I am at that age and stage in life where the realization is starting to sink in that there is less future in front of me than past behind me. That of course, has been true for some decades now, yet until the past few years, that has been more of an abstract concept than a reality that I have had to live with on a daily basis. To a large extent, this is because until I retired officially a few years ago, my life was filled with the more practical concerns of job and career, paying off the mortgage, maintaining a certain life style, helping my kids achieve their goals and ambitions, and engaging in an active extra-curricular life of community and cultural organizations.
Although I am still far busier than I thought I would be post-retirement, my priorities are slowly starting to shift and I find myself spending a little more time in contemplation and reflection, both on my life and the world around me. In doing so, what has amazed me the most has been the realization of just how much things have changed during the course of my lifetime. If one is conversant with history, as I have always striven to be, one knows that up until a century or two ago, life for the average person changed very little from generation to generation.
The life led by my grandfather was pretty much the same as that of his father, his father before him, and the same for countless generations before that. It was a feudal, peasant life that saw little change in the social, political and economic environment within which they lived.
My father’s generation that arrived at the turn of the last century was the first that came to experience a drastic, quantum change in the nature of their lives and the world around them. As a youth, my father lived within a subsistence agricultural society, dependent mostly on manual labour, with little in terms of technology.
There was minimal education and one rarely saw or knew much of the world beyond the immediate vicinity of the village where one was born, raised, lived and died. Social mobility was pretty much non-existent, and one’s life trajectory was pretty well constrained and pre-determined. The twentieth century was to change all that beyond his wildest dreams or imagination.
Over the four score and two years that he spent on this earth, my father went from riding a horse cart to seeing a man travel to the moon and back. He experienced feudalism, the Bolshevik revolution, immigration to a strange land on the other side of the planet, the Great Depression, the battles of World War II, the post-war economic boom, the rise of the Iron Curtain, his entry into the Canadian middle class, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and his sons and daughters achieving university and college educations and professional success in one of the richest and most successful democracies on this earth. It must have been an amazing experience for him, and I truly regret that when I had the opportunity, I did not really delve into what thoughts and feelings had crossed his mind as he experienced this whirlwind of change.
In retrospect, my own life’s experience, has also not lacked in astonishing and life altering change. For almost four decades after I was born in 1950, Canada experienced steady and encouraging economic growth that saw a rapid expansion of the country’s middle class. Unemployment levels were low, opportunities abounded and there was none of that malaise and uncertainty that has become prevalent in recent decades and has blunted both the optimism and opportunities of my children’s generation as they try and build their own future.
None of them have that the optimism and confidence in the future that I had at their age.
From a technology point of view, I have gone from using a rotary dial phone, to now having some eight computers of different kinds and sizes in my home and being in instant audio and video contact with almost anyone on earth. In the field of social evolution, the activism of the sixties and seventies led to significant advances in human rights, the expansion of the social welfare system, the establishment of multiculturalism and diversity as an essential part of the Canadian ethos, and the alleviation of many societal ills and inequities that had been the legacy of an era where money, class and power were all that mattered. Internationally, the United Nations and other such organizations have done much to alleviate disease, poverty, famine and conflict throughout the third world. Regrettably, many of these achievements are now under threat as reactionary forces seem to be reasserting themselves in one of those cyclical swings of political mood that seem to be common in history as civilization surges forward in fits and starts, and occasional reversals.
This has particularly struck home in recent years with the regression of Russian society into neo-feudal fascism under Putin, the descent into anarchy of the Middle East, the Brexit crisis in Europe, and the seemingly self-destructive impulse of the American electorate in picking a singularly unqualified con artist to be the next President.
I am certain that this too shall all pass in good time, and civilization will eventually return towards a more progressive course into the future, but until then, we are in, as the Chinese would say, for some interesting times.