On the Golden Age

A cranky-but-hopeful political thought for the day:
Lucius Shepard, on the people who blamed America’s “moral decline” for Columbine: “I have something of a problem with that conclusion . . . though I might feel better about it if the word “decline” were changed to “sickness” or “vacancy” or some such. The concept of moral decline presupposes the existence of its opposite, but when, pray tell, was our culture ever in a state of moral ascendancy? Certainly not in my lifetime. I suppose we were on the right side in WWII, but a war fought in defense of life and liberty hardly qualifies as a moral Everest. How about the Depression? The Roaring Twenties? The period of Westward expansion, with its slaughters of Native Americans and rampant lawlessness? The Civil War era? Slavery days? Go all the way back to the beginning of the nation, back to the Declaration of Independence — a document that, no matter its worth, was drafted in large part by slave-owning tax evaders with undeniably self-serving motives — and you’ll be hard pressed to find a period that wasn’t marked by the same brutality, base motives, and indifference to suffering that flourish in our times.”
To me, this quote nicely sums up (insofar as anything by the prolix Mr. Shepard can be said to “sum up” ;)) my objection to much so-called “conservative” thinking in this country — and, indeed, some of the radical thinking. Peter Graham once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12” — and I think there is something to that in the looking-back that many people do, finding a place where it was “right” or “better” for the person they imagine being then — and saying we have fallen off from there. This is more true of the oblivious-to-privilege, but I have heard it from the left as well; the golden age of strikes and labor movement, that was not golden because things were so bad they called that into being.
There is no golden age save in our heads — the created worlds that most likely never were, and if they were, were only for the us we imagine we would have been, and in our dreams for the future. The former, I submit, *must* be sacrificed to help us produce the latter — otherwise we will look back at what we think was, and try to get *back* to somewhere we have never been.