Monday, July 21, 2008

My Mother the Historian

Tibor R. Machan

Heidelberg, Germany. My mother, who lives in Germany now, is nearly 90 years old and enjoys full use of her mental faculties. If anything, she is sharper now than she has ever been, partly because at her age she no longer can be bothered with trivial problems and has come to accept her situation for exactly what it is. One reason she is in such good shape, both mentally and to a considerable extent physically, is that all her life she has been an athlete, competing for many decades and later coaching in the sport of fencing.

On a recent visit I asked her whether judging by the stream of television, radio, and print media news reports she finds the world she is aware of now much worse, roughly the same or much batter than it had been throughout her life. I figured she would have a reasonably educated opinion about this, having lived through so much, smack in the middle of Europe. The incredible economic upheavals in the first third of the 20th century, then World War II and the Holocaust, then the cold war which she spend in communist Hungary, and then the post 9/11 years. So I asked her whether she thinks that today we are in such dire straits as so many commentators claim we are?

As usually, my mother doesn’t make snap judgments but in the end the gist of what she said was this: “Over the nearly 80 years of my conscious life I have found that the worst thing was my and millions of other people’s lives under Soviet style communism, with only the brief but horrible experience with the Third Reich to match it. Apart from that, things have been up and down but pretty decent during most times and the current hysteria is just that, a way for politicians to scare people so they will entrust them with the job of solving problems by taking everyone’s money and imposing numerous restrictions of individual liberties and claming this is necessary so as to remedy whatever ails us.”

My mother and I do not share each other’s overall philosophy, not by a long shot. She certainly is no libertarian. But on this issue she and I see eye to eye. I have never been convinced that the hyperbole broadcast at television viewers gives an accurate picture of how things are with the world. Nearly every day’s headlines suggest that everything is going to hell in a hand-basket.

So with my mother’s admittedly amateurish but not ignorant help, I go back to my old adage: “For every minute of watching TV news, also watch a minute of some travel program.” Between the two sources of how the world is doing, one is likely to get an accurate and balanced picture. Nearly everything reported on the news presents the world as a miserable, failed arena of human affairs, while nearly everything shown on travel programs gives us a rosy view wherever the host is taking us, whatever aspect of human life he or she shares with us.

No doubt there are overall better and worse times we all face around us but they are rarely as lousy as the reporters, anchors, and commentators at Fox TV, CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC make them out to be. A quick clue to this is available by comparing the facial expressions of the anchors, reporters, and commentators in the media to the facial expressions of the people one encounters in restaurants, sporting events, family dinners and so forth. Indeed, if the former were an accurate representation of the mood of the world, I suspect there would be far more suicides than there actually are. Hardly anyone could carry on with the attitude these media folks convey to us. A great many more of us than actually do would throw in the towel.

Sadly, the mood conveyed in the media has its influence and that is something highly lamentable. But if one remembers that those folks have a personal stake in making things look much worse than they are, one may regain a more levelheaded perspective on the world as well as about one’s own—and one’s children’s and grandchildren’s—prospects.

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