Reality Indeed

I grew up in an era that was afraid of bombs; The Bomb and the Population Bomb. Now no one is going to convince ‘baby boomers’ that The Bomb wasn’t (and isn’t) something to worry about – that fear comes with the territory. But I don’t accept arguments that contend we have too many people on the planet. For that to be the case, then most everyone would have to be more destructive of the planet than productive on average, and be so in the face of rising productivity worldwide. In fact, I think an argument can be made that the outstanding problem of the 21st century will be underpopulation. Are not the most valuable things on the planet (and perhaps in the galaxy and probably the universe) souls and human brains? We need more of those, not fewer!

But Andrew Sabl brings up an interesting point:

What’s wrong with fewer people? Unlike some, I’m not talking about the environmental benefits thereof (though perhaps Mike, if he also feels like Cassandra on global warming, might map out further the links between his two issues). I just honestly wonder what the big deal is either way. When I was a kid in the 70s, the U.S. had less than 220 million people. Now it has almost 300 million. Are we “better” as a result?

He’s noted, correctly, the feeling that most everyone over the age of 30 has, that things were pretty good back then, whenever ‘back then’ was (except maybe for a few feminists who seem to have a morbid fear of ‘the 50s’ and the television sit-com Leave It To Beaver. Something about wearing pearls, I think). And what he says has been said by many, at most every time in the past. In other words, the past, with it’s smaller population, always has looked pretty good in hindsight.

Except that it really wasn’t so good. Nostalgia for the ’60s is a big hobby with us boomers, but lemmie tell ya, the air in the cities really did smell from car exhaust (although my dad tells me that even that was better than the soot from the trains when he grew up in our old neighborhood). The phones were not cellular. In fact, my family had a party line. The TV showed Disney (Walt, that is) in living black ‘n white, and the test pattern came on generally at 11:30 or midnight on all three (count ’em, three) networks. The cars started in the mornings, unless it was cold or damp, and our AM radios had three inch speakers that did not deliver base. It was a long time before I heard the base runs on almost all Motown music. The newest technological miracle was the smallpox vaccine, saving millions from what had been a frightening scourge only 10 years earlier.

Fifty years before that, only the big cities on the east coast had electricity, and most of the country had a major pollution problem, caused by horses. Indoor plumbing was just starting to catch on in a big way, but weekly baths were still the norm. The Wright Bros. were bicycle shop owners who tinkered a bit, and Einstein worked in a U.S. Patent office. The richest man on the planet could not get from London to New York in less than 4 weeks, and the record for round-the-world travel was 80 days, but only in fiction.

No penicillin, no antibiotics worth mentioning, but lots of malaria, smallpox, cholera, and death in childbirth. No UB313, no Quaoar or Sedna or Pluto for that matter, and astronomers were not sure if the entire universe consisted only of the Milky Way and the stars and ‘fuzzies’ in it. We as a species were that ignorant, just like we will seem ignorant to those who follow us.

And all that was immeasurably more than was known, experienced or had by those only a few generations before, who knew lifetimes that averaged 45 years, the last 5 of which were spent without teeth.

Why is it we can see so far, but only have rose colored glasses about the past, and only worries about the future?

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