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Slow Thinking: A trip back to the future

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

Sitting here on Christmas Day in my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., reminders of life’s many transitions surround me. Most notably, there is the sweet recollection of childhood memories of the 1950s and early 1960s, when life was so simple that rules and regulations seemed superfluous.

With only about 180 million people in the vastness of America, not much you could do impinged on the rights of others or imperiled the environment. In those days, now-discredited practices such as littering and smoking were routine and perceived to be harmless to others. Seat belts were barely known, and even leash laws were rare.

The word “pollution” had not been used enough to have found its way into the vernacular. Individuals and businesses alike felt free to discharge all kinds of emissions and waste without concern for spoiling apparently unlimited air or water resources.

Zoning was minimal and development disputes were almost unheard of. The entire population seemed to share a European background and Judeo-Christian values. In that paternalistic society presided over by presumably benevolent white Christian men, there was even wide acceptance by racial, religious and ethnic minorities, as well as women, of the limitations that came with their fixed places in society.

It has been a long evolution from that placid, post-World War II America to the pluralistic society of 310 million in which we now live.

While the astounding technological changes since then have expanded our horizons and given us all more choices and opportunities, the more crowded, complex and diverse world of today places responsibility on us to be ever-attentive to effects that our actions may have on those around us. Continued population growth and development puts us in closer contact with our neighbors, requiring us to be more compromising in our own individual demands and more tolerant of others.

In the more finite and inhabited world of today, we must be conscious of our combined capability to severely impair the health and safety of our shared spaces and to accept controls on how we relate to the environment. With open space and unspoiled natural areas having become rare and precious commodities, future development proposals typically raise sensitive issues for local communities.

Growing demographic diversity has resulted in a society where non-Hispanic whites now comprise less than two-thirds of the national population, and less than half in many localities. Members of minority racial and ethnic groups, and women, have gradually attained more opportunity and influence, and acquired some power over the management of our governments.

However fondly the simpler world of yesteryear may be remembered by some, there is no going back. How we adjust to change — the only constant in life — is an important way in which we define ourselves. It is futile to deny or resist the reality of America’s transformation in the ways described above.

So all illusions that the simple world of the 1950s can be used as a standard for judging or shaping the world of today and tomorrow should be put aside.

The completely different conditions in which we find ourselves now call for forward thinking about how best to live together in the richly complicated conditions of the 21st Century. Despite any sentimental attachments to memories of post-World War II America, backward is not a way to go in the course of life.

Len Colamarino has resided in Atascadero since January 2005, after having practiced international business law in New York for almost 30 years. He ran for Atascadero City Council in 2008 and has served on the Atascadero Planning Commission since February 2009.

For the complete article see the 12-28-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-28-2012 paper.

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