It seems to me that many folks hunger for the good old days, when life was – so some people argue – better, in every conceivable way.
Leaving aside the Brexit issues of xenophobia, economic illiteracy and the rejection of all expert opinion, we must challenge the notion that British life was better in the good old days: because in no strand of British life has the country deteriorated.
Take morality, for instance. During my lifetime, casual racism has gone from being pretty normal behaviour, to something only seen on the fringes. And take celebrities: today celebs – just like all of us – do some pretty stupid things, but the behaviour of today’s celebs has nothing on the likes of (Sir) Jimmy Saville and his ilk. Operation Yew Tree does not target newbie celebs, rather, its focus is on celebs from the good old days because so many of those celebs acted with impunity. In part, this is because people today are less deferential, ready to report on bad behaviour. This is progress.
Take graffiti: it has nearly been eradicated. Take littering: it has reduced immeasurably. Take violent crime: it is on the decrease. Take schools: no longer do teachers beat their pupils. Take stately homes: today many are owned by the National Trust, available to millions.
Societies progress each generation. This is because people spend much of their early lives ironing out their own flaws caused, to a large part, by their parents (“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad” wrote Larkin). And when these people become parents, they make a special effort not to make the mistakes that they and their parents made. As a result, each generation is an improvement on the one before.
In addition, today, nearly half of all students go to university, mixing with kids from all backgrounds, often studying for the sake of intellectual development. With degree subjects for most walks of life, it is inevitable that the people of today are smarter than the people of yesterday, as society’s collective knowledge improves everyday. To aid this progress, the teachers of today have been taught to a more advanced stage than the teachers of yesterday; in turn, they use more advanced teaching methods on their pupils. Society is better at paragraph two of this blog, than it was at paragraph one. And the pace of improvement is accelerating.
Thanks to the internet, today information is democratically devoured: it isn’t the preserve of the rich, and the children of the rich. Physically, the people of today are stronger, healthier and more aware of their health. No footballer from 1966 could get into today’s England team. Smokers are now regarded as weird, not cool.
In yesteryear, doctors could make grave mistakes (“never-ever events”) – like removing the wrong kidney – and could get away with it. Not today, so much. Back then, lawyers were often in the pub most of Friday, and most law firm partners were men. Not today, so much. Back then, men didn’t spend much time with their kids: not so today. Back then, men didn’t cook or clean. Not so much today.
It is true that life was simpler “back then”, but life was pretty crap, too. Next time you speak to someone who wants to turn back the clock, confront their lazy, pernicious thinking with facts. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.