Sunday, January 18, 2009

Re: 2009


I wrote, "Someone once pointed out to me that we are living in a Golden Age today, and our problems are those that come with Golden Ages. Admittedly they said that before this latest economic meltdown, but unless it gets much worse I'd still call it a Golden Age."

You wrote, "Please explain."

So. [drums fingers] How to say this?

I think most human beings throughout history would be thrilled to have the problems that 21st-century Americans have. That's not to say that they aren't real problems had by real people, but they're definitely a different kind of problem.

"How do I lose weight? How do I keep a steady relationship? How do I make more money? How do I pay off my credit card debt? How do I get an education so I'll be prepared for a job? How do I cope with a sudden death in the family?"

This is a different sort of problem from, "How do we survive the winter now that the crops have failed? How can we pay the king's new tax without starving? How do we escape from the Turkish invaders? Will I ever see Papa again?"[1]

Our problems, and our vices, tend to be those of people who have a lot, whether they realize it or not, and don't know what to do with themselves.

There's a Fred Reed column which expresses one facet of the problem, I think, or at least shows that this IS a Golden Age even for those who have problems. (The affluent have an entirely different class of Golden Age problems, as I've alluded to already.) Quoting from "Thoughts on Poverty":

As a police reporter for the better part of a decade, I've been in a lot of homes in allegedly poor parts of cities. Physically they weren't terrible. Some (not many, really) were badly kept up, but that isn't poverty. The residents could have carried the garbage out to the dumpster in the alley. They just couldn't be bothered.

Ah, but they were indeed morally deprived, culturally and intellectually impoverished, or what we used to call shiftless. I've come into an apartment in mid-afternoon and found a half dozen men sitting torpidly in front of the television, into homes where the daughter of thirteen was pregnant and on drugs. The problem wasn't poverty. The poor can keep their legs crossed as well as anyone else. If the daughter could afford drugs, she could afford food.

Most of these homes would have been regarded as fine by the graduate students of my day. They would have put in board-and-cinderblock bookshelves and a booze cache and been perfectly content.

The reality is that the wherewithal of a cultivated life of leisure, if only in tee-shirts and jeans, is within the reach of almost all of the "poor." If I had to live in really cheap welfarish quarters in Washington, DC, which I know well, on food stamps and a bit of cash welfare, what would I do?

I'd have a **** of a good time.

First, I'd get a library card, which is free, for the public libraries of the District. The downtown library, over on 9th Street, is a huge dark half-empty building in which very few people appear and none of the poor. I'd spend time reading, which I enjoy and the poor don't. They aren't interested.

A great many of the poor can't read, and the rest don't, but in both cases it is by choice, not because of poverty. The poor can go to the public schools. Their parents can encourage them to study. The schools are terrible, but neither is this because of poverty. The per-student expenditure in Washington is high. The city could afford good teachers and good texts. It isn't interested.

Music? A hundred-dollar boombox these days provides remarkably good sound, and I'd roll in pirate CDs. The poor listen chiefly to grunting animalic rap, but that is by choice, not by necessity. Washington is neck-deep in free concerts by good groups, as for example the regular ones at KenCen. All of these are advertised in the City Paper, which is free. You never see the poor at these performances, though there is no dress code or discrimination. They aren't interested.

Washington abounds in good museums and galleries, usually free, none terribly expensive. There is the entire Smithsonian complex, with the National Gallery of Art; there is the Phillips Collection, the…on and on. You never see the poor in them. They aren't interested.

I've read stuff like this before, and that's probably why when John Ringo says that our problems are those of a Golden Age--writing in the afterward to a science fiction novel about an alien invasion which puts a definitive end to that Golden Age--I think he's right, and we should be glad to have our modern problems instead of the usual ones for a human being.

I'll reply to your other message some other time. For now I think I'm going to read a book.


[1] Frequently, the answer to these questions is, "You don't. You die, and eventually someone else takes your place." That's not Golden Age material.

"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

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