Does it ever seem to you that the world is getting worse? Are people meaner than they used to be? Are they more worldly? Are the young people more degenerate than they were in your time?
Probably at one time or another most of us have felt this way about things. It is a feeling that has nothing to do with history. We are not comparing our own civilization with that of the ancient Romans or Egyptian or with Chaucer’s England. This is a feeling that has to do with personal history. It is our personal evaluation of the way life is progressing or regressing. When we say that things are not as good, or people as friendly, or as moral, as they used to be, we are not referring then to the distant past but to our own past. People are not as moral as they were when we were young. They are not as hospitable. This is an analysis that comes from personal observation.
Why is this such a universal experience? Why has it always been the feeling of people when they get older that they are sure that things have gotten worse?
For one thing, as we get older, our knowledge of evil increases. When we were younger we were not conscious of the evil in the world. A man is promoted to do an important job. When we were young we would have assumed that he was the best man for the job. Now we wonder what strings he pulled and whom he knew.
We have learned to be skeptical. We see a policeman on the beat and wonder if he is being paid off for looking the other way.
The change from innocence to awareness of evil is one of the most profoundly disappointing experiences of life. The world seems to change before our eyes. What we do not stop to realize is that the change is in us. The evil was there all the time. We underestimated it. Then, as our eyes opened to the depravity of man, it seemed that the world degenerated in our own life time.
Did you never wonder what it is that makes us instinctively revel against change? All change is redolent of death. We may sometimes have the impulse to grab the world and make it stop moving, but it continues to move. One person replaces another. The clock keeps ticking, the rivers keep flowing. We see old friends and they look older. People that we knew personally or people we read about die off one by one. Every step we take is a step toward death. Every grey hair, every wrinkle, the changing texture of our flesh – all are reminders of what awaits us.
Is it any wonder that man is born with a conservative impulse? Is it any wonder that we resist change? That we look backwards? For we feel there is something back there, something very valuable, which is lost forever: our youth."