“The World” is a sinful, fearful place according to way too many messages delivered from Mormon pulpits and lesson manuals. Now, nobody can reasonably argue that the modern world lacks sufficient violence and suffering. Yet this message is often delivered by an exhortation to return to a halcyon past—the good old days when our country was righteous, peaceful and prosperous.
Of course, that storied era never actually existed. Neither we nor our ancestors were ever all that good. And our country has cycled through wars and economic depressions throughout its history. I remember the 1950s and it was not much like the idealized version immortalized on Leave It to Beaver. Some mothers did work outside the home—with good and bad effects. I hated tending my toddler brother while my mom checked groceries in our family business. But I loved riding to school with my friend’s mom on her way to work. Stay-at-home moms let their kids roam unsupervised and the kids sometimes got into trouble. My 8-year-old cousin humiliated the family by getting caught shoplifting candy from a competitor’s store.
We were scared to death of communists and a possible nuclear attack by the Soviets in those days, but the economy and personal prosperity boomed—probably due to more equitable tax policies and arms-race spending rather than to superior virtue. True, illegal drug use was a lesser problem back then, but alcohol use and drunk driving—even by teens in solid Mormon communities—existed. The illegitimate birth rate was lower, but not all the hasty marriages of reluctant boys to girls with bulging bellies lasted or produced healthy families. And not everyone prospered. My widowed grandmother with a crippled, dependent daughter lived in abject poverty until Social Security benefits were extended to all aged and handicapped persons.
Skipping back a generation, the prohibition era was hardly a time of social purity as otherwise respectable citizens flouted the law to buy illegal beverages—and gave rise to organized crime supplying the need—much the way current drug laws do. Despite bootlegging, the twenties were generally peaceful and prosperous.
In the previous century our country endured persecution of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, religious discrimination against Catholics, Jews, and Mormons, slavery and a Civil War. Not exactly a recipe of peace and virtue.
A better solution than donning colonial attire to recapture the imagined spirit of an earlier age is to enjoy the present. Despite our current problems, I wouldn’t choose to live in any period of the past—although a quick visit might be fun.