Over my kitchen sink, I have a small ceramic tile depicting a charming scene: A father milking a cow, a mother making cheese and smiling at a watching toddler. The style is probably 1600s Holland.
I like the warm bucolic (if sanitized) implications in this scene. It denotes honest labor, a pastoral lifestyle and a young family working together to make a living.
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with pioneer life and did a fair bit of research into the toils and tribulations of those extraordinary people. Yes, life was often brutal and unfair, but seen through the mists of time it also had a quality of genuineness lacking in our modern tawdry shiny plastic age. For a while I was convinced I’d been born in the wrong century.
Now that we’re well into the next century, I’m not so sure those earlier feelings aren’t still applicable. A little part of me longs for the “good old days.”
I was born in 1962 when the rebellious ’60s were just getting underway. I missed most of the counterculture rebellion since I was too young to participate, but my husband – born in 1957 – was more aware and more involved in the hippie movement (which didn’t prevent him from joining the military and doing his duty to his nation).
The ’60s was a time when an entire generation of young people decided they were wiser than their parents, that “greatest generation” who fought and won WWII. We grew up in a time of social transformation, when the stability and time-tested standards of marriage, child-raising and family life (church attendance, married two-parent families, stay-at-home moms, manners and politeness, etc.) were being swept away by a raft of experimentation and rebellion. Gone were the days when duty, responsibility and civility were benchmarks of society. That was only for squares, man, dig it?
Some of the stuff that came out of the ’60s was necessary. There is no question America was overdue for a civil rights movement. There was discrimination. But Martin Luther King’s colorless society ideas were quickly co-opted, then discarded, by leftist socialists. What progressives forget – or rather, gloss over – is the tragic decline of the black family since that tumultuous decade. In 1940, black illegitimacy rates were 14 percent, and black marriages were strong, cohesive and unified. But with the civil rights movement came social programs tailor-made to ensure that men – and as it turns out, particularly black men – no longer had the financial incentive (and later, the social incentive) to stay married and raise their children. Generations later, we are reaping the whirlwind of what was sown during that time.
And still the revolutionary changes continue, as do the attacks on values taken for granted in pioneer days. It’s gotten to the point where anyone (particularly those in positions of authority or instruction) who expresses support for traditional values is roasted over hot coals.
Such was the case with professor Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, who had the effrontery to suggest the decline of “bourgeois values” since the 1950s has contributed to a host of social ills, including the decline of male labor-force participation, the epidemic of opioid abuse, the explosion of single motherhood and the lack of basic skills among college students (and she should know – she teaches them). Naturally her “exploration of behavioral norms” was damned as white supremacy. (Practically everything is damned as white supremacy these days.)
A similar firestorm erupted when Dr. Scott Yenor at Boise State University made a chilling and accurate comparison between early feminists and the modern transgender movement, and how both aim at undermining traditional family values. The Daily Signal notes, “While he has received withering personal attacks over his research, Yenor said that few have engaged with the ideas or have seriously attempted to refute his arguments.” (That’s because they can’t.)
The problem I see with modern times is the constant redefining of values that have stood the test of time throughout Western history. So when I say I long for the “good old days,” please don’t misunderstand, misinterpret, or put words in my mouth. I have no wish to return to times when racial oppression or sexism was rampant and unchecked. Rather, I long for a time or place in which family values, religious foundations, and moral and societal responsibility are still celebrated, not denigrated; a time and place where snowflakes fall from the sky instead of being manufactured on college campuses.
Ironically, I live in just such a place. Here in our cocoon in the rural heartland of the Idaho panhandle, it’s like we live in a time warp. We’re surrounded by families (often very large families) of various religious suasions that embody those very qualities. This is underscored by a large new demographic that recently “discovered” our neck of the woods: Mennonites. These Plain People have been moving here in droves, and suddenly our neighborhood is flush with children ranging from newborn to older teens being raised in ways similar to children of pioneering days: Intact homes, strong community support, discipline, love, hard work and homeschooling. Let me tell you, it’s a pleasure to watch.
My interest in historical groups does not make light of the daily miseries they faced. Medical care was primitive, early death was common, and day-to-day struggles for the simple necessities of life put us – in our land and time of abundance and affluence – in a far more enviable position. I have no desire to live in a time when dentistry was brutal and surgery a near death sentence.
But people back then had something we lack in our modern society, not least of which was a deep and abiding faith to see them through hard times. Is it possible to blend the best of both worlds? Is it possible to recapture the solid foundation of strong families, hard work, patriotism, duty and responsibility that catapulted America into greatness with the modern medical and technological miracles we enjoy today?
What a pity so many people want the latter but not the former.
So yes, sometimes I still feel I was born into the wrong century. Now excuse me, I need to stoke the wood cookstove. Snow is expected, and it’s what keeps our house warm. Then it’s out to the barn to feed the livestock. Despite the weather, it looks like it will be another good ol’ day.