Sometimes we in the media merely play a game. Making little ripples at the side of the water rather than diving right in to make an almighty splash. In other words, we run around the edge of various problems and debates but are afraid to shine light on the authentic dilemmas of our age.
Whether it’s politics, economics, culture or morality the culture, society and various pundits always assume that things are getting better, that we’re making progress and that what we have and what is to come is superior to what was. Problem is, it’s mostly nonsense. If anything, North American society is slipping into the abyss as the years go by.
Yet if any of us point to the past and argue that just half a century ago the world was more civilized, gentle, kind and moral we are dismissed at best as nostalgic cranks. Facts, however, are more significant than abuse.
A few examples. Those much-despised 1950s were, we are told, oppressive, confining and prudish. Yet since then, teenage suicide in North America has increased enormously. The allegedly dark days of half-a-century ago seldom saw young Canadians and Americans try to and often succeeding in killing themselves. Not now.
In 1958 a broad cross-section of school principals was asked what were the five most challenging problems they faced in dealing with students. The answers were as follows. Not doing homework. Not respecting property, such as throwing books. Leaving lights on and doors and windows open. Throwing spitballs in class. Running in the halls.
In 1988 the same questions were asked to a similar group of teachers. This time the answers were a little different. Children having abortions. Young people infected with AIDS. Incidents of rape. Widespread use of soft and increasingly hard drugs. A fear of violent murders and guns and knives in class.
We were told in the 1960s that the almost universal availability of the contraceptive pill and condoms would liberate women, increase marital happiness and lead to sexual fulfillment. In fact there has been a steady increase in so-called unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, the use of anti-depressants and reliance on pornography
Rather than empowering women, contraceptives have had the opposite effect and are used by men to have sexual intercourse without responsibility. Every serious survey reveals that young girls today feel far more pressurized to reluctantly agree to sex than their mothers and grandmothers did 20 and 40 years ago.
More children are raised by single parents now than was thought remotely possible by even the most pessimistic analysts 35 years ago and those children sufficiently fortunate to have both parents in the home see their fathers and especially their mothers substantially less often than was the norm in the ‘50s and ’60s.
In schools we spend more than ever before but genuine literacy levels have declined to such an extent that university teachers now complain that student essays are indecipherable. We abolished uniforms so that children could express their individuality and they dress in identical baggy pants and baseball caps.
There has been a concerted attempt to paint the generation following the Second World War as a false dawn. Entire television drama series have been dedicated to the premise that behind the façade of contentment and stability was a firestorm of grief, promiscuity and confusion. It’s simply untrue. Nostalgia is pointless but an intelligent analysis of what we had and what we have lost can teach us a great deal.
It’s not about turning back the clock but learning how to understand the time. These times are bleak. Instead of a New Jerusalem the country and culture resemble the new Gaza Strip. Good grief, if decadence made people happy there would at least be some hedonistic and purely selfish argument for it. But this is not the case. No serious person believes that people are happier today or that the cult of gratification provides anything more than a brief spasm of pleasure.
The deniers are still in positions of power but increasing numbers of young people have realized that the promises of their liberal parents were merely a cloud of smoke. Cannabis smoke at that. These men and women in their teens, twenties and thirties don’t yearn for an era they never knew but for a moral code and a set of ethical assumptions that they know will give them peace and happiness.
The great writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who himself had dabbled with the occult and fallen into near despair when he was a young man, referred to the democracy of the dead. Listen to the past a little, it’s amazing the wisdom and common sense you might hear. Allow the success of the past to inform and to shape the future and those sounds will become a glorious song.
Coren can be booked for public speaking engagements at www.michaelcoren.com.