Decline of the West

Sep 14,2016

My father was born in 1950. When I asked him recently what have been the biggest changes in society since he was coming up, he did mention the ever-burgeoning epidemic of obesity plaguing the US, but he especially emphasised the decline of manners and common decency.

On the former, as a plumbing contractor he's responsible for installing wall-mounted toilets in shopping malls and the like, and asserts that these are built to withstand 350 lbs (158.757 kg, or 25 stone), and yet often begin to come off the walls shortly after installation. My father himself weighs only 12 stone, largely because half the calories he consumes come directly from his own garden, and is frequently disparaged as 'skinny' by the midwesterners around him. It wasn't even that bad when I lived there, so something has certainly spiraled downward in the past few decades.

As for manners and decency, the omnipresence of foul and profane language has been a remarkable change in the past half century. In tandem, America seems to have forgotten how to dress itself. Even when I left, people were already forgetting to wear neckties to weddings. Some of them made concessions to formality, perhaps going so far as to choose white jeans over blue, but at the last California wedding I attended I saw one man wearing a T-shirt and a fruit plate.

I complain about how some of the young and ignorant in Tottori wear cowboy boots with suits and forget to take off their hats and sunglasses during such ceremonies, but it seems that Americans are now coming to church dressed in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. I haven't seen it personally, but I'll take my father's word for it, and I can imagine it easily enough despite my efforts not to.

In delving up the pictures above, I came across a story about an open letter John F. Kennedy wrote in 1960 which included such dire warnings as:

“Physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society,” Kennedy wrote. “And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.”

Kennedy presented a concise plan to combat the rise in obesity that was merely a prediction at the time, and it has been all but forgotten. For the younger generation, having grown up around it and not knowing anything else, surely it seems normal. What must the rest of us across the sea look like to them?

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