dolly the Sheep was born, and Diana was killed in mysterious circumstances. Today you can spend £100 and find-out your genetic makeup, we have Charles on the throne. A perversion? An inversion?
We had dreams of a Genome Project that would introduce personalised medicine, an aspiration for person-centred treatment where I would receive Cholesterol lowering drug X which was specifically tailored for my genotype.
Instead, we have, take this pill, and hope for the best. If a thousand people take this medicine for a thousand years, a hundred extra people might live a year longer. Statistics as evidence of effect. OK if you are average.
In the 90’s the Soviet Union fell apart and lots of new nations were born with long-names and obscure capital cities – Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Moldova are some.
Today Russia is trying to undo some of that independence, influencing the region and flattening Ukraine.
In the 1990’s the world seemed to make sense. Now it is obscure. Motives and explanations for actions are mysterious. Why does Putin do what he does? Why does he use such long tables? Is the phallic allusion necessary? Why the bombs? Why the refugees? Why, why, why?
A poor person in Moscow, London or Athens is just as poor as they were 30 years ago. The social safety nets have if anything diminished. Food banks have stepped-in in the UK to assist, just as the government has stepped-out.
Supposedly the gap between the rich and the poor has grown. Although does it matter if you have $1 and someone else on the planet has a billion or a zillion $’s? you are still hungry and cold, and they are still on their private helicopter.
You will die when you are 40 or 50, from TB or heart disease or violence and they will be artificially maintained into their 90’s. MRI scanners, regular health checks and fitness coaches alongside good food and clean water will keep them going as you age beyond your years and die in discomfort (on the back of an ambulance).
Ultimately, we all decompose at the same rate. Our dust is the same dust. The atomic number of the particles in the sand we leave behind is identical.
When I was 20, I didn’t worry too much about the environment. I was aware of global warming and the Ozone layer depletion. I got on with my day, however.
I don’t remember the news being so depressing.
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were messing about in the Oval Office. We have our current tranche of trashy leaders.
Why, despite at times amazing acts of insight, intelligence and compassion are we so stunningly poor at choosing leaders?
In the UK, America, or Brazil, out of the millions, is this the best we can do? In China, out of the billion, we have Xi Jinping who won’t condemn Putin? How, why?
The 90’s was quite a decade. And the 20’s?
Is there value in this analysis?
An exponent of Mindfulness would say, ‘Just focus on the breath.’ That is easy when you aren’t too cold or hungry or afraid or dead.
I think the world is worse than 30 years ago. Not that it matters. Who cares what I think or type or write?
Of as much importance as the facts that are denied by the majority or the minority.
This morning I plan to open water swim.
I don’t know the temperature of the water. I suspect it will be chilly.
30 years ago, I didn’t know about open water swimming. I suspect in those days you could enter a river, or the sea surrounding the UK and not risk cholera, shigella or campylobacter.
We have Netflix and there have been thousands of movies, films, songs written since the 90’s. It isn’t all bad. I didn’t have the life I have now in the 90’s. I had parents but no partner or children. I had no car; the freedom of my bike was restricted. I couldn’t type my thoughts into a blog and were I to walk the dogs, I couldn’t listen to a Podcast.
Let’s end with Zen.
There is no good
there will be.
Enjoy your Saturday.