While in college circa 1960 studying for a high school teaching certificate, I read that youthful idealism peaks at age 12 and gradually declines during the teen years;
During several years in hardball state and federal politics in the 1970s, I saw the corrupting influence of money;
During a brief flirtation with cynicism, I was convinced that people are worse than they are;
Seeing three decades of religion-inspired insanity in the Republican Party;
All of that and I still sometimes angrily demand that Homo Sapiens behave in ways that my ancestral pond scum did not.
What gives idealism so long a life?
Is it due to genes?
Is it due to growing up in a sometimes violent home?
Is it due to 12 years of a bullying Catholic education?
All of the above?
Cheer up; I'm healing. I'm vastly happier but I still have those moments.
What gives idealism so long a life?
I'm a veteran (Korean War) and have America's most socialized medicine.
I happily remind Republican veterans that they do too.
Excellent post Tom. In answer to your last question, What gives idealism so long a life? I can only speak for myself. Having been on this planet for more than 6 decades, I've watched as we take 1 step forward and 5/6ths of a step backward. Or, with momentum, 1 1/2 steps forward and about 2 1/2 to the side, tripping and falling over ourselves for the latter part of the journey. There is progress. I recall as a child watching television as the peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge got their heads smashed in. And, I've now lived long enough to see a black man in the highest office in the nation. I can give other examples involving the treatment of gays and women when I was younger as opposed to what it is today.
Are we out of the woods? Not by a long shot. We're crapping in our own nest with climate change. Racism is far from being removed from American, let along world society. There is the growth of religious intolerance and hatred, here and abroad. There is the economic war on the middle class, with large swaths of the middle class participating in their own destruction. So, it is easy to give into cynicism, which I confess, I find myself doing from time to time. See. I just did it with this paragraph.
But, as long as there is that desire to strive for a better world, coupled with the drive to make it happen - even in the slightest and most seemingly insignificant way - idealism lives.
I sometimes find empathy a heavy load to carry.
"What gives idealism so long a life?"
Tom, as usual, your words evoke thoughts in me. My reality of life is of growing up in a violent home, creating a home in which violence prevailed, I watched the corruption of politics even after some futile attempts to get involved and change things that left me with bitter and hopeless thoughts. Is that the way life is supposed to be?
NO! If we can imagine something better we can make it happen!
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. A team had to be assembled to plan and design the equipment to do the job. A man on that team was Edward Lindaman who later became president of Whitworth University, where I received my master's degree. He taught us in soliloquies how to go from where we are to where we want to be. At the start of the Apollo Project, the team had to imagine a preferred future and then do those things that make it happen.
I sat in Ed Lindaman's office at Whitworth University trying to figure out how to put my 18,000 three x five cards of information on family violence together into a master's thesis. At the time, 1979, there were no books in any library in Spokane on family violence; there were many articles in the psychology, sociology, anthropology journals and in those days I had to go to the psych., soc, and anthropology abstracts to find titles of articles and then go to the specified journal to see if it applied to my subject. A long and tedious job, made much easier now with computers. I can look up every one of my resources on my computer at home, in my pajamas, drinking coffee, and leisurely read each article. How times have changed.
My master's thesis: "Toward a theory of family violence, its antecedents, treatment and prevention" resulted.
The point is, one cannot leave behind the old, dysfunctional patterns of life and move into a functional lifestyle without an imagined preferred future. To do that requires imagination, exploration, experimentation, investigation, discussions, debates. It also involves disputes with those who benefit by the old ways. Families in patterns of violence exist for a reason. Finding a more humane, responsible, healthy way is not easy, loved ones feel threatened, pressures exist to remain as we were, and all kinds of fears and anxieties arise.
The good news is there is a way to make important changes when things go terribly wrong in families or in social systems. We are at a time now when our culture has deteriorated into one of exploitation and domination of some over the many. We can change that!
Well put, Joan
The point is, one cannot leave behind the old, dysfunctional patterns of life and move into a functional lifestyle without an imagined preferred future.
That's the knot impeding our progress toward sustainability, too. Mired in Dominator culture, which is a culture based on violence including family violence, we can't imagine a Partnership future. A future where diverse peoples work together to save Earth's resources instead of each trying to get the greatest share of her constantly dwindling resources. When we try to pursue "high or noble principles or goals", they're framed within the Dominator Trance, as Riane Eisler calls it (an inability to imagine any other reality than Dominator Culture).
Right wing religious neocons are idealists too. They just have very different ideals than I do.
Tom, thank you for posting this. I've kept it in my newsreader trying to think of a thoughtful response.
You have my utmost respect. I know a fair number of folks in their 80s. I don't know if it's the selection of people, their age, or the generation but Baby Boomers, entering their senior years, could still learn a lot from those who led the way before them.
I think Mark Twain was an idealist into his later years. And of course, Pete Seger.
I don't think there is a single answer to your question, what gives idealism so long a life. I am an idealist too. I suspect my life will not be as long. But if it is, and I do make it into my 80s, I hope I've held on to those values as well.
Greed existed since time immemorial and so did idealism. Both will continue to coexist for all the time to come.
I worry about my step-father, and he is now 84. He seemed always worried about "kids coming by and carrying away things out of his shed." That's why the door had to always be locked. We bought the place from him and one day I called wanting to play with him. I told him that I had forgotten to lock the shed, and asked him to guess what happened. He told me those kids came along and carried things away. I explained that it didn't happen. Nobody came. I simply locked the door again later.
The problem with this story is that I never ever remember anything even remotely close to this happening to my step-father in his lifetime. His fear is a realitively recent fear that has developed in his lifetime. Nobody ever stole anything out of his shed.
Where does this fear come from? Senility or a loss of idealistic ideals. Maybe such things are why they watch Fox Noise and keep clinging to a more than stupid religious belief.
Not wanting to guess too much about a situation I don't know, but paranoia can be a symptom of dementia. If that's the case it's hard to reason with. And very difficult to watch.
Fear or anger - with the people I knew that developed Alzheimer's it was a deep fear of losing control of one's life. Don't reason with your step-father, but show him how you lock the door and make him feel safe.
When my father became older, he became frightened of things that would never have when he had full control of his life. When he lost his driving license because of his sight, and his hearing was not good, and he couldn't taste anything. These are all things he had no control over.
I find as I get older I am much more cautious. I know if I fall there is a high probability I will break a bone. As a younger woman I had no such fear. I am one of those little old ladies that goes 25 in the neighborhood and 30 on arterials. I often have cars coming up behind me at high speed and having to slow down. I am sure they swear under their breaths. My car is 22 years old, going on 23 and has never had a scratch or dent. I want it to remain that way. When cars behind me honk, I have a perfectly reasonable signal to give them ... involving one of my fingers.