Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Push the button

That weekend turned into a loooong one, didn't it? That must be because of my amazing, hectic, action-packed social life. Or laziness.

Anyway, this article on nuclear close calls is interesting, and got me thinking of what it must have been like for my parents' generation. Not only was there a constant fear of nuclear apoco-rama-death (and judging by the article, that was close a few more times than we thought), there was also a distinct lack of the things that we take for granted now: computers, the internet, cheap consumer electronics, cars for all, mobile phones, reasonably-priced international air travel, multi-channel television, multiculturalism (with the food having the most impact for the majority), and iPods. I could go on all night.

My parents were born into rationing, our friends across the Atlantic still had two costly wars to fight in Asia, Britain was still a superpower, and black Americans could (effectively) not vote or use the same bus as whites. A fascinating story of last week brought this into focus: Al Sharpton's (a civil rights campaigner and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate) great-grandfather was owned by a relative of the great-great-grandfather of Storm Thurmond (another presidential candidate, whose party was anti-black-rights: their slogan was "Segregation Forever!" in 1948). An amazing coincidence, but it highlights just how recent this all was: imagine that your grandfather's father had been owned by another man. It almost beggars belief.

Which is all a long way of saying "we've got it good, haven't we?". We take a lot for granted nowadays, and maybe we should remember that as we see many of these rights being eroded and our governments trying to impose our values and beliefs on others.

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Blogger Jenny said...

Is Britain not a superpower anymore?

Whereas I will grant you that we do have it good in that we've progressed by some amount for the things you list, I also don't think that we've really got it good. As you hint at, getting it good does not mean warring with others, nor does it mean genocide, backhanded oppression (like continued racism, genderism or even ageism) or sequestering our rights.

2:23 am  
Blogger Nev 360 said...

Jenny, petal, I think what my good friend Justin was trying to convey was that in comparison to past times, life is certainly more comfortable and fair, and he is of course correct. He does note at the end that we must avoid complaceny and continue to strive for a better future.

I'm certainly very glad I'm a child of the late 20th century, as opposed to any other part of any century.

I'd say Britain is still a power, but not really a superpower. We're kind of grabbing the legs of the US and letting it drag us along, like a child.

1:57 pm  
Blogger Jenny said...

Nev - what does "petal" mean? I assume it's some sort of crazy Scottish slang, or are you meaning to call me the petal of a flower?

I know that Justin was intending for us to realize how good we have it and I agree. We do have it good. I would much rather be part of the present rather than any of the generations past (although I think it would be really amazing to have lived during the 1960s with the high highs - eg, moon missions and the low lows - eg, assassination). I love the technologies and modern advances that are available to me and wouldn't want to give it up. In fact, I have found myself thinking things like "Just use your cell phone!" in reading books or movies that are set in older times and realizing how absolutely fortunate we are because we have so much at our fingertips.

I just felt the need to point out that if we equate these good things we have (like the internet, cheap consumer electronics, cars, etc.) as being the epitome of what it means to have it good (or even as a stepping stone), we will become complacent and not realize that there are ills in our society that prohibit some (or most, if you look in the scope of the entire world) from even partaking in these good things. Perhaps it's different in your country, but in mine, the very fact, for instance, that we can get our electronics or clothing cheaply absolutely betrays our fellow human beings in other parts of the world who are taken advantage of for our gain. If that is good, I'm not sure good is right.

Furthermore, although slavery is no longer an issue in my society (or yours), it is not eradicated from other areas of the world. In Thailand, for instance, there are girls who are enslaved to pimps for sexual prostitution, unable to escape this slavery despite laws the government has issued prohibiting it.

Anyway, I am not insinuating that you or Justin or others are unaware of these problems. I just think that in reveling about how much we have progressed or how comfortable life is or what have you, that it is important to recognize that we are not at a loss of problems and that sometimes the problems arise out of the steps we take as we progress.

PS: I say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Get out your towel and sunblock and become a beached whale on the helideck. :)

6:34 pm  
Blogger Nev 360 said...

Jenny, sweetpea, I don't think our progress has been merely material, I think that across the board in civil rights and human liberties, Western society has jumped forward astonishingly. Of course not perfect, but so much better than anytime in the past.

Slavery in various forms does still exist in parts of the world, but rather grimly, it always has existed. Prostitution isn't exactly a modern phenomenon. The difference now, though, is the awareness of these issues, which is aided greatly by our progresses in communication, and a strong will to try and right these wrongs. For all the evils of man, it's heartening that a vast number are genuinely concerned about the well-being of people they have never met, from different parts of the world, from different cultures. I don't think this was the case in the past.

Finally, I don't think we should feel guilty about our material wealth. Economics is not a zero-sum game. One country being rich does not force the other to be poor.

There is no way I would ever join the sunbathing brigade on the helideck.

10:48 am  
Blogger Jenny said...

Niall, sport, I am not meaning to say that economics is a zero-sum game, nor that we should feel guilty for our material wealth. My point is merely that I think economics should be ethical for the parties involved, especially if we are to say that we have progressed as a civilization. Progress should not be at the expense of others. Often the price we pay when buying cheap clothing or electronics is not a price we end up paying at all, but a price we impose onto third-world countries. I am not saying that all international trade falls into this category or that there is no fairness in the trade process. What I am saying is that fairness in trade is not wholly instituted and needs to be addressed if we are to say that we "have it good."

It seems to me that every generation thinks that it has it the best until the up-and-coming generation surpasses them. The question then arises, is the current generation necessarily at the pinnacle of humanity's achievement if the well-being of the whole is neglected for the well-being of an elite class?

PS: It is too bad you have bought your Escort. I think you might have likely been able to find a fine wife to hit "hard and quick" on the No. 27 bus, as it appears that the selection pool for a future mate on that bus is quite deep. :)

8:28 pm  

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