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– A word to the wise

July 2, 2012

There’s something fundamentally right about post, you know, stamps, letters, parcels.  I don’t know whether my strength of feeling about good old fashioned letters is the result of living far away from friends or what.  After all, email is much more immediate isn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  Yes if you can get on line, no if you can’t.  It’s more difficult for us to use the internet because we live out of the range of local aerials so have to go somewhere to connect.  And anyway, receiving mail is just nice.  Interestingly, I just noticed that even I, a letter lover have, have used the words ‘old fashioned’ about it.  What’s wrong with that?  Well surely, old fashioned hints at out of datedness, quaint, old timey.  Something we don’t consider modern, technological and so, of inferior value.  But in the case of letters, I love them and I’m happy to side with the old fashioned on this one.  Anyway, collecting our letters from the post office this week I was pleased to see a letter from a friend in her 80’s, which incidentally, is another thing.  All of our best letter writing pals are 70 at youngest and almost 90 at the top end, I worry about where all our under 70 year-old letter writers have got to.  Well, I know really, they’re emailers, but it’s not the same is it?  Anyway, this letter from the friend in her 80’s was, as usual, full of great stuff.  She’s interesting, wise, clever and always passes on things that she’s discovered about all sorts of things.  We hear from her a fair bit and not for the first time I’d wondered why the world generally isn’t interested in the wisdom of older people.  It strikes me as total madness for society not to learn from clever people who have lived for years and know so much, particularly as every intelligent person knows; the planet is going down the toilet.  Surely older folks ought to be brought together to work out the solution because certainly self-interested politicians and businessmen are definitely not going to be our salvation.  A recent re-reading of A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright made that much absolutely obvious.  And, frankly, anyone who thinks the planet is being looked after by those rogues ought to read this book!  Its underlying theme is our love affair with progress, which really means our obsession with everything which is a newer, bigger, faster, shinier and more modern version of the thing that we had before.   This complete fascination with progress is making us blind to all the good things from our past.

The other really sad thing is that people are being completely hoodwinked into thinking that they can have absolutely everything.  Advertising has persuaded people, and many of them seem to think they are entitled to have whatever they want, personal freedom being paramount, and as long as they recycle their old newspapers, the world will be saved.

The book’s other theme, which is really the bigger problem, is population growth.  I think everyone knows that the number of people on the planet is growing fast but until you look at the numbers it’s hard to grasp the real horror, which is the speed that this is happening.  For example, look at the figures and notice how long it took to get from one billion to two and then look at what’s been happening since 1960:

World population

1804   1 billion

1927   2 billion

1960   3 billion

1974    4 billion

1987    5 billion

1999    6 billion

2012    7 billion

The thing that really struck me was that if all the politicians in the world know about these numbers, why aren’t they doing anything?  It’s so serious that they shouldn’t be doing anything other than trying to come up with a solution.  After all, as the book shows, we’ve let them sit on high and tell us they’re in charge since way back in time, so now they need to show that they are worthy of all that trust.  The issue of wisdom is the key.  The book shows how, over the centuries powerful people; kings, politicians, influential rich people have ignored what the past has had to teach us; the mistakes as well as all the successes.  It’s all there in history books; why societies collapsed, why people starved and why people had to leave their homes having used up every resource the land had to offer.  Good grief, the piece about Easter Island is so sad!  So, why does it keep on happening?  Obviously it’s the obsession with the new and shiny, the next big thing; the space age, the technological revolution and so on.  Nothing from the past is allowed to stand in the way progress.

But, here’s an example or two of how things from our recent past were better.  The first is railways.  Before the decimation of local railway lines there was an excellent interconnected network of stations and trains throughout the UK.  Just imagine the impact that system would have had in this era of pollution, clogged roads and congestion charges.  Too late now though, all destroyed.  The other example is the postal service.  Years ago there were more collections and more deliveries than today.  I can remember receiving a birthday card, from my grandma at my birthday tea, which she had posted that morning.  It makes me chilled to realise how much we’ve lost for nothing.

We live in a society where youth is worshipped like all other new things.  But not valuing our past achievements and those people who know so much about them leaves us the poorer.  I know most people really do believe that people from the past weren’t like us, that they wore strange clothes and lived in a different way.  Well maybe they did but they still thought exactly like us.  Reading books, especially funny ones like Three Men in a Boat, makes us realise that the excuse we give ourselves for not valuing older people particularly, that they aren’t like us is total rubbish.  They were exactly like us.

Maybe if we stopped worshipping youth culture and new gadgets we’d appreciate things from the past and then the whole, awful speeded-upness of so called progress will start to slow.  I’m definitely making a list of what those things are and mail is definitely on it.  My next job will be to persuade the post office to reduce their ridiculously high prices.  I can feel a campaign coming on!

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