Back in Their Day . . .
It's certainly interesting living in a world where the bad guys won, but I can't say I enjoy it.
To be an American born in the 1980s is to be subject to an endless parade of stories about how safe everything used to be. I remember my Bronx-born grandfather waxing poetic about how, at age six, he could walk ten blocks to the store down the street to get milk and bread for his mother and never feel fear. Mind you, he was telling me this in 1989 or so. The first and last time I’ve been to the Bronx was in 2005 to see a Red Sox-Yankees game, and it felt like a foreign country . . . and not one of the nice ones.
I’ve heard other family tell me that southern California was, quote unquote, “paradise” in the 1970s. Not so much anymore. Even the mid-sized New England city near me is subject to such whispered tales about how great everything used to be. How you could go out in the middle of the night, walking through working-class neighborhoods, and the worst you’d encounter was people blasting their music out of their windows. This probably violated some noise ordinance or whatever, but it didn’t actually hurt people. There weren’t homeless people on every corner—a trend that has accelerated over the last three years . . . no rows and rows of boarded-up businesses, no ethnic enclaves that make you feel unwelcome in your own country. Just the other day while in said city I saw a man built like the proverbial defensive lineman wearing a dress and high-heels, walking through the crowd of drug addicts waiting for the addiction clinic to open so they could get their fix.
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We’re told that things like this are the price of freedom, and that if we don’t like them we should just move to China. Mind you, the scene I just described was across the street from the comic store/hobby shop I take my kids to. It’s also about two blocks from my church. So no, I don’t like it, and if China doesn’t have things like this in their cities, maybe we should look at what ancient Oriental wisdom they are utilizing to, you know, pick up litter, or help the homeless,1 or keep drug addicts and dealers off the streets.2
At some point, I guess America decided that crime was just going to be a thing we had to live with and couldn’t really do anything about. Crime is like the weather. I imagine some mayor or Representative or Senator or Governor or President or some other dork standing at the podium holding up their hands with a bemused look on their face, uttering some bromide like “It’s just how it is, you know? What do you want me to do, build a crime machine to control the crime?” Leaving besides the wacky plans that politicians have to actually control the weather to combat climate change, crime, it seems, remains a mystery, a force of nature, a thing that has always been with us and needs to be mitigated against but never fought. “Batten down the hatches, here comes a hurricane!” dovetails nicely into “Kids, lock the door, the rioters are rioting again!” I guess in my grandfathers’ day, municipalities were too stupid to realize that arresting criminals was a fool’s errand.3
The mystery to me is when Americans decided to accept a rapidly deteriorating standard of living. Why do our cities have to be cesspits of crime and filth, of homelessness and unemployment and drug addiction, of despair? What secrets did the ancients know that we today could use to help preserve and protect our cities and towns for the benefit of the law-abiding? Can we ever return (RETVRN?) to a day where six-year-olds can walk unmolested to the store on errands for their mothers?
Some music critics say that the true essence of psychedelia is the loss of innocence. Listening to albums from that era like Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), the Beatles Revolver (1966), and Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy (1967), this aspect is readily apparent. The interpolation of children’s songs and incorporation of that whimsical style and rhyme structure contrast with darker elements lurking in the music, speaking of menace under the surface.
Good psychedelia4 has a slightly unsettling Alice in Wonderland vibe, where that smiling cat with the funky stripes really isn’t your friend. There’s something off about the world around us, usually the people in it, that detract from the wonder we feel at a sunset, or a tall building, or the butterfly-chased flowers blowing in the breeze. It’s the essence of fairy tales, of fables, and of most stories used to instruct.
I am sure that a lot of this had to do with the shattering of nationalistic illusions in the United States due to the conflict in Vietnam, the discovery that (gasp!) politicians and Presidents lie, and have been for generations, and that things are not always as they seem underneath the pretty exteriors.5 Such realizations are truly a part of growing up, one of the biggest. Childhood does indeed end despite our best efforts.
This phenomenon may even exist at the civilizational level. Egregore-like, absent any and all restraints, this idea that all things must be questioned extends even to that which works, treating tradition by its very nature of being tradition as suspect, forget that it’s undergirded human flourishing for almost as long as there has been humanity. The innocence is lost, but is not replaced with an adult’s restraint or discernment,6 no sober-eyed view of humanity as fallen and in need of limitations to keep our worst instincts in check. Even our beneficent impulses can be twisted and inverted and used for harmful purposes. Things that kept barbarism in check have been jettisoned because they don’t comport with the ideology du jour. And naturally, it’s not the people making these decisions who suffer, but the rest of us who can’t afford private security.
We all know we’re being lied to. We all know why our cities are dumps. We all know how to fix it. What we don’t know is how to actually do anything about it without the people who have caused these problems getting their feelings hurt, which in turn will lead to further punishment against the law-abiding, assuming your city still has a police force. Anarcho-tyranny: now as American as apple pie. The real crime wasn’t that your wife was assaulted and robbed, it’s that you used the assailant’s skin color when you called the police. The moral of the story: don’t call the police. Don’t have the wrong thoughts or you’re worse than the actual thieves and rapists and murderers.
And so we drift along, keen to keep our jobs and the esteem of our friends and neighbors and co-workers whom we don’t really like and don’t really like us, not going against the grain lest we get fired, our bank accounts frozen, our employment prospects forever nuked from space. As for me, I learned to hate those stories of the before times. They sure sounded like a great time to live in. I resent those stories, and I resent the world I live in now, created by the people who lived in the before times and knew what they were like . . . and yet they did not replicate them for us.
We are not turning back the clock. We are not going back to some golden age. The only way out is through, and that means ratcheting the insanity up to eleven until the machine exhausts itself and collapses into a smoldering wreckage those lucky enough to survive have to dig their way out of. Hold on to your butts and try to at least have some laughs along the way.
A part of me, the artist part, sort of enjoys watching things play out. It’s a real-life version of “What happens if the bad guys actually win?” However, the other part of me, the one that has to live in this all-too-real situation, isn’t having much fun.
I’m not so naïve to assume that the Chinese don’t just chuck the homeless in prison or, I don’t know, slave labor camps, if the more histrionic anti-China voices are to be believed.
They probably shoot them, which is, I think, too good for the dealers.
I sat in a university that cost money to attend and was told that deterrence actually doesn’t work as a crime-fighting tactic. I guess tangible and predictable consequences for anti-social behavior stopped being effective sometime in the 1970s.
So I like Boomer music. So sue me.
Also, in all likelihood, due to paranoia induced by copious ingestion of mind-altering substances.
Pray for a spirit of discernment, friends. Even if you’re not the praying type, pray for this.