Losing my innocence at 70

For the first 70 years of my life, starting in the immediate aftermath of World War II, I really did believe that the world was progressing towards a common goal, one of peace and prosperity for all. Not just for white people with familiar names who spoke English (or in Canada English or French, or in other countries their main national language), but everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, visible or invisible disabilities, education level, or socioeconomic status. How could I have been so blind to the tribalism and basic self-interest of people for so long? It appears that people much more savvy than I, in particular those who crave power and money, have recognized this trait in populations and have played to this distrust of “others” to sorry advantage. And so, after 70+ years of the world kind of, sort of, creeping towards more progressive, egalitarian societies, we find ourselves taking ominous steps in the opposite direction. The walls are coming up; compassion and mutual respect are retreating.

Flags at the UN

 

I realize that I live in a bubble. And I realize that not everyone has been overjoyed with some steps forward in human rights and just plain decency that have been taken since I’ve been a kid. However, there have been some steps forward that I really don’t think will be undone. I can remember when I was young hearing grown-ups whispering about someone’s older brother or sister having to leave town because someone who wasn’t married was going to have a baby. Can you imagine feeling such pressure from society and your church to have to disown your own child and not see a grandchild because of that kind of norm? The cruelty in imposing that kind of unwarranted shame on ordinary people is hard for me to fathom. That wasn’t very long ago. These days I know people who are happily married to their same-sex partner and living supported, fulfilled lives, just like everyone else is able to do. I realize that some people aren’t very pleased about that, which always astounds me because it has absolutely zero impact on their lives, but there you go. We all know how recent this change has been and the degree to which LGBTQ folks have been persecuted in the past, and continue to be in many parts of the world, simply for being who they are. At least there have been some positive changes made in some jurisdictions; we can live in hope that this voice of reason, compassion and social justice will continue.

The world as one!

Let’s see, what’s happened that caused me to lose my innocence after 70 years of post-WWII living? Hmm, well, the world’s most powerful country elected someone whose modus operandi is to bully, insult, and threaten almost everyone, with few or no facts at the ready. Don’t expect leadership in compassion and inclusiveness from that corner of the universe for a while. And, at about the same time the UK voted to leave the EU – surely, one of the most courageous social and economic experiments the world has seen, bringing together countries with different languages and currencies which had fought each other for centuries. The Leave voters apparently want to rid their country of their EU immigrants and feel more like masters in their own house. This Brexit decision seems to have been pretty poorly thought through, especially as we watch the UK government trying to navigate uncharted “divorce” waters, but that was the will of the majority.  (I’m not sure who is going to take up all the restaurant and hotel jobs in London if the eastern Europeans leave, but that’s somebody else’s problem.)  Two nations with great pasts, both of which have played constructive leadership roles in making the world a better place in former times, now having decided that they’d rather retreat into their own domains. The repercussions have exposed heartbreaking warts that undoubtedly had been there all the time, but are now impossible to ignore, with overt racism being the most heartbreaking of all.

I doubt that I am alone in struggling to come to grips with these heartbreaking steps backwards. But it turns out that my worldview – the naïve one in which everyone really wants to live together in a caring, respectful society and that we’ve slowly been working our way towards that since WWII – is just one interpretation of history. And maybe a pipe-dream interpretation at that. While describing my deep consternation to two friends, both of whom happen to be historians, they replied at once, “Oh, you’re a Whig historian”. Now, I’ve been called a lot of things, but this time I didn’t even know what it meant! Whig history, as explained in Wikipedia, puts its faith in the power of human reason to reshape society for the better, regardless of past history and tradition. It proposes the inevitable progress of humankind, towards liberty and enlightenment. It also turns out that among people who know this much about history – or interpretation of history, to be more precise – the term Whig history can be used pejoratively, as in, you must be kidding, you can’t really believe that! I’m not sure if that means that a less naïve interpretation of history shows that we’re doomed to be more often ruled by corrupt, nasty autocrats, with relatively short periods of enlightened and compassionate rule in between. I sure hope not. I guess it’s up to our democracies, and therefore every voter, to safeguard against this. This simply cannot be inevitable. It can’t be. Democracies are a relatively new phenomenon; let’s use them to make sure that compassion returns as the underlying foundation of how the world interacts, both within and between borders. Please.

Meanwhile, I want my innocence back again!

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19 Responses to Losing my innocence at 70

  1. You articulate the voice of so many Jane Fritz. Just finished the book “Fascism” by Madeleine Albright. Really gave me a much bigger and broader understanding of the current global moves toward authoritarian governments, and how it has unfolded both historically and current. Sounds stuffy but it is not. This lady has lived it both professionally and personally.
    All my best to you for this New Year.

  2. Pingback: Top posts of 2018 – and top countries for readership | Robby Robin's Journey

  3. Alison says:

    We are a nation in a civil war it seems because if you are not wearing my same “uniform” your humanity is lost and I am required to hate you; to hate all parts of you. Where has civility gone? Why have we no capacity to just talk through our differences without tearing each other down?! Great post. I am stepping off my soapbox now…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Precisely. Well said, Alison. And the most heartbreaking part is having politicians/leaders (including some religious leaders, sadly) who encourage/empower such thinking just to solidify their own power. They aren’t kidding when they say that mankind is a work in progress. Sigh. Win-lose approaches never work for long, even for the “winners”.

  4. barryh says:

    Thanks for that post, Jane. I share your concerns. My consolation is that human affairs always a have pendulum swings in one direction or another, and a pendulum always swings back again. Also, the French have a saying ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’ – to take a step back in order to better go forwards. The Whig interpretation feels right – thanks for clarifying the meaning of the word!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      C’est ça, one step backwards, two steps forward. It’s just that this step backwards seems particularly painful! You’re right, thanks, Barry, this too shall pass.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Jane I think that everyone accepts the theory of a happy world living in harmony. And we’ve made some huge strides in that inter-country warfare has, for the main part, been reined in since WW2. But nationalism and tribalism are too deeply rooted for it to happen painlessly, or in the short term.

    I respectively disagree with you and Jenny ^^ on Brexit. I don’t believe the voting population in general were over-bothered by immigration. It’s the case that the EU has turned into a ridiculous, expensive and out of control bureaucracy dominated by Germany and France. It’s a far cry from the original aims of the original Common Market. The UK are much better able to work with other jurisdictions, and to contribute towards global harmonisation, without the restrictions imposed by the EU.

    Subsidies received from the EU are 1/3 of the UK’s contributions. A lot of the farming subsidy goes to rich landowners. Our farmers can be better protected by a stand-alone UK.

    Neither will throwing open all borders achieve anything other than strife, as has been proved in the recent past. Even where such immigration has happened organically and over time, ethnic minorities still tend to band together. (And Brits abroad in Spain etc are no different.) Uncontrolled immigration has, and will, only lead to instability.

    We’d work towards harmonisation much better by improving trade relationships, and continuing to talk treaties and deals. And overseas aid where it is needed, and not spent on fighter jets, palaces etc.

    On a lighter note I read a piece today about a small island whose sovereignty is disputed between Canada and Denmark. Periodically there’s a raid, a flag taken down, and a bottle of Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps left in its place. And, every few years, a few French fishermen plant a flag on Les Minquiers, a few rocks situated between France and Jersey. It’s all usually resolved over a drink and a few jokes.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Let’s assume that most leavers did vote to regain the UK’s ability to make its own decisions, in its own best interests, and that it wasn’t an anti-immigration vote. I have heard that from one Brit expat friend here as well (though not from others). Do you have a theory for why they seem to be so unprepared for a successful negotiation?

      • Roy McCarthy says:

        Easy one that Jane – the assumption on all sides was that the vote would be close, but the govt never dreamt the Leavers would prevail. Few if any preparations were made (I assume though don’t know) but in any case the situation had no precedents.

        I had no vote of course but I’d have been a Leave.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Prepared or not (and it certainly appears that they were not and remain as such), that’s the path they’re on. Let’s hope that it at least turns out to inflict as little short-term pain as possible for the desired long-term gains. Meanwhile, what do you think about this analysis of UK, written, intriguingly, by an American?
          https:/www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/world/europe/uk-austerity-poverty.html

        • Roy McCarthy says:

          Can’t argue with much of that. It is rather cherry-picked though. The comment ‘depressed economy post-Brexit’ is flying a kite, for example. Economists are rarely in agreement, and are often quite wrong.

          Yes, many towns are struggling under budget cuts. The town centres are, however, decimated more by the out-of-town shopping centres- I believe the US has seen similar effects.

          My home city, Birmingham is – on the other hand – transformed from the dingy place I left in 1977. And other places are thriving, though admittedly it’s patchy.

          I think it’s acknowledged that times are hard, but these things go in cycles.

  6. Robert Brown says:

    I’m optimistic. The world seems to be evolving into a wholeness. There are still plenty of unresolved issues and these take time to come into awareness and be dealt with. I don’t think we have any choice but to move into a global society.

    Our bodies are wholenesses. Every part works for the benefit of the whole. No part takes more than it needs. And what a great success and wonderous beauty our bodies are. I feel that’s our future. Is there any other choice?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I 100% agree that the world’s best bet lies in nurturing a global society, Bob. That’s why I watch the current “setbacks” with such dismay. I will hope that these setbacks are more like short-term bumps in the road than long-term concrete barricades.

  7. jennypellett says:

    At least you’re on the outside looking in. Some of us are having to live it! But seriously, Brexit should never have happened. What was Cameron thinking, putting the idea to referendum. The country – sadly the majority – was ill informed. That one of the largest votes to leave came from Wales, where the main source of income these days is farming, nobody thought to consider the huge subsidies Welsh farmers are receiving from the EU.
    And now we have a weak and destabilised government (however much Teresa May pontificates otherwise) who will soon be welcoming Trump to our country.
    Makes me want to get the banners out and start marching.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It’s hard to fathom how we arrived at this “place”, isn’t it? I wonder if we’ve evolved govts and bureaucracies that are just too unwieldy for people to manage, at least with the required level of intelligence, common sense, and integrity. If Trump really does go ahead with this UK visit – which is always an open question – I hope you will march, Jenny, and then blog about it! 😉

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