Thoughts and Reflections On the Values of Our Time
Eternity of Iran

                                          The Good Ole Days

One frequently hears about the good ole days, especially from older folk, of which I
am one. The usual, and truthful, reply is that life in the past was difficult and
decidedly unpleasant for all except the few on top of the pyramid with power,
wealth, or both. Suppose, however, we turn from material advantages to the
intellectual climate, and ask whether the present is far above the past in the life of
the mind and spirit. We pride ourselves today in our tolerance and support of
relativism, which was not considered noble, or even desirable, in the western world
of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then everything was not
relative, but rather certain principles and morality were considered absolute and
universal. Yet conformity was not expected of everyone, as long as the basic norms
of humanity were accepted and followed. But “surely we are much freer now in our
choices of how we live and flourish”. Or are we?

No one will deny the power of science and technology, which, after the doubts and
pessimism about the world between the world wars and the cold war, have now
resurrected the optimism of the end of the nineteenth century. Ever onward and
upward, with ever more powerful computers opening a new world of discoveries,
such as genomics. On the other hand, are we not becoming more gleichgeschaltet,
as the Nazis said of their followers who fell in line behind them. This was normality.
One evidence today of a similar trend are the words politically correct in vogue on
college campuses. But there is much more to it than such trivial fads. What has our
society become? If democracy means equalizing everyone, then the United States of
America, more than any other country or society in history, has achieved an
unparalleled democracy, because everything quantifies, or computes. What does this
mean? Everything and everybody can be reduced to a common denominator–the
dollar. The good musician, or athlete, or scholar is rated by the amount of money he
is worth, or can earn. No inherited aristocracy, as in Europe or other parts of the
world, but an aristocracy of the dollar exists. Things, people, principles, all can be
quantified and computed. The universal keyword is efficiency, relative to cost and
profit, for we are living in an economic world.

Theology, philosophy? How much does one or the other cost, how do they fit into our
computerized, economic society? The answer may be that theology and philosophy
are dead for the age in which we are living; they do not compute; thus they have no
value, for everything is relative, and they claim to deal in absolutes. Paul Tillich may
have been one of the last of the theologians to be heard. All industry props up our
economic society, which surely becomes more efficient as technology advances.
Human nature can be analyzed, and morality can be replaced by economics, which is
the new touchstone of our age. Cost and profit can shape our views of everything.

Perhaps it is inevitable that we follow this path, since the world will be
overpopulated, and science and technology will inform us that to survive we must
act together, or to use a more productive word, we must cooperate. People will have
to be given the illusion that they are free, and that they alone matter. “If all the
world were just like me, what a wonderful world it would be”. All the world will be
just like me, or I will be like everyone else. We cannot have apples and oranges, but
must choose one or the other, for it must compute, and that requires uniformity.

Is it not odd that in the world the Islamic lands seem to be the last bastion of non-
relativist thought? Perhaps this is one reason for the reaction against the West in the
Islamic world, which seeks to return to the past, or at least hold on to an old society,
in the face of the onslaught of the new world and society. As noted by others, many
in the Middle East see the future as a struggle over water and water rights, and even
something as bleak as a road warrior society. Perhaps we are seeing the last throes
of attempts to preserve the old world, not only in the Islamic countries, but
everywhere, as the old people give way to the young. The return to religion after the
fall of the Communist states is not spear headed by the young people, but by the
aged who wish to resurrect past familiar patterns of belief and trust. Of course,
always a few young people will join their elders, but not many, unless they join large
groups following evangelist preachers in a kind of mass psychosis.

Have you noticed that fifty years ago youth groups in churches, synagogues and
other institutions, such as the YMCA, were active and flourishing. Today the refrain
of such institutions is, where have all the youth gone? How can we the old interest
the young in our way of life and its structures? The answer is one cannot, for too
many distractions and other influences operate on youth, and they want to break
with the past, not follow or emulate it. Yet they will fall into an even more restrictive
pattern of life, for they will all have to compute. For if they fall into the category of it
does not compute, they will be ostracized, and is this not the worst fate that can  
befall a young person. Or is it?