This week I attended a conference in Los Alamos. It is difficult to not be nostalgic having worked there for 18 years. It harkens to the old saw that people tend to pull out, “those were the good ole days”. What if they were? Why aren’t things getting better?
I will submit that one of my observations this week is that I remember the good far more than the bad. I am not alone in that tendency.
Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.
First, some things are getting better. I’m shamelessly progressive and love the benefits of discoveries in science; technology and medicine that make life better in many ways. Medical treatments make once fatal conditions, trivial to treat. For example I had a minor congenital defect that would have proved fatal a few decades before, and was treated by a simple surgery when I was a month old.The Internet, Google, smartphones, instant messaging and a host of other miracles make our lives better in many ways. I used to spend hours in the Los Alamos Lab library doing research; copying papers where today I could do even more from home or my office with almost everything being available as a PDF. Some of the collateral consequences are problematic, but I have faith that a happy equilibrium will be achieved.
What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.
In Los Alamos with dead certainty there were the good ole days. The past was dramatically better. The Lab was better, working conditions were better and the Lab’s work meant something to the Nation. With Los Alamos it is almost a fait accompli with its role in World history guaranteeing a downhill slide over time. Nonetheless, Los Alamos continued to make history for its first twenty years or so, before decay set in. Of course, its origin included a host of future Nobel Laureates, and a job of monumental gravity. The success played a key roll in shaping the remainder of the 20th Century.
The issues dragging Los Alamos down go well beyond local conditions. Ultimately, with the end of the Cold War the Nation as well as Los Alamos has lost its bearings. We continue to move down a path where any sense of deeper meaning is hard to find in the lives we live. The almost systematic destruction of the middle class seems to go hand-in-hand. It is as if the powers that be were working to assure that most people’s lives are spent in pursuit of survival rather than the achievement of aspirational goals. Our systems are in deep decline and no one seems to be able to muster enough vision and leadership to see a way out.
In this context the old saw of the “good ole days” is appropriate and correct.
It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.