Monday, July 21, 2014

The Halcyon Days of the Incredibly Parlous, Violent Decade I Grew Up In

On Friday night, I was chilling on the sofa, reading a book and listening to a Sirius station dedicated to mellow music from the 70s.  By the time they played a third James Taylor song, I had rested my book on my chest and begun to drift off into a pleasant snooze when a thought flitted through my peaceful mind: "Boy," I thought, "I wish the world were as peaceful and easy as it was when I was growing up."

This thought was so dumb it yanked me out of my quietude.  Are you old enough to remember the 70s?  The 70s were a goddamn mess!  Vietnam. Pinochet. The Khmer Rouge was filling up the killing fields while James Taylor was seeing fire and rain.  The cold war was getting really hot.  Patty Hearst was going by Tania.  Squeaky Fromme was pointing her gun at the president.  Terrorists were taking Olympic athletes hostages.  912 people drank poisoned Kool-Aid in the Jonestown compound in Guyana.  The Beatles broke up. The first Ebola virus struck in Africa.  Pol Pot took over Cambodia.  Watergate.  And that damn hot mess of a decade ended up with 52 American citizens held hostage in Iran.

And the crime!  I mean the only thing to say about 1970s crime was at least it wasn't 1980s crime.  Those 1970's salad days that lazily crossed my addled pre-nap brain were about the time when crime was peaking in the US.  It's been on a decline since 1990, you guys!

Lookit: I woke up and realized that I was being nutty.  But I've told this little self-recriminatory anecdote a couple of times over the weekend and have repeatedly been met with, "Oh, no!  The world is way scarier now than we were kids.  You have to be so much more careful."

In a sense, this is true - the world is much scarier without Mom and Dad to take care of you.  But this fact is independent of the decade.  There are mortgages to pay and jobs to go to and the utterly pants-shittingly terrifying project of raising children.  And, right there at the apex (or the nadir) of adult terror is the profound, constant awareness of one's own mortality.  When you're 11, you're pretty sure you're never going to die.  When you're 45, you're all like, "Gee, I hope I make it through the afternoon." Even worse, when you're 45, you're intimately aware of your own child's mortality, which is the scariest thing in a world that you're increasingly aware is really fucking scary.

But the data matters.  The world itself is not, in fact, scarier than it used to be.  So let's all drop our weapons, nod politely at our neighbors, answer the door, proffer directions when a stranger looks lost and just, you know, relax a little.  It's scary out there.  Sure. It is.

But it's always been scary.