11 April, 2010

The End of the Age of Confidence

American life has changed far more drastically than most realize and Americans have taken on a mentality that is very UN-America since the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the third world. They have begun to change how America thinks. The rugged individualism, the desire for a certain national isolationism has all but disappeared...

Almanso Wilder

One of the greatest things about America was that it encouraged innovation and discovery. Freedom was the bright background against which anyone with an idea could have his say and put his plans into action. You only needed to be a 'go-getter' to make your way in society.

But over the past century that dream, that way has been slowly undermined and replaced by a welfare mentality that wants to be served, offered ways, given chances and a leg up rather than fight their way up to the top by ingenuity and rugged individualism.

Our society and culture moved forward by leaps and bounds and by the early days of the 1900's America was prosperous and moving ahead in invention and spirit. The individual was everything. Laisez faire was the idea of the moment.

Today ideas have filtered into the nation about how you are owed certain things and how you have a right to things once considered privileges. No one was about to give you a free ride in the old days but today it's almost expected. Then , if you were out of work that was your hard luck. If you were in need you had better scramble to get up off the ground. The sickly and elderly had their families and charity was for those who did not.In those days you could scramble, you could get ahead because individuals could set up their own way to make a living. Today, not so much and government has made both farming and business ownership a nightmare for many.

Families were not far flung and distanced in those bygone days . You married someone close to home and you stayed close to home (with the exception of the pioneers but even they brought large numbers of family westward with them ) so that children had lots of family ties around them. Today families are encouraged to move on and go far from their origins. It has not brought good things with it.

In the true story of the boyhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband Almanzo, there is a vignette of his boyhood and it shows how the mindset in America has changed quite drastically.

In the small one room school house in Malone , New York where Almanzo lived, the older teen boys in the school were more than a handful and intimidated teachers. Many would and could not find a way to stay on. In fact, so aggressive were these boys that in the year previous to this story, they had injured the male teacher in charge of the school to the point that he later died of his injuries it was thought.

When a new teacher arrived all of the good children were scared and worried for him. Almanzo's father, Mr. Wilder was not. As he said, when a man takes a job he ought to be man enough to keep it, man enough to handle it and if not, that was his lookout. That, the suggestion went, was how a man was made. Men were to be rugged and able to take it on the chin without whining.

One day when the older boys came to school they were now itching to test the mettle of the new teacher and one boy advanced on him to provoke a serious fight. From under his desk the teacher brought forth a huge black snake whip and with a handle hard and thick enough to stun and ox. With it, he whipped those boys as they came at him even to the point of creating welts on them and finally, winding that whip around them, threw them out into the school yard . They were never a problem again. Mr. Wilders , though telling his son that a man had to fight his own battles had provided the black snake whip to the new teacher, but the teacher stood up for himself in making use of it.

Today that teacher would be in jail and the boys would be pitied as victims of cruelty even though they had been a source of serious trouble for the community for a long time. Much would be said about "where" their parents were in all this but the point is that in those times it was handled very differently on the edge of the frontier. And in the 1860's Malone, NY was the edge of the frontier up on the Canadian border.

Laura Ingall's Wilder presents this memory of her husband as matter of fact. Today there will be much clucking of tongues over it though. Yet, you can see how it shows how things have changed. Some for the better but much for the worst.

The senior Mr Wilder was adamant that being a farmer was the noblest career for any man since it afforded him self reliance and complete self respect if he was a good man. No one made his hours, no one commanded his steps and he could provide for and take care of his family on his own without government interference.This was a source of great pride to men in that day. Mr Wilder pitied businessmen who had to dance to customer's tunes. How different than for farmer's today who are indebted to the government, told what to grow and when at times and heavily in debt.

While I also see that the school board of Malone should have gotten serious about those bad boys and done something, the story points to the individualism that was part and parcel of America. No government was going to provide for you. If you went to the frontier the US Army had forts to protect you, but on the whole you were on your own. No one told you what kind of house to build. Today, licenses and permits are prohibitive in places. As I have mentioned on my personal blog my house is in dire need of repair but I cannot afford to make them because of permits and this and that.

Can you see how far we have come from those days? How much people have come to depend on a huge government to save and provide for them in so many circumstances?
This post is not about what the school board of that small town should have done or not done and it's not meant to open debate on whether the boys should have gone to jail for the previous problems/crimes. It is meant to show the vast difference in mind set that has taken place.

In those days men relied on themselves and the charity of neighbors and the love of G-d to aid them in their lives.Today it has all been moved over to reliance on the god of government I think.

Rose WilderAlmanzo's daughter said , "It took seven successive years of complete crop failure, with work, weather and sickness that wrecked his health permanently, and interest rates of 36 per cent on money borrowed to buy food, to dislodge us from that land." That was by the 1930's when things began to really change in America.

In his book The Age of Confidence, Life in the 90's (1890s) By Henry Seidel Canby, he states that in the 1930's the generation gap was almost completely closed with childish adults who wanted to hold onto childhood raising children.

How different also from the cry of the 1960's when teens bewailed a "generation gap" which in reality according to those of previous generations hardly existed anymore at all!

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