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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Better and better: living in an open society

by Corinne Copnick

Los Angeles, California –

In the midst of dire warnings about upcoming terrorist attacks on New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago by means of fuel tankers and continued U.S. bashing in both the domestic and international media, it was refreshing to find an upbeat article entitled “It’s a wonderful life” in the Sunday issue (August 14, 2005) of the London Times (
www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0.2092-1733906.00.html). Author Andrew Sullivan sees a lesson for currently gloomy Britain in the way “American society has rescued itself from what seemed to be a terminal decline caused by family breakdown” in the late 1970s. It seemed to many people then as if civilized life had come to an end. Along with the disintegration of family life and loss of religious faith, there was a “deeply displaced” sense of what matters.

Over the next few decades, this “decadence” slowly reversed itself, Sullivan claims. (Perhaps he has not been watching much so-called “reality” television in 2005, but let us not be cynical. That is an old-fashioned, baby boomer reaction.)

Not everything about the hedonistic 1960s and 1970s was so terrible, Sullivan writes, pointing to U.S. societal improvement in the treatment of women, gays, and radical minorities as a direct result of those embarrassing (to the present generation) Woodstock years when their parents, as he puts it, rolled in the mud.

The main thesis of Sullivan’s article is that open societies are not “inherently self destructive.” Because open societies like America can disseminate information efficiently,” they can correct what is wrong in the same way.

Sullivan’s argument is not taken out of thin air. He provides thought-provoking statistics to prove his optimistic contentions: Divorce in the U.S. peaked a generation ago and has slowly and steadily been declining. Crime slowed markedly in the 1990s, and this trend has continued. “Since 1993 the amount of violent crime in America has dropped by 55% and among teenagers has collapsed by some 71%.” Incidents of domestic violence have been cut in half. Drug use – would you have guessed? – is way down from the 1970s, especially in schools, with crack “a shadow of its former self,” and San Francisco is adjusting its estimate of HIV-infected individuals way, way down.

And kids have been getting smarter. Apparently, IQ scores have been rising along with modest gains in educational test scores in U.S. schools. Also, Americans are treating the environment better than a generation ago. “In the 1970s you could barely see downtown Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills. Today it’s mainly clear skies.” My goodness, even cancer rates are down, cure rates are up, and the biggest health threat in the U.S. is obesity because people eat too much.

Maybe it takes an English writer to point it out to us, but our self-correcting, open society is getting better and better. So when, amidst the continual and undeserved global assault on Western society, you next read headlines predicting that the goal of terrorism is the collapse of the U.S. economy, remember that we ain’t gonna let that happen.

Copyright, Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2005. All rights reserved.

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