The End of the World as We Know It

It seems like one of the rules of life is that each generation has to lament the next generation and its utter lack of morals and values. “These kids today!” is often the refrain. This also seems true in the Church, where we’re sometimes presented with a vision of how life used to be straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and if only it could still be so. I frankly think this is largely nonsense. Here’s why.

First and foremost, most studies show that crime, including violent crime, has remained at similar levels over the past fifty years. Coverage of crime on the other hand, with our 24 hour news world, is several times greater than it used to be. But my own impression comes as I’ve spent the last few months reading Church leaders’ diaries, the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune from 1890-1953, and perusing the Journal History of the Church. “Miners Blown to Bits in Explosion!” screamed one Deseret News headline in 1908. In 1901, a man was charged with sexually assaulting a twelve-year old girl. A group of young teenage girls beats an elderly couple and robs them in 1952. If you think the headlines are sensational today, just peruse the paper under Charles W. Penrose’s (an apostle) editorship.

Anthon Lund and Rudger Clawson both express shock at learning masturbation is a common “problem” among the youth at the turn of the century. Lund often records visits from young women and their parents, “ruined” by a man who seduced them.

Obviously, my impressions while doing research for other topics is hardly scientific (and these headlines and stories are all from memory – there’s plenty more). But I do come away with a sense that things aren’t nearly as different as we like to portray them. Perhaps we’re just not as good at keeping secrets today? Or am I just dead wrong — is it really much worse today than it used to be?


  1. I definitely don’t think people are any better or worse. People have had carnal tendencies (and given in to those tendencies) since the beginning of time.

    I certainly don’t buy the Norman Rockwell version of things either- all one needs to do is read fiction or non-fiction works from just about any era of time, or view art, to see that people weren’t thinking angelic thoughts or doing angelic things.

    But it does not seem a stretch to say that modern inventions have made it easier for us to be bombarded with things that earlier would have taken effort to find. Although the nature to do certain things was certainly always present, the means by which we get certain ideas was not unless we were willing to make an effort to find them.

    the point is that IF things are any “worse” today (how one can compare two wholly different eras I still can’t comprehend- this is now and that was then…), it is not that things are really “worse,” just that the temptations and vices that have plagued mankind since the beginning are more readily accessible to even the common person.

  2. I’ll be the first to disagree. Major crimes are down, but police forces and the ability to track crimes are at an all-time high.

    On the more subtle level, people are more secular, more worldly, more materialistic, more egoistic.

    I have no authoritative sources for my beliefs, except maybe Austin Powers who, in an epiphany-like moment said something like, “the sixties were about freedom, but the nineties are about freedom and responsibility.” I think Austin’s superficially correct observation speaks to something deeper. The sixties were about flagrant egoism whereas the nineties were about more subtle egoism. The egoism is still there, and more deeply rooted. It seems to me that a self-centered worldview has slowly become more and more acceptable.

    Then again, maybe it’s just that American history begins with a generally good people. World history is another story.

  3. John, I think you are totally dead wrong on this one. The world was a very nice place until the Sixties brought sex, drugs, and rock and roll into the world. Before that, there was no rock, no drugs, and precious little sex. After the Sixties hit, there were riots, assassinations, Vietnam, long hair, inflation, unemployment, higher gas prices, and Nixon. It’s all Dylan’s fault. If he hadn’t gone electric, none of this would have happened.

    Even the Church succumbed. After the long propheticate of the graceful, urbane David O. McKay ended in 1970 (the Church I never knew), the Church morphed into a bloated religious conglomerate staffed by bureaucrats and run by committees of interchangeable but reliably conservative organization men. There is no turning back, I’m afraid. Rock and roll and the right-wing Church are here to stay.

  4. Dave,

    I can’t tell if you’re being sincere in that last comment or not… The first paragraph sounded sarcastic but the second paragraph sounded suspiciously honest…

  5. John, people are just as prone to believe that they are morally superior to their forebears as they are to believe that we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket. Both viewpoints are equally incorrect (and therefore, equally correct). Things are better off in many respects. The world is a better place for the near eradication of human evils like slavery and the progress that has been made toward overcoming racism (even if this progress has been local to western culture narrowly defined).

    But there are also areas in which we are emphatically worse off. The ubiquity of pornography is just one example of a societal ill that is more plentiful now than ever before.

    There is also an ever increasing presence of impersonal government authority in our lives. For example, a century ago, people could travel from country to country with comparatively little bureaucratic interference. People could home-school their children without fear of bureaucratic retribution (there’s nobody a bureaucrat hates worse than someone that doesn’t need his help). The absence of government oversight truly does make life simpler and (I contend) better.

    Compare two visions. On the one hand, take Wilfried Docoo’s sad (if insufferable indulgent) tale of heavy handed government.

    On the other hand, consider this essay by Florence King, one of the most talented essayists of our time (and you won’t hear her on NPR, either). Writing in honor of her adopted aunt, Ms. King shows the non-bureaucratic simplicity of America’s past at its best. Things aren’t like that anymore. It’s not the end of the world, to be sure. But it is a real shame nonetheless.

  6. pdmallamo says:

    As regards comment #3: Dave (whoever you are) you’re a genius. Frankly, I don’t believe life is worth living without rock n’ roll, but it’s done the devil’s work, no denying. So what does that make me – and you! As for today’s church – yes, just another dreary orthodoxy, utterly devoid the the fire & magic of yesteryear. We have become Payless Shoes. It’s depressing.

  7. Thanks, pd, but in fact all BCC permabloggers are gifted in some category — it’s a requirement. Even just posting comments here is considered to be a sign of good taste and superior intellect. And I believe the shoe franchise you were thinking of was actually the lesser-known Paymore Shoes. It will never be a “world shoestore,” but then, it doesn’t try to be.

  8. pdmallamo says:

    … and a renaissance man. I shall buy your novel, Sir!

  9. Seth Rogers says:

    I think half the stats citing rises in crime could be solely attributed to marijuana use arrests.

  10. This made me think of the song “Kids” in the musical Bye Bye Birdie. “Why can’t they be like we were? Perfect in every way! What’s the matter with kids today?”

    Of course, you’ve gotta sing and dance to make it work…

  11. Miranda PJ says:

    Things are much better now in many ways. I remember as a girl how hard it was to say that I believed I could do anything, all the while learning to get by in a world where women still had so few oppurtunities. This is not as much the case anymore. I envy the girls nowadays. They’re growing up in a world that gives them more oppurtunity than ever.

  12. most studies show that crime, including violent crime, has remained at similar levels over the past fifty years.


    Most studies show a dramatic 30-year decline in almost all types of crime. It may at the same level it was 50 years ago, but that hardly qualifies as remaining at a similar level.

    There has been a correlation between the availability of safe and legal abortions in the U.S. and the decline in the crime rate 15-25 years later. Correlative evidence only, but interesting.

  13. SeptimusH says:

    I’m no expert or crime statistician, but the 30 year decrease in crime is likely due to the aging baby boom generation. Most crimes are committed by the young and so as that generation has aged–the crime has naturally decreased. The legalization of abortion just happens to coincide to this generation leaving their youth behind.

    And if you were to ask your friendly-neighborhood homicide detective about crime rates, they’d be glad to point out that although murders may have actually decreased, if only slightly, the rates at which such crimes are solved and successfully prosecuted have plummeted. In the good old days, people mainly stuck to murdering their friends and loved ones, but now so many homicides are strangers killing strangers that murder is much harder crime to solve.

  14. When commenting on Western Culture, either side could be argued by selectively cherry picking annecdotal evidence. One side could say “Its better because abuse is no longer being tolerated, women have greater opportunity, children are no longer a form of labor, etc.” The other side could say “Sexploitation is rife, infidelity and divorce is rampant, drug and alcohol abuse are excessive, AIDS is spreading unchecked, etc.” Coming up with any kind of objective standard would be problematic as the very collection of statistics of these sorts is intrinsically flawed as people don’t tell the truth when it comes to self-disclosing anti-social behaviors.

    Take a look at Dave’s highly selective cherry picking, which follows typical Reagan era thinking: The 60’s are to blame, and everything before then was puritanically protestantly victorian! Tongue in cheek or not, thats the typical thinking, and its dead wrong. People were doing drugs, getting drunk, sleeping around, and generally acting like self-destructive idiots before the 60’s (shall I cherry pick some examples? Freud, the coke addicted perv; 20’s flappers smokin drinkin and getting busy with the dough boys; NYC pansies openly running around the gay underground; bootlegging anti-prohibitionists in the speak easy, etc.). The only thing that really changes in the 60’s was that pop culture was magnified by mass media. In other words, technology changed. No longer was news spread slowly by word of mouth or ageing newspapers, you got to see half-nekkid free lovin people freaked out drugs on the 6 o’clock news in your living room. Whoa! No more denial!

    So, anyway, does it all depend on your point of view? No. Societies implode when they start killing themselves en masse indiscriminently. We arent doing that, so we’re not doing all that bad, and we’ve never done that, and hopefully we won’t. Are we a squeaky clean Zion? No, we never have been, despite Joseph’s and the Lord’s attempts at such.

    History judges societies on how long they last and how hard they fall. Western Society hasnt been around all that long, and when it falls its going to be ugly. But, if we read the apocalyptic literature literally, all human-derived societies will collapse around the same time in a series of massive world-wide social and natural catastrophe. And it will be replaced on short order by a genuine squeaky clean theocracy, one Joseph would be well-pleased with.

    “…and I feel fine.”

  15. pdmallamo says:

    Monocultures are terrible things, be they religious, political, ethnic, or racial. To preserve “purity” all sorts of killing is allowed. We may be living in the best possible society right now and simply not realize it. A field w/o weeds implies a lot of poison. In Joseph’s Christian life there were lots of weeds, as you know. Sometimes one could hardly see the crop. It’s one of the reasons we love him.

  16. I met Ringo Starr while riding public transportation last week, and he said the world went to hell in 1970.

    Since I was born after 1970, I have no basis for comparison, so I had to just take his word for it.

  17. pdmallamo says:

    I would like to believe you, but there are many false Ringos out there. How can we know for sure?

  18. Kurt, I don’t know how you can argue with my point when Ringo endorses it. Unless you are this Kurt, channeling through some still-despondent fan. Still, I think I’ll stick to my guns until Jimi weighs in. For sure, he’d agree with 1970 as the date when things took a major turn for the worse.

  19. I read a book a few months ago that talked about how rampant prostitution was in the U.S. during the 1800s. In some American cities, about 1 out of 40 women were prostitutes, and going to a prostitute was almost considered a rite of passage. Such behavior was common even among married men; often, their wives expected it to happen, but they couldn’t do much about it.

    I’d also point out how much things have improved in certain areas during my lifetime. Racism was not only rampant, it often wasn’t even noticed (at least by whites). It hasn’t been all that long since blacks could not get served in many restarants, for example.

    No, I’m not convinced things are any worse today.

  20. Re comments 12-13

    To argue that the aging of the baby-boomers is responsible for the drop in crime rate merely to point out another correlation. It’s correlative evidence, just like the availability of legal abortions. Unless you can prove more, it doesn’t mean much. It’s just interesting, nothing more. You can’t say that it’s “likely” for a reason that you have no evidence of causation for.

    Murder and crime rates have fallen far more than “slightly”–the evidence does bear that out. And anecdotal evidence from a “local homicide detective” will be hopelessly biased and skewed. There’s are a bunch of other common fallacies used in 13’s argument, but I’ll leave it at that.

  21. SeptimusH says:

    Sal, I just wanted to thank you for not pointing out the bunch of other common fallacies that I used in my comment. That was nice of you. You’re undoubtedly a class act, but there’s no need to be so merciful, I’d love to hear all about my bad logic. I really would. I’m a grown up. I can take it. That way I might learn something other than that my comment did exactly what your comment did, point out an interesting possible explanation for why crime rates have dropped, which was all I ever intended it to do in the first place. Gee whiz.

  22. Dave, I am not channeling Kurdt, I am Kurdt. Just ask Ringo. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, goo goo g’joob.

    Sal, Common falacies? Like the collection of statistics is problematic, and the selective presentation thereof to support a previously formed conclusion is sophistry? Or, do you prefer reading apocalyptic literature figuratively?

  23. Haha—You schlubs are priceless!

  24. Sal, thanks for making comments so self-depricating that I don’t have to respond to you anymore.

%d bloggers like this: