Wednesday, September 7, 2016

right on



When people debate or discuss or write about whether things are getting better or worse in the world -- in life -- sometimes conclusions that are drawn depend on things other than neutral world observation:  they may spring partly from the contemplator's mood and mind-set, on that day, or in that era.


------------------------- [excerpt, Schlesinger's Journals] ---------------


1986.


January 25.


A movie we saw a few days ago lingers in mind.  It was Brazil, a British film directed by Terry Gilliam, a graduate of the Monty Python team.  Tom Stoppard contributed to the screenplay. 


Its portrait of the future is not all that original and draws much from 1984 and from A Clockwork Orange.  But its vision of an electronic world in which nothing works, of cities drowned in filth and litter and divided between the stupid rich and the aimlessly violent poor, of an intrusive, incompetent and brutal state bureaucracy -- all seemed peculiarly convincing. 


I find that I have no faith, none at all, in progress. 


I do not expect a better future. 




I shudder when I contemplate the world in which Robert will grow up.  I pray that I am wrong, but nearly every amenity of life has declined in my lifetime.  Only technology has improved,





and even technology disappoints, breaks down and is impossible to get repaired. 


My heart sinks as I walk the streets of New York strewn as they are these days with paper and cans and bottles and garbage. 


However, I eat the best meals I can get, drink Jack Daniel's, smoke Havana cigars and prepare to enjoy life while it is still possible.  --------------------- [end excerpt]




Born in 1917 (the same year as JFK), Professor Schlesinger would have been 69 years old, in 1986.  After decades of political involvement and policy-shaping and advice-giving, he now questions that, too:


-------------------- [excerpt] ------------------


1986.


March 1.


I find in my old age that more and more people ask my advice.  I heartily dislike the responsibility of giving advice. 


When we were at the Kennedy house in Palm Beach I found the Riverside edition of Hawthorne and, reading Our Old Home for the first time, came on the following sentence in the chapter entitled "Consular Experiences,"


"I have always hated to give advice, especially when there is a prospect of its being taken." 


Right on.


---------------------- [end, excerpt] --------------------




Complexifying the question of whether things get better or worse through time, is the consideration of how our views of things change, evolve, and back-flip, with the passage of time, and the shifting of context and perspective:


----------------------------- [excerpt] ---------------------


1988.


June 6.


Robert Kennedy died twenty years ago today.  I can still feel the anguish of that moment and that time.  Grief does not abate.  This anniversary has brought a surprising outpouring of interest and recollection.  It is as if RFK's purposes, so exotic and unfashionable in the greedy eighties, are striking chords once more -- another vindication of my father's theory of cyclical change. ------------- [end, excerpt]





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