SAME TIME, SAME STATION By Rick Kohler (article)
Same Time, Same Station
‘In my day,’ my mother used to say, ‘things were different’. Typically, she meant disapproval of today. I remember thinking a little despondently that the world I’d been born into must be was going to the dogs – in the 1920’s virtue and courtesy must have reigned.
She spoke of the depression in the thirties and the Second World War and the defeat of the Nazis -- noble crises, born of grand misadventure and big ideas. According to my mother her youth was blessed with benign phenomena: there were no perverts nor terrorists, allergies were rare, everyone went to church and being queer was not on anyone’s radar.
Kids of my generation liked: Elvis Presley’s vulgar hips, subterranean homesick blues, Blue Cheer (not the detergent), free love, Kent State and Watergate. Piggy’s misfortunes in the Lord of the Flies confirmed how society had grown vile.
I asked myself ‘should I have children? What kind of life would they face? Why was everything coming a cropper?’ The months and years unfolded and things only appeared to get worse.
Until, doing a research for a paper at college, I read a letter that caught my attention. At first blush I thought it was an affirmation of my mother’s lament; it read:
... children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise ... they no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents ... cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
To my astonishment it was written by Plato, quoting Socrates, in the 5th Century BCE. I pumped this, breathlessly, into Google and found that Plato wasn’t alone – Hesiod in the 8th Century BCE had said it too:
I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today ...
‘Banzai’ I thought: If the founding fathers of western philosophy were predicting the demise of society over 2000 years ago, why aren’t we impossibly worse today? True, I lived in a pro choice, liberal ambience of civil liberties, hypochondria, smugness and loathing but surely if our culture had descended to the depths predicted by Hesiod, Socrates and Plato, why wasn’t the human condition ubiquitously depraved?
In fact, recently I had met a visiting professor from India who actually extolled the virtues of today’s youth. ‘They have evolved into more mature and responsible people with a respect for human rights, tolerance and intellectual curiosity’ she said, implying that teens weren’t like that when she was young. Looking around, I perceived a world brimming with juvenescent promise: 4H Youth Volunteers, World Youth Day, high school Model UNs and We Day.
‘Perhaps’ I mused, ‘a tug of war between good and bad kids is a red herring?’ Just how much progress can a species sustain? If there really is a natural biorhythm that nourishes human advancement, does it have legs?
Pulling the theory in one direction are all the forces that make each generation progressively worse – kids don’t respect elders today ... what, the next generation will be openly hostile to old folk? Newer generations believing early elimination of elders is the way to go?
Allowing the tape to unspool – starting with Plato’s prediction 2000 years ago -- one might envisage a 21st Century CE in which elders have become so fearful of young people (who wish them harm), that they begin to systematically commit infanticide, thus purging their world of future threat. In time wouldn’t the human reproductive capacity collapse, driving person kind into the ground?
Or, pulling the theory in the other direction – if the views of the visiting Indian professor are correct -- youth continues to evolve toward benign perfection -- a world without evil-doers – in time, attaining perpetual nirvana?
I struggled with the human condition’s competing forces of rapture and perdition and came to an anti-climactic resolution -- I don’t think people change much, at all. They’re like a car stuck in the snow ... ‘first you go ahead a little, then you go back a little ... ’. History is a universal, a step in a revolving door.
I was reminded of Vietnam era Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara -- reflecting on his time in office – who put it this way:
I'm not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We're not going to change human nature any time soon ... there's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love: "We shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploration, we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time." Now that's in a sense where I'm beginning to be.
He was quoting from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’, in which the poet walks the reader:
Through the unknown, remembered gate, when the last of earth left to discover, is that which was the beginning
Not unlike Charlton Heston galloping along a beach in the movie ‘Planet of the Apes’ to find, in horror, a half-buried Statue of Liberty. Technology may have advanced humanity from the time of Hesiod, but not humanity’s ‘nature’.
The Pony Express, the telegraph, radio,TV, cell phones, emails and tweets – we get there faster, but ‘there’ hasn’t changed. Data flowing from financial markets open 24/7 in the cloud still lead to simple results, ‘buy’ or ‘sell’.
Human Nature has highs and lows – boundaries that pulsate like a sound wave. It’s like hem line fashions: they go up and they go down but, in the end their limits are predictable: never above the waist nor below the ankle.
In the sixties, while living in the UK, I used to hang out with my buddies at a pub in the Brompton Road called ‘The Bunch of Grapes’. One Saturday we befriended a Yank who, overhearing our North American accents, looked a little lonely. We asked what he did and he admitted he was an astro-physicist from NASA attending a conference. As the pints of Double Diamond disappeared, I asked him ‘if one were to launch a rocket into space and it travelled into infinity – where would it land?’ He thought for a moment and said, ‘it would come back to where it began, in a circle’, much like Eliot’s ‘unknown, remembered gate’.
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