Sometimes I feel deeply ashamed at my own generation, the baby boomers, I mean.
It is a terrible generalisation, I know, but it is true that we have never had it so good. We didn’t know war other than in far off places. While in early years things could, by today’s standards, be spartan, we had enough to live on and we could see the steady growth in wealth, comfort and convenience with a spirit of optimism that things were on a general trend upwards. We thought that was a given. We had education and it was free. We learned to read and write and count and think things out for ourselves. We had the sense that if you were reasonably bright and worked hard, the opportunities were immense. You could pick your career path. If you scored on the results you could go to college and the state paid your fees and provided you with a grant. It was real money and it could buy things. When you reached the end of your course and graduated you could choose where you wanted to work. There was the astonishing advances in medicine and the health of the population. You could live longer, into your 70’s and 80’s with a level of fitness unknown to those who went before. There was structure and order and you generally believed that the authorities were benevolent, could be trusted and had your best interests at heart. Above all there was a sense of freedom. Provided you avoided what was specifically prohibited, you could do what you wanted. Yes, there was social mores and traditions as well as stigmas but generally you were free. We never had it so good and we took it all for granted.
Now, in a few short years, a few careless decades, we have thrown it all away. Turns out we didn’t do all that well with what we have been given and what we have bequeathed to our children is of questionable value. Most of the framework of our society has slowly been dismantled, the baby with the bathwater, in the long march through the institutions and the theft of individual freedoms, those freedoms that were fought for and died for, carelessly frittered away, sold off for a mess of convenience, comfort and an easy life. It’s been going on for quite a wee while and we’ve hardly noticed it, so when it came to the final push, the final turn of the screw, the time when the liberties we thought we had would be taken away from us, it was done in a stroke, in the fog of a pandemic, under the cover of a heath crisis. We didn’t believe it would be possible and we still don’t believe it. Most people I speak to think that once this is over, we will get back to normal. No, we won’t. Those in charge have made that clear. This is not a conspiracy theory. They have told us. It will be the “new normal” and if we didn’t know what the “new normal” will be, well we know now.
Time was when the rule of law could be understood, when the individual was free to make their own choices, movements and associations in the clear knowledge that there were certain lines where certain actions were prohibited and a transgressor would face the consequences of flouting them. The law applied to everyone and no one was above it. In other words, you were free to do what you wanted, write want you wanted and say what you wanted within clearly defined boundaries. Now it has flipped to a controlled society when you are only allowed to do what is permitted and what is permitted is decided, it could be said, by a small number of elites with almost no effective scrutiny. Why, before embarking on some perfectly normal human activity, quite sensible people will now ask “ Are we allowed to do this”. On the face of it, you could say there is no difference between the two systems. It sounds a matter of semantics, but there is a world of difference. One is freedom the other is tyranny.
I fear that what we are bequeathing the next generation will be a cross between a third world country and a socialist nightmare. The only people who seem to see this are those who have experienced it. The people I have met in Africa, Peru, Nepal and Haiti who know what it is like to live in a country where the focus of each day is survival understand this. My friends from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, whose parents experienced life under authoritarian regimes, understand it too.
Now I could be wrong. I could be quite wrong. It could be that when the curse of the virus has past, we will return to the life we knew before and continue on our path through the sunlit uplands to our promised land. But I am not counting on it. There are dark days ahead and I feel ashamed at what we have done.