On Nostalgia, Laziness, Greed and the Need for a Paradigm Shift
Posted by Ross“I long for a past that only exists in the minds of we Republicans.” - Ned Flanders
Nostalgia. That sickening bittersweet longing for a simpler time, when things were… better. When everyone was happy and prosperous, when human advances hadn’t created heretofore unimagined ethical and moral dilemmas that place us on increasingly uncomfortable ground, challenging us to (say it ain’t so!) slightly alter the way we live and look at the world.
NPR's Morning Edition did a series a few months ago in which they ascertained some of the driving forces behind the non-wealthy voting block that put George Bush into office for a second term. These are the hard-working, lower middle-class, generally God-fearing middle of the country Americans who care little for tax cuts for the wealthy, who know very little about international matters, who are most concerned with the here and now, who are afraid that current trends will damn and destroy their way of life.
And I hesitate to even use the term “they” in describing those who long for a simpler time, because, in actual fact, nostalgia is a condition that is deeply entrenched into the human experience. It’s in our literature, in our religions, in our governments. And the prevailing theme of nostalgia is: things used to be better.
So the question remains, how great were things back then?
In the 1950s, for example, the Republicans were running things in the White House, and the economy was growing as the Greatest Generation, after saving the world from the Nazis, focused its attention on fueling the workforce. And they were fruitful. And they multiplied.
But all this growth went completely unchecked, still fueled by that age-old Manifest Destiny that somehow made us Americans entitled to take and take and take. Of course Americans are hardly alone in this, for that’s the way the world has been going ‘round for thousands of years as we humans pass on our wit and cunning, our mastery over the elements and other animals, to generation after generation. And as we become better skilled at surviving in this vast, indifferent universe, we start to focus on the amassment of wealth.
Think of it, billions of humans clog this planet like a blocked artery, and each and every one of them longs to amass wealth. Sure plenty of them, thanks to repressive governments or a restrictive social order, or just plain bad luck, will never get the opportunity, but they all want to. And the sad truth is that there is not enough wealth to go around. Not by our current standards of wealth, in which the richest amongst us live in compounds behind wrought iron gates that keep out the desperate masses.
And look what has happened to this planet in the name of progress. The internal combustion engine and other fossil fuel burning developments have poisoned our planet for generations to come. Our unchecked population growth has brought millions upon millions into our filthy cities looking for a way to improve their lives. We have massive populations living in scorched hellholes and submerged sinkholes, we live along unstable coastlines and faultlines, we pave over our rivers; dams damn our ecosystems, our toxins poison our water and wildlife, which in turn poison us.
In the name of progress, we forget our place. We forget that, even inside our skyscrapers and our luxury SUVs and our Bel Air compounds, we still are biological beings living in the natural world. And that’s what disasters like the Southeast Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina should have taught us, and what the next big one here in Southern California invariably will teach us: that the awesome might of nature will ultimately destroy us all, be it by storm, quake, meteor or just the simple fact that we are biological beings who one day must die.
In his book Hocus Pocus
Kurt Vonnegut blamed laziness and greed as the reasons we humans failed, even though we had it within our capabilities to change, to help this diseased planet heal its wounds so that it may continue to provide oxygen and food and shelter for we meek, fragile human beings.
Soon, probably as soon as Bush leaves office, we will no longer be able to deny human activity is responsible for the gradual warming of this planet which will continue to cause new environmental challenges. And it won’t be a "Day After Tomorrow" scenario, where one day everything’s swell, and the next, Jake Gyllenhaal is fighting off blood-thirsty CGI timber wolves on some mid-town Manhattan oil barge. In a way, this is a shame, because if such a thing were to happen, a paradigm shift would be inevitable.
Perhaps what will happen, instead, is that the climate will continue to change in its gradual sort of way, the environment will continue to grow in its toxicity in its gradual sort of way, and the desperate plight for fossil fuels will shift to an even more desperate plight for clean drinking water.
Not that we can’t still hope for a Roddenberry-type future where technology helps heal the earth and we can expand beyond our planet. Of course, we could also have an Asimov-type future where humanity expands to all corners of the universe, leaving planet Earth a toxic, uninhabitable wasteland.
Or we can simply say, the past was fine, dandy, great even, but maybe all that unchecked growth, all that wasteful devouring of our precious resources in the ephemeral pursuit of wealth that has been going on for millennia, maybe all that was kind of shitty.
And then maybe we can speak with one voice: The time for a paradigm shift is now.