Commonplace Book #39

Central to this collapse of reason is a stubborn insistence by a fair number of people that modern life is simply terrible, worse even than the lived experience of the recent past.  We live in an age of peace and plenty, and yet many of our fellow citizens dismiss almost everything that made such an age possible.  One reviewer, for example, took me to task by asking, with a complete lack of irony: “What have experts done for us in the past fifty years?” as though the world today was no better than one we left behind in the 1960s.

Even now, I find such a question shocking.  I cannot speak for everyone who was alive at the time, but many of us remember the world a half-century ago and the problems that experts and citizens faced together: the Cold War and its imminent threat of planetary destruction, a range of ghastly diseases that still included smallpox and polio, staggering levels of global and domestic violence, diagnoses of most forms of cancer as death sentences so terrifying that newspapers would not publish the word itself, and the relative rarity and expense of air conditioning. ( That last one is a particular gripe from my own childhood.)  It was a simpler time, to be sure, but one in which entire races of people and the female half of most populations were not equal members of their societies.  To remember the mid-20th century fondly is to have a highly selective memory.

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise, xiv

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