As we begin the year 2020, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve seen and experienced, since I was born in 1960. In my novel Patriots, a couple of my characters used the now-cliched phrase: “Hindsight is 20/20.” But I must say that in many ways that it truly is. With the benefit of some hindsight, I have formulated a few observations for 2020 — a year of 20/20 hindsight:
When I was growing up, computers were enormous lumbering beasts that were primarily batch-programmed with Hollerith punched cards. I had the advantage of attending Livermore High School, where those of us enrolled in a computer class could log on to one of the four Cray-designed Lawrence Livermore Laboratories mainframe computers. (As I recall, two of these were the CDC-7600 model.) Starting in 1977, we did so via a Texas Instruments Silent 700 terminal with an acoustic phone handset coupler. (Remember those?) Following high school, I still wrote all of my college papers on an electric typewriter. The first Apple Macintosh computer wasn’t released until the year I graduated from college: 1984. In 1986 I bought my first Apple. It was a Macintosh Plus — the faster, “big memory” upgraded model with 1 MB of RAM and a 8 MHz Motorola 68000 processor. That cost around $1,800. Over the winter of 1990-1991, I wrote the first iteration of my novel Patriots on that Mac, and released it as shareware, under the title The Gray Nineties. At the same time, I was using a “fast” 4,800 baud modem to access AmericaOnline (AOL). This was all before the first web browser became available for Macs, in 1993. By today’s standards, this recitation may seem quite Stone Age. But back then it was considered cutting edge home computing.
I’m writing this in the last week of 2019. Computers are now so ubiquitous that most people carry them around in their pockets. A $200 smartphone has the processing speed of a million dollar Cray mainframe of the 1970s. It also has more storage capacity than a wall rack full of 10.5-inch memory tapes.
The Velocity of Data Retrieval
One of the key benefits of new technology is what some term the velocity of data retrieval. When I was growing up, people would get into arguments about history or trivia. These tiffs could only be settled with either a check in a Book of Facts, a set of encyclopedias, or a phone call to the library. There, they had someone on staff with the job title of Reference Librarian. She sat a desk strategically near the library’s Reference section. She had a phone with an extra long handset cord — a 25-foot-long phone cord. She was a miracle worker. Our local Reference Librarian, named Beverly, seemingly knew just where to look. Sometimes after a multi-minute delay, she’d be back on the phone, with a cheery: “I found what you needed…” Back in the 1960s that was considered very fast fact-checking. But the serious, detailed fact checking was done by mail. Today, of course, most urbanites carry a smart phone, and they can retrieve arcane facts and figures in just seconds. The main concern now is that people depend on Wikipedia, which has a notorious liberal sociopolitical bias, and is also notoriously pranked and vanadalized.
All of the advance in computing and surveillance technology that I’ve described is a two-edged sword. The same tools that are driving our economy and solving crimes can be used to target us for tyranny. Surveillance cameras are now ubiquitous. When I was growing up in the 1960s I remember seeing just one surveillance camera in our town. It was trained on the door of our local bank, to identify exiting bank robbers. There are now cameras built into almost every computer screen, every smartphone (sometimes two cameras!), and most television screens. Worst of all, are the A.I.-enabled surveillance systems working in the background, parsing billions of images and looking for patterns of behavior.
Up until the 1990s, surveillance cameras required human watchers, or post-facto review of footage from crime scenes. But now, facial recognition is in play. It used to be that just cars with toll transponders were tracked. But now, automatic license plate reader (ALPR) systems are operating, scanning constantly, and cross-correlating movements. It is noteworthy that ALPRs are used both in fixed positions scanning traffic going by, and mounted on police patrol cars. So only a car parked behind a garage door is safe from being scanned. Facebook recently admitted that they are tracking people, even if they have “tracking” turned off. Geolocation of every cellular phone has become almost standard practice. Almost every day, there is a new revelation about surveillance and intelligence gathering in every app and social media service. And even genetic history services like 23andMe have been compromised. With these advances in surveillance technologies, the Creepy Factor is rising, constantly. It seems that if you touch any tech, there simply is no more privacy nor anonymity.
In retrospect, I can see that over the past 30 year politics, political campaigns, and the court of public opinion were fully weaponized. The hounding of President DJT is of course the most-publicized example. Another is the Covington High School boys, who were horribly castigated by the mass media, just for grinning and hooting at a man who was acting like a buffoon.
Back in the 1980s, we began to hear the old Soviet term Political Correctness begin to be applied to American society. And in the 1990s, “non-PC” speech and behavior was beginning to be frowned upon, and cause for scorn and after 2000, even public humiliation. Just two weeks ago, we learned that non-PC behavior is now grounds for prosecution, and incarceration. (Can you see a double standard?) Some might say that if Adolfo Martinez had instead bought a rainbow flag and then burned it, then it would be considered protected speech. But I’m not so sure about that. We need only look to Canada, for a glimpse of what the near future might be like, for the United States. Disapproval of non-PC speech and behavior has gone from simply frowning, to shaming, to public mocking, to civil suits, and now criminal felony prosecutions. That “progression” has been seen in just one generation. This cascading shift in worldviews was not fully apparent, back in the 1980s, and 1990s. But now, in retrospect, it certainly is.
Another thing that I can see with the benefit of hindsight is the accelerating moral degeneracy of our society. Smut, depravity, cross-dressing, and pederasty used to be practiced by just a few creepy old men. Now it is “celebrated” at children’s story hour, at your local library. Meanwhile, pornography has become a $20 billion industry. The income from Internet porn is $3,000 per second. 25% of search queries are porn-related, and 35% of Internet downloads are for pornography.
In the 1970s and 1980s, homosexuality was just quietly tolerated. But now, it is not just normalized, but “celebrated”, often with taxpayer-funded celebration events. Most recently, this shifted beyond mandatory acceptance to now mandatory participation. In the America of 2020, anyone who fails to vocally support “Pride”, is called out and shunned. First there was Pride Day, then it became Pride Week, and now Pride Month. Even corporations now feel obliged to get into the act. Here is a photo that was recently taken by a friend, inside of Apple’s new ring-shaped 2.8 million-square-foot Apple Park Headquarters building. Note the huge rainbow arch that is positioned in the very center of the ring. It seems that they didn’t go for the subtle emphasis approach.
I can now see that I had an innocent and quite sheltered childhood. Today’s children have a hard time avoiding degeneracy, especially with it so commonplace on television. Merely avoiding “those” television shows is no longer sufficient protection, since the degeneracy even extends to commercial breaks with other programming. A side note: Woe be it to anyone who speaks out against such commercials.
Now, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that my wife and I made the right decision in not giving our children access to broadcast or cable television. Two years ago, when out youngest child reached age 15, I finally bought my first television set. But I did not and will not connect it to an antenna, satellite dish, or cable. It is only used as a display screen for showing very carefully selected DVDs and streamed movies.
A New Wave of Socialism
Much like in the late 1960s, America is experiencing a new wave of socialist political maneuvering and “activism”. Back in the 1960s, they were called the SDA and SDS. Today they are “The Woke.” (Or, as Paul Joseph Watson calls them: “The Woko Haram Jihadists.”) I expect the antics of these nouveau socialiste to get worse. That is, before they grow up, and get real jobs.
A New Wave of Gun Grabbing
Again, much like in the late 1960s, America is experiencing a new wave of “gun control” advocacy. What these gun grabbers really want is control, and they see taking away our guns as just a means to accomplish their desired ends. Hopefully, two things will happen: First, they will be slapped down by the courts. Second, they get truly “woke” to the fact that they are planting the seeds of Second Civil War. If such a war were ever to break out, then they would lose quite soon, and very badly. On one side there would be people who hate guns, own very few of them, scarcely know how to handle them, or even know correct firearms terminology. On the other side would be people who grew up with guns and who pride themselves on their accuracy, shooting at long range. Civil War 2 would hardly be a fair scrimmage match-up. That’s because one team will be playing from the 400 yard line.
We Can’t Turn Back The Clock
I recognize that we can’t turn back the clock. There are some aspects of American culture that are almost impossible to reanimate. Just by itself, the demographic shift caused by recent immigration makes that impossible. In a recent essay, I mourned for the loss of the California of my youth. I concluded that the governments of California and many of the other coastal states are beyond repair. But I still have some hope for our nation’s interior states. There is still a bedrock culture–a remnant of traditional America. Yes, it is those “bitter clingers”, such as I.
When I formulated the American Redoubt Movement in March of 2011, I had the expectation that it might at best make a small dent in some of the ongoing negative societal trends. But I’ve been very pleased to see the growing in-rush of Redoubters. The great majority of these new arrivals in the Redoubt region are just the folks that we were looking for: Christians and Jews with traditional family values, pro-gun ownership conservatives, and libertarians. I’m also happy to report that many of these people brought extant businesses with them. So instead of being a drain on local resources, they’ve instead bolstered them–providing new job opportunities in their communities. So count me as cautiously optimistic.
Looking back on the first 60 years of my life wells up a mix of good and bad memories. For my personal life, my writings, and the children that I raised, I have no regrets. Granted, there are some things that in retrospect I would have done differently. There were a few missed opportunities–which were a failure of foresight. But there were also some propitious successes. I was greatly blessed by both my late wife, and my new wife, and our children. I’ve been blessed by a succession of good church homes and Bible study groups, wherever I’ve lived. And I’ve also been blessed by the success of this blog, the American Redoubt movement, the CFAPA press credentials project, and the publication of my books. (The latter, thanks to my amazing literary agent, Robert Gottlieb.)
All in all, hindsight beats foresight.
I’m hopeful that in 2020 there will be some landmark document declassification news. Now those revelations would certainly provide some more fascinating hindsight!
I pray for America and our elected representatives, daily. I urge you to do the same. – JWR