You can call it nostalgia, you can blame it on the sadness of lost youth and reduced vitality. It may just be, like menopause and creaky joints, a symptom of the illness we call life. The ‘good old days’ are a construct of the mind.
People of every age, time and place refer to them. In these days of rapid change the good old days can be remembered by plenty who are neither good nor old. But the memory is often an unreliable witness – there were always bad, horrible, and downright nasty episodes, people, positions and definitely days in everybody’s history, however it is the responsibility of those who have lived past a certain age and gleaned a certain amount of experience to look at the world around us as objectively as possible and ask the question: How did we let things go so badly?
My grandparents and parents’ generation worked hard to make the world a better place for subsequent generations. They fought in wars to protect their liberty to do this in the manner they saw fit. Annually we celebrate Labour Day to commemorate a time when a man could feed and clothe a household in return for 40 hours honest graft per week. Health care, education, and social welfare were of a high order in that old New Zealand. These were fully subsidised by a Government that took less tax. The public service worked for the public good, not in accord with corporate or political agendas. Phone lines were installed, railways and roads laid, power generating stations and a national grid designed and installed – owned by New Zealand and all New Zealanders, not solely by those wealthy enough to become shareholders.
We forged prosperously ahead. Councils produced local infrastructure, roads, water reticulation, storm water systems and sewage treatment with minimal rates and only rarely resorted to small loans.
There was no green movement but we recycled milk, beer and soft drink bottles. Bread came in biodegradable paper. There was less packaging and more biscuits.
Groups of boy scouts could travel unrestrained in the back of trucks to collect bottles to raise funds without the driver getting a ticket for having unrestrained child passengers.
Doctors made house calls and spent longer than 15 minutes with their patients, they also performed minor surgery. There was no talk of a safe society then and OSH did not exist yet amazingly many still lived to a ripe old age.
Today's wage slaves – small business people, farmers and other providers of goods and services – must work longer, harder and with ever greater efficiency to support the unsupportable, to sustain the unsustainable. Predictably they are failing. Every year the corporate plunder and exploitation of the world’s resources accelerates to feed a seemingly insatiable greed.
In the industrialised West, too much is still not enough, while in the Third World the numbers dying miserably of starvation and disease increases. In the developed world the once middle class majority dwindles and divides into the haves and the have nots, the bosses and the slaves, the powerful and the powerless. Corporate men, politicians, business leaders, bankers and financiers, celebrities and those who produce nothing that anyone actually needs and very little of what anybody wants, are portrayed as heroes. The honest grafter who provides the labour and expertise that shelters and feeds the world are marginalised, scorned and taxed into penury.
Sport, once an exercise in honest endeavour and a celebration of the competitive spirit, is now degraded. There are match-fixing scandals, sportsmen and women are vilified for aspects of their personal life that are in no way relevant to their sport, children are taught that participation is all and winning is nothing.
The captains of industry despoil and pollute on a major scale, but woe betide the individual farmer who accidentally degrades a waterway.
Many of our forefathers took a leap of faith and fled a corrupt, hypocritical and class-conscious Europe to start new lives as pioneers in a faraway land. They made a pretty good go of it and as a result, during the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even the early 80s, New Zealanders enjoyed a prosperous, classless society with a quality of life second to none. Now we have forged again, in this once-so-innocent and unspoiled land, all that our pioneer predecessors ran from – and more.
Bring back the good old days?
“Today's wage slaves… must work longer, harder and with ever greater efficiency to support the unsupportable, to sustain the unsustainable. Predictably they are failing. Every year the corporate plunder and exploitation of the world’s resources accelerates to feed a seemingly insatiable greed.”