Editorial: The way we were

On clear, cold, star-filled nights in the timeless, natural landscape that is Rappahannock County, we can be forgiven if we don’t pay especially close attention to the ticking of clocks, even when striking midnight on Dec. 31. We know that the natural, usually cyclical, rhythm of things takes precedence over the linear (but not always forward!) strivings, struggles and silliness of humankind.

So it is that many, if not most, Rappahannock residents let New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day pass without any fanfare or celebration. But that’s not to say that we don’t hold reverence for tradition, and upon entering a new calendar year, there’s the perennial hope for the future, as well as a backward, parting glance over the shoulder for what’s past and also what might have been.

Particularly for those of us of a certain age (of whom there’re a disproportionate number here in Rappahannock), this instinctive backward glance becomes ever more poignant with each passing year. And as those years are subsumed into decades, the backward glance becomes ever more expansive.

The politician’s rhetorical question challenging the incumbent and the status quo – “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” – morphs into a more historical perspective: Are we, as a nation, better off than we were half a century ago, when we backward-gazers were young?

For old farts such as myself and respected newspaperman Jim Gannon in his op-ed column last week, the answer is a resounding “No!” Our views are naturally distorted by nostalgia’s rose-tinted glasses.

But to the extent that “the good ol’ days” really were a lot better than today, I do not share Jim’s analysis of the root cause of our decadence and decay.

He says morals. I say money.

I remember a time when money, like happiness, was viewed as a natural byproduct or reward for a job well done, a life well lived. Now it’s everything.

It’s even the same as free speech, according to the Supreme Court. Money – in the form of “shareholder value” – has replaced other “stakeholder” values, whether to employees, customers or the community. The distribution of money is the most unequal in the nation’s history. Selfishness has replaced any sense of shared sacrifice, as most painfully evidenced by waging war while simultaneously reducing taxes.

The corrosive influence of money has made our Congress dysfunctional and thus ourselves as a nation ungovernable. Nations, especially democracies, most often collapse from within, especially from institutional corruption. On that, historians – and not just old farts – agree.

Walter Nicklin