The Other I

September 21, 2016

The danger of the Good Old Days

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:54 pm

As a cognitive psychologist, I have long known about the research showing that as we age, we tend to cleanse the past of unpleasant memories, leaving us with a view of the past that is actually better than it was.  Knowing this, and besides, being an optimist by nature, I did not expect to fall into this fallacy.

I don’t think of the past as a time to which I would like to return.  But I was rather surprised by the conversation I had with a friend last week in which we both seriously wondered if the world was in a worse state now than it has ever been.  What with our environmental destructiveness, our resistance to immigration, a seeming growth in those who believe that they have a God-given obligation to murder those who disagree with them, and the millions of starving and displaced refugees, most of whom are being refused entrance to countries who see them as dangerous and different, things seem pretty awful.

But I’ve discovered one of the most amazing books I’ve read in perhaps 15 years.  It’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg.

One cannot accuse him of naivete or denial.  He begins with a brief statement of the state of the world:”Terrorism.  ISIS.  War in Syria and Ukraine, Crime, murder, mass shootings.  Famines, floods, pandemics.  Global warming.  Stagnation, poverty, refugees.”

And yet the gist of his book is a strongly research-based argument that things are better now than perhaps they have ever been, and that the most dangerous thing we can do is to pull back from the conditions that have reduced famines, increased life-span, even reduced war.  The book is divided into 10 chapters, examining dramatic improvements in food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, and equality.

Norberg is not suggesting that everything is going to work out.  He is quite aware that we could destroy our environment and ourselves to the point of extinction.  But his argument is that we don’t have to wring our hands in despair.  In the last century we have already made incredible progress.

I think it is worth studying what he is saying, and I am hoping to write a series of posts summarizing what I am learning.

Right now I’m beginning to suspect that The Good Old Days might be far more than a benign fantasy of old age and instead a very dangerous myth.




  1. Thanks, Terry, for this. Uplifting just when the horrific election blues here in USA are spiraling completely out of control—good to get some optimism going. I look forward to reading future blog posts on what you are learning from this book and other sources. Peace out, Delia


    Comment by Delia McGrath — September 23, 2016 @ 4:35 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Delia. It really is an amazing book. Like you, I’m grateful for an assessment of our future that really does seem realistically optimistic — despite what we see and hear on the media that seems so often to suggest the contrary. Peace out – I’ve not heard that before. But I think it’s a wonderful wish. Thank you for that too.


      Comment by theotheri — September 23, 2016 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  2. I just wrote something to my son who is soon celebrating his 47th birthday. I think our technology has greatly improved, but we still have too much hate in the world. I think my reflection of my son’s birth expresses it for me and the need for more love in this sometimes hateful world.

    My son Jim will soon be celebrating his 47th Birthday, and because of a Face Book Post it started me reminiscing about that time in 1969 when he was born. The technology was not like it is today but it was exciting to have what we had.
    My son Jim like his sister Debbie where both born at The University of Chicago Lying In Hospital. I chose that hospital because that was were I was born and my brothers. It is a teaching hospital with the latest technology.
    When I was in labor I had a young Doctor who was working on being able to monitor a baby’s heartbeat so they would know how the baby was doing during labor. Tom and I were being involved in this latest advancement. We were monitoring and listening to our baby’s heartbeat and the effect of every contraction I had on our baby. It was an amazing experience for us as parents at that time. You have to realize at that time a father was not allowed in the delivery room, so to be able to experience this together was a wonderful blessing. What they can do today amazes me. The first ultrasound I witness was with my Grandson John’s. It was amazing…
    The other thing I remember and that touches me most deeply was my roommate. We share the same room for three days after giving births to our sons. I still think about her and her baby. She was African American , her neighborhood was on the South side of Chicago. We didn’t share our neighborhoods. We just shared being moms to our sweet baby boys. We both never expressed anything racial, we just wanted to be two women who had bonded over the joy of giving birth.
    As we spent more time together we became more open with one another. We talked about Race relations… We hoped that our sons World would be different from what we grew up in.
    I hope that she and her son have been blessed as much as I and my family.
    I’m still praying for a kinder world that we both had wished for back in 1969…


    Comment by DJC — September 26, 2016 @ 2:35 am | Reply

    • Thank you so much for sharing this lovely memory. It remembers what was good, to save it, and also to learn from it — and I don’t mean technologically. I mean in the kind of thing you are describing – that we are all in this together, and to hope that all our sons have lived with the blessings that we ourselves have had showered on us. It’s a beautiful, enriching memory. Thank you again. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — September 27, 2016 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  3. Everything seems solvable in some sense or the other except for population explosion. Only education seems to be a solution which is going to be a long time in coming.


    Comment by tskraghu — September 29, 2016 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

    • I too am a strong believer in the value of education, especially of women, in relation to population. It is a valuable, perhaps essential, factor. But of equal importance is the elimination of starvation. When parents can count on their children reaching adulthood, they have fewer children, and provide them with better education. It’s a trend which is evident in countries around the world, which then becomes an ongoing trend.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — September 29, 2016 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

      • In these parts there is also a well-rooted thought-school: more children = more hands available for the purpose community/parents have in mind:-(


        Comment by tskraghu — September 30, 2016 @ 2:12 am | Reply

        • Yes, and throughout the world there is also the influence of Catholicism which teaches that it is a grave sin not to accept all the children God sends, and that the only acceptable form of birth control is abstinence.

          I suspect, though, that even this religious practice is less widely practiced as poverty is lessened. I come from a RC family, and my parents were influenced profoundly by the belief in having all the children God sends. As a consequence, I have 9 sibs. My father himself came from an immigrant family and by the age of 11 was selling newspapers on the street to bring home money for the family meal that night. By the time he reached late middle age and was financially successful, however, he began to change his mind about having unlimited numbers of children or enforcing their limit through abstinence, and openly and explicitly advised his own children to this effect. He felt that the unlimited number of pregnancies contributed to my mother’s early death, and in many families limited the opportunities parents could provide for their children’s education and well-being.

          I am not familiar with the details of population growth in India. After reading your comment, I wondered if the trend evident in other developing countries that as families escaped poverty and their children survived to adulthood their fertility rates dropped did not apply to India. But according to, between 1965-2009, the fertility rate dropped by more than half. I wonder if that drop is not concentrated among families which have escaped severe poverty. I haven’t been able to find that out as of now. And India’s population is still rising fairly rapidly, with 50% of India’s population today under 25 years of age. A significant challenge.

          Thank you so much for your continued comments. You keep me thinking. Terry

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Terry Sissons — September 30, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

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