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Monday, August 20, 2012

Road work can be good for you

This morning I awoke to find that it's our neighborhood's turn for the water and sewer upgrade work that's disrupted things around Milan this summer. I got home late from the theatre, so of course they started bright and early, with machinery that sounded like a whole battalion of tanks was invading. The critters were all upset. One cat kept running from window to window, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I hid in the back bedroom and managed to get enough sleep- I hope.
When I awoke it was to find a workman at the door, asking that I move my car. I hadn't realized that they'd be tearing up BOTH streets on our corner. I guess that we'll be parking in the alley and coming in through the garden for a while.

I'm not really complaining. The work needs to be done. Change, especially positive change, tends to be disruptive. This had been put off for a while, so it was being a bit more disruptive than it might have needed to be. Things need fixing when they need it- the longer you wait, the harder it gets.

Being thoroughly awake, I put on some music and tackled housework. Today I chose a '50s pop mix: I like the old crooners, the McGuire Sisters, Percy Faith, and Les Paul. While doing dishes I was hit by an epiphany, one of those moments when several ideas crystallize into something new.

The first insight is very obvious, that change requires tearing out the old structures, and is disruptive and scary.

The second was in considering the sentimentality of the music. You can't really blame those who regret the passing of that age. I know, it wasn't great for everyone, far from it, but it was for a lot of folks.

The third element was the conversations that I've had with people about the idea that Western Civilization hit its peak around the late-middle Twentieth Century.

Then it struck me. By the 1950s we'd hit on the general framework for a just and prosperous society. The Civil Rights protests that were starting then were a sort of “road work,” fixing things that weren't quite right. It was work that desperately needed doing, but could be accomplished. The work got more intense in the '60s. We tackled racial equality, women's rights, pollution, and poverty. These things needed fixing, and could be in that general social framework.

Then it went wrong. Some people didn't like the “road work.” They wanted the peacefulness of the '50s without the disruption. They thought that things had been fine before all those troublemakers got uppity. They stood up to put a stop to the whole thing. Nixon got elected. Fundamentalist religions exploded.

We spent the '70s vacillating, then Reagan was elected, and our fate was sealed. The “road work” was left half done. It became mainstream to say that there'd been no need to “tear up the streets” at all.

Consider that Nixon, a scary conservative, would be a Lefty today. That's how much things have changed.

So, here we are, with far worse disruptions on the horizon. We could have avoided many of them if we'd finished what we'd started decades ago, but too many people found it inconvenient.

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