A Modest Proposal….
was the title of an essay written by 18th century satirist Anglo-Irish Jonathan Swift. It was written to shock his readers with suggestions that would be considered uncivilized, horrifying, sane, funny, that ranged from agriculture to cooking to politics to feeding the population.
This morning we’d like to propose an immodest proposal, not meant to shock but to shake us back into time, back as far as 1950.
There are good and ample reasons for this retrograde movement. Number One reason is because, simply, the present is such a (bloody) mess.
In 1950, life in these United States was arriving at stasis. Which is to say, World War II had been concluded successfully. Europe was being rebuilt – largely courtesy of this country – via the Marshall Plan. Veterans had seen the value of returning to school in order to get a leg up in new careers. There was a growing sense that all Americans were entitled to the same advantages and duties, although more years would be required to make this dream a reality.
Imaginative and designing men and women were beginning to sense their power and their vision. Families were being rebuilt. Business and labor were not getting along wonderfully, but at least they were talking to each other. We even had our own little war to keep the military/industrial complex happy. (It’s a wonder that this group never thinks about human beings’ lives, Of course, we had a draft then.) It was called the Korean Conflict.
Music was tuneful. Sports were still played for their own value, more or less. Movies were generally, were they rated at all, G rated. Cars needed drivers. And we had new roads, which were being built and maintained, if you can stand it. Travel was an adventure.
Now, we have to admit up front, we are old. A lot of the items on any list of things we could do without have to do with that simple fact: we don’t need them; we don’t understand them. We don’t trust them. Which brief statement can also apply to politics, world or local. News came in the morning, and in the evening, on paper.
Where are we now after sixty-five years of “progress.”
Not sour. Not miserly or merely grumpy. Not radicalized, nor afraid.
But we don’t know where in hell we are or what in the world is actually happening around us. We have wonderful new gizmos that promise to do much — just as we had in the fifties, in futuristic international fairs around the civilized world — industrial giant steps, agricultural experiments that promised to help feed the world, television, cars that drove themselves safely.
Politically, the world was divided, but more evenly than it is now. Today it seems any corner of any country can launch activities towards autonomy. Foreign policy was comparatively simple. And clear. Remember the Monroe Doctrine?
Within the country itself, people of all kinds wanted to be left alone to do what they felt was best for themselves and their families. They knew who their friends were, who they were, whom they could trust.
It isn’t necessary, we think, to list the confusions and lies and lack of international strategy. Or to point out how angry many Americans are about their own local and national politics. Or even about their neighbors. What once would have been a sure thing – improving the health of children – has become political in ways we hadn’t anticipated…think about the recent measles epidemic and the refusal of some parents to think about a wider picture than what they see in their own living rooms. Does anyone care about the country itself, or simply about getting what they believe is their fair share?
So being older does not mean just plain foginess. What it really means is holding on to what are called abstractions, old ideas but great ones: Honesty. Hard work. The general good. An Almighty. Right. Wrong.
In 1950 the United States was paramount everywhere. This may never again happen. Who today understands what we ask of the world? Who today can translate for the rest of the world what strategies guide the United States? Where we stand on immigration, or border wars, on proxy wars? Are we neutral about nuclear fision? Does every country have the right to develop that? Why? Why not? And what in hell is going on between us and Iraq, us and Iran, us and Saudi Arabia?
When was the last time you walked out of a movie theatre – that in itself is a fair question, but let’s continue – whistling a new tune destined to become a standard part of America’s repertory?