"St. Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the company store." - Tennessee Ernie Ford - "Sixteen Tons"
Today is my birthday. Today, I enter another decade of this chronological journey we call life. A great deal of change has occurred in that time.
When I was born, a lifelong military man was President and just over four years away from warning about the dangers of acquiring unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex and the potential for what he called "the potential rise of misplaced power." Today, it could be argued that those dangers have become reality, although not perhaps in the ways he envisioned.
When I was born, life was for many of us black and white and not simply the way in which we watched television. A large part of the nation was literally divided by the color line, and the differences between good and evil were, we thought, more clearly defined.
Today, many of us no longer watch television, instead getting our entertainment from our phones. That technological change has been accompanied by an apparent attempt to in some ways reclaim the "simplicity" of the decade in which I was born, complete with the calls by some to restore some modern-day equivalent of that "separate but equal" time.
Then, as now, we developed and shared technological advances not always aware of or even thinking about the potential ramifications or dangers for future generations. Then, as now, whole groups of people are fighting for the rights they argue were granted them in the Constitution.
The divisions present when I was born were less visible than they are today. In that sense, that decade was a simpler time. There were not dozens, if not hundreds (even thousands) of places from which to gather information available to the average person.
Today, we have the 24-hour news cycle, bloggers whom some people quote as if they were experts or trained journalists, a massive distrust of the so-called "liberal media" (so called because mainstream media is controlled by a handful of large corporations), and various Internet outlets for "fake news," many of which seem to have no other goal than to create and facilitate dissension and disagreement. (The fact that The Drudge Report is only one letter removed from dredge and rhymes with sludge is not lost on me.)
Some of our most important institutions are amongst the least admired or respected while we seemingly revere sports figures (basically entertainers) who make as much (if not more) money in a single year as many people make in a lifetime. At the same time, the gap between the richest and the poorest of us seems to grow exponentially while the middle gets squeezed even more tightly.
Us baby boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964) were dubbed the "Me Generation" in the 1970s. For many, the focus on self-realization and self-fulfillment during our youth has given way to a different kind of focus on difference and a desire to keep those who are not like us out or separate.
Then again, perhaps it has always been like this. When Europeans came to America, they moved to control, eradicate, and segregate Native Americans who wished to hold on to their lands and their traditions. In the decades since I was born, America has attempted to bring (or perhaps impose) our way of life and our values to others who did not ask for it, helping to fuel conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East in a sort of unholy crusade to impose the modern-day religion of capitalism on unbelievers.
I've lived long enough now to know that one answer does not fit all and to conclude that kneeling at the altar of the almighty dollar has the potential to do more damage than not (forests, waterways, skies have all paid the price).
Socrates once said "All things in moderation, including moderation." We seem to live in a world and a time of extremes (extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extreme politics, extreme religion). Perhaps a little moderation is in order - moderation of political views, of prejudices, of religious views, of greed, of damage to the environment.
While we plan and race to send expeditions to Mars and to the Universe beyond, perhaps we should take a bit more care of the world we currently inhabit. Otherwise, the problems we have failed to deal with and resolve here will be sure to follow us wherever we end up.