Moving Forward Requires Letting Go of the Past

1950s family illustration, RetroClipArt /

1950s family illustration, RetroClipArt /

Comparing today with yesterday is a popular yet pointless pastime.

For one thing, we rarely remember yesterday accurately. More to the point, yesterday was so, well, yesterday — different context, different players, different period in our lives, different numbers, different stages in science, commerce, and communications.

Seeking to restore the 1950s — grafting 1950s values, lifestyles, cultural politics, educational, and religious institutions — onto 2012 is nonsense. It sounds appealing, but it is delusional.

That world didn't disappear because someone stole it and now we need to get it back. It disappeared because the nation doubled in size, white people fled racial integration in city schools, and women entered the workforce en masse. It disappeared because factory jobs proliferated and then vanished, prosperity came and went, schools soared and then soured, the rich demanded far more than their fair share, overseas competitors arose, and medical advances lengthened life spans.

The comparison worth making isn't between today and yesterday. It is between today and what could be. That comparison is truly distressing, which might explain why we don't make it.