As time trundles on, I think more and more about both the past and the future. Sixty years ago I was an exchange student from Seattle, headed towards a year in Marseille. Amazing that it was so long ago. And yet it also seems not so long ago.
The world has changed greatly. I keep thinking about the people I knew then or know now. I also think about what has happened to our country.
I read a very good article by Heather Cox Richardson today. August 14, 1935 (86 years ago) was the date FDR signed the Social Security Act into law. This changed an important component on American life. “It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship of the government to its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.” Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor, was very important in the passing of this law. She later said: “Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.” But is it? By the time the Social Security Act bill came to a vote in Congress, it was hugely popular. The vote was 371 to 33 in the House and 77 to 6 in the Senate. I can hardly imagine that happening today. Not with the present-day GOP.
The world (and particularly the U.S.) has changed greatly. From 1932 through about 1970, the United States began to reject the rugged individualism of the 1920s. We saw that the latter could lead to corruption and want. We adopted laws that brought our community together. We fought World War II together, making women and our minority population an important component of the effort. But today? Many reject the idea that humanity is at risk because of climate change. We have hugely wealthy people in our society and yet we appear to reject the idea of fair taxation. And Trump wanted to end the funding for social security.
The younger generation, however, does seem to be going back to the JFK idea of providing national service. “Public opinion polling of 1,000 18–24 year old adults found near universal support for expanding national service opportunities through AmeriCorps (81%), and a great majority of them (71%) would consider serving in AmeriCorps. In overwhelming numbers, young people believe national service can be part of one’s civic duty (87%), help them solve problems in their communities (86%), and enable them to gain real world experience before entering an uncertain job market (85%).” This is a very optimistic finding.
At the same time, we are faced with the possibility of societal collapse. Societal collapse — defined as “significant and permanent decreases in measures including human populations, stocks of non-renewable resources or representations such as ‘wealth’ or ‘nature’, and other ‘services’ supporting civilization” — could be brought about by climate change, financial crises and pandemics. We need to band together if we want humanity to survive. We know that we have water problems, population problems, and the possibility of more pandemics. We are not going to be able to combat those issues unless we have real community.
So let us have community. Let us have a more egalitarian society. That way, we can survive.
Humanity can survive.