Back to the…1950s?!?

A recent poll revealed that “half of all Americans want to take the country back to the 1950s.”  Hmmmm…do many Americans really want to return to the way things were in the 50s?

Imagine we were somehow transported back to the 1950s – much like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Like Stewart, we’d find things very different from today.

There’d be no Internet – no email, no Facebook, no Yelp, no websites for anything from news to political groups to amusing cat videos, no blogs, no eBay, no online shopping, no Twitter or Tinder, etc.

We’d be much more disconnected from friends and the world, without smart phones or cell phones, iPads, laptops and other such devices at our fingertips. We’d get most of the news of the world – a day late, in many cases – from newspapers, radio or television. And the news on TV would only come from three media companies that dictated what we heard and saw: ABC, CBS and NBC. There would be no Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. News would travel more slowly and less graphically, with no satellite TV broadcasts from where news was breaking at that moment.

Some people might find such a slower, less connected time appealing. But they should keep in mind what also went with that period. If you had health problems – like heart disease, hypertension, depression, asthma, etc. – there were many fewer treatment options available and they were less likely to be effective. If you were diagnosed with cancer in the 1950s, your chance of surviving it was poor. And the risk of getting cancer was high back then due to the largely unchecked pollution and chemical use of the times, as well as the blissfully ignorant prevalence of cigarette smoking.

Plus, hanging over the entire world in the 1950s was the possibility of nuclear holocaust, of which people were continually reminded by things like public fallout shelters and “duck and cover” drills at school.

I wonder how many people would really want to give up everything we have today to go back to the 1950s. I doubt many would. Instead, what we have here is an idealized view of a “simpler time” – one in which, let’s face it, certain groups (like English-speaking white males) had much more power in society than they do today.

This year’s US Presidential race has stirred up many fears, angst and apocalyptic visions. One thing many don’t seem to recognize is that we went through something similar four years ago.  As I noted then in my post “Keep the Change,” when you look at the big picture you can see a certain logic in what’s happening.

As I pointed out then, we have seen a great amount of change since the 1950s:

This change has altered societies around the world in myriad ways. But such change has not been welcomed by many – especially those whose identity and values were firmly rooted in the previously established cultures. This reflects a basic but rarely considered fact:  change happens differently for a culture than it does for the society of which that culture is a part.

Ideally, cultures by their nature offer enduring, lasting values. In this way they satisfy the human need for meaning and stability. In the chaos and confusion of life, we need to have a dependable framework that gives meaning to what is happening around us. 

By the same token, healthy societies are continually changing. This is a reflection of changes in demographics, as well as the growth of knowledge and awareness that are a part of a dynamic society. In this way, societies satisfy the human need for freedom and creativity.

However, there is a basic conflict inherent in this dichotomy: cultural values cannot long endure unchanged within an evolving and changing society. Just as pressures build over time along fault lines until there’s an earthquake, over time pressures build up between culture and society until conflict erupts.

This is where we are now. The conflict we are seeing today is in large part a conflict between those who want to return to that “simpler time” of the 1950s, and those who were marginalized or oppressed by the culture and society of that time.

In a larger sense however, the conflict is not really between these two groups. That is because the social change we have been witnessing did not arise from that conflict. In reality, it arose from the technology that increasingly and pervasively has linked us together. As I wrote four years ago:

This change isn’t the result of an invasion by infidels or a conspiracy by shadowy elites. Instead it’s a product of  modern technology, with its concomitant interlinking of humanity. As Walter Truett Anderson observed in his book “Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be”:

The collapse of belief we have been witnessing throughout the twentieth century comes with globalism. The postmodern condition is not an artistic movement or a cultural fad or an intellectual theory — although it produces all of those and is in some ways defined by them. It is what inevitably happens as people everywhere begin to see that there are many beliefs, many kinds of belief, many ways of believing. Postmodernism is globalism; it is the half-discovered shape of the one unity that transcends all our differences.

When you get down to it, the conflict the “back to the 50s” group has is really with society today – and the technology that has brought this society about. If they truly want to return to that simpler time, they will need to follow the lead of groups like the Amish and give up everything that did not already exist in the 1950s. As the Amish have demonstrated, that is certainly possible.

But truly returning to the 1950s would require them to give up two things I doubt most of this group are willing to sacrifice: all their modern technology, and an active role in contemporary society.

In the end, the “back to the 50s” group faces a stark choice: continue fighting against society as it is today – diverse, interconnected and interdependent – in a battle that will grow ever more futile as society leaves them further and further behind; or adapt and make their peace with this modern world.

In making that choice, they should consider something once said by Charles Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

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About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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