Sunday, June 09, 2013

Something very good happened

Surprise! Not everything is bad and going to the dogs. Some very basic good things happened if you have a long enough perspective. I was reminded of this in a very clever op-ed piece by restaurant critic Phyllis Richman in The Washington Post.

I’ll give your the WaPo’s teaser (the whole piece is well worth reading):
In 1961, Phyllis Richman applied to graduate school at Harvard. She received a letter asking how she would balance a career in city planning with her ‘responsibilities’ to her husband and possible future family. Fifty-two years later, she responds.
Read the whole piece here.

Living as we do in the Orwellian world of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four—where the reigning slogans were WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH— it is hard to believe that anything has improved, as on a daily basis we witness progressive deterioration of everything.

After all, we live in a time of
  • peace characterized by war on "terror";
  • promotion of a morbid consumption that wipes out ever lower inflation-adjusted slave wages, plunging us into the "freedom" of bankruptcy; and
  • ignorance yawning as wide as the Grand Canyon, with news coming in the form of either comedic satire or biased propaganda.
And Big Brother is watching us.

It doesn’t surprise me, actually. In the real year 1984, the United States had an actor play acting the role of president with scripts very obviously provided by the "them" who produce and direct our society.

Why should things have improved since then?

The Oval Office since then saw: a man who had coined the term “Reaganomics” claiming he was not in the loop when it was implemented by his running mate; a man whose “centrism” was suspiciously helpful to the greatest orgy Wall Street had ever had; a man who invented a war to justify two invasions without bringing the criminals charged with the defining event to justice; and, finally today, a man who fooled us but good that he would bring change.

1984 was never meant to be a futuristic novel. Orwell picked his title as a play on 1948, the year he finished writing the novel. 1984 is now, a fact I found hard to believe when I first read it in my idealistic adolescence.

So, yes, our present is terribly bleak. But a funny thing happened on the way to this bleakness.

Women stopped being universally regarded as baby-making and housekeeping serfs. Black people, and all peoples who were not white-bread American, stopped being universally regarded as a permanent underclass whose exceptional members make great entertainers and athletes.

More recently, we learn that the world is ahead of schedule in meeting one of the U.N. eight Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2001: extreme poverty has been halved.

What else that is unquestionably a move forward is happening? Shouldn't we be more aware of the sustained progress we are making?

I don't mean we should be taken in by the feel-good advertising of the iPhone, although I love that gentle piano, or any corporation's claim to doing good while doing (obscenely and disproportionately) well.

Let's not be naive. But would it kill us to smell some of the roses in our garden?
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