All Commentary
Friday, September 1, 1978

The Golden Age

Mr. Bradford Is well-known as a writer, speaker, and business organization consultant. He now lives in Ocala, Merida.

No matter how far a field we may grope, our more serious speculations seem to follow a pattern that arises from the conditioning of our lives. That conditioning, in its starkest simplicity, is that we enter the world of the living, we exist in it for a period—and then we pass on.

Therefore we are concerned with where we came from, what we are doing and why, and where we are going. All the philosophies of mankind have been built about these three questions; and it is significant that we are always more interested in looking backward and forward—reliving the past and projecting the future—than we are in understanding, using, and enjoying the present. It is sad that we spend so much time and energy, both physical and emotional, in retrospect and anticipation, and so little in the conscious savoring and utilization of the present moment. Some scholars explain this by citing the legend of the Golden Age—the concept of a far-distant time when all mankind was happy, and of a future day when they shall be happy again. Thus the Garden of Eden, the Expulsion, and the hope of Paradise Regained. Thus the Heaven and Hell of nearly all religions.

Some other psychologists have their own explanation, which they call the theory of intra-uterine blessedness. They argue that the only time of perfect peace and comfort known to man is the period spent within the warm, protecting, nourishing body of his mother. That period, they say, was the Golden

Age, and all our groping toward a future state of bliss—toward tomorrow’s happiness—is but the vague hope of attaining once more the perfect contentment of the prenatal period. They have a point.

Facing the Present

The poet Swinburne, in one of his better moments, penned a significant phrase: “From hope and fear set free.” In it he came close to the understanding of our constant backward-and-forward looking. If the demands of rhyme and meter had permitted him to add “regret” he might have completed the trilogy of emotions that keep our minds away from the present. For we regret only that which is past. We fear only that which may happen tomorrow—or this afternoon. And we are not hopeful about the present, only about the future—whether it is to be ten years or ten minutes hence.

But we live now, in this present moment. To be sure, the bit of existence called “now” extends infinitely across time, both into what we call the past, and into what we term the future. Warm memories of the past are pleasant things; hopeful anticipation of the future is part of our soaring optimism. But today, this hour, this instant—that is the moment of living. If it has its dark side, it comes usually from either regret or fear. But regret is of yesterday; fear is of tomorrow. Neither can touch today, save as a man thinketh in his heart.

Of course it is only the rare soul that can set itself free (as Swinburne phrased it) from hope and fear. It is only the near-to-God who are released from regret. Yet it is in the attainment of these perfections, or the close approach to them, that we come nearest to perfect peace.

But in the external, practical sense, there is another reason for being concerned about the present. There is much talk these days about the future of our country. Air waves and news columns are full of it. What about the dollar—is it safe? What about education—is it adequate? What about Social Security—is it solvent, and indeed, “secure”? What about our long-continued inflation? The increase of crime? Juvenile delinquency? Drug addiction? What of our relations with the rest of the world—NATO, SEATO, OAS? What are we going to do about . . . ?

Going to do! Future action! Actually, it is what we are doing now, today, this minute, that will determine our fate, rather than what we are planning to do. We are charting the future, not in our plans for it, but in our present actions. Man, said Emerson, is where he is by repeated choice. The present is explicitly the result of the past. Society, like life, is a continuous flow. Every act and Decision of today will determine our tomorrows.

To put it concretely, if we want to have an economy and a society that is based on freedom, we shall have to begin now to talk and think in terms of freedom, rather than in the clinches of continued and increasing statism, for the one is the negation of the other. Political candidates who profess to favor a free society and a free economy will have to talk and think about insuring freedom, rather than bidding for votes by promising first one and then another segment of society that each will be given special benefits and privileges not accorded to others, but paid for out of the common treasury. Businessmen who proclaim themselves as being for the free market philosophy will have to learn what underlies and under-girds such freedom, and stop saying, in effect, “I’m for freedom—but. . .”

Today Sets the Future

Plans for the future are fine if they are based on the concept of freedom. But the best laid plans of today may not be important when they are finally (if ever) brought to completion. But what is done, now, what is done now—this will determine what the future will be like. And surely no crystal ball or particular prescience is needed to predict a future that is based on insolvency—on a long-continued program of spending each year more than is taken in, going constantly in debt through borrowing, and printing more and more paper money on the basis of the artificial credit thus created. The history of nations tells the story.

And if disastrous inflation should come, as it has elsewhere in the world under similar conditions, the first to suffer would be the people of small means and limited income, for whose imagined “benefit” most of the big-spend programs are supposed to be initiated! If present-day legislators and other political leaders continue to pile debt on debt, with no thought of how that debt is to be discharged or even reduced, and if the weight of that debt, hanging over the economy, continues to undermine the value of our money—who will have benefited?

Is there a connection between the vision of a safe and beautiful future and the dwindling value of our money? Yes! Repeat . . . yes! And this is not to put a dollar tag on happiness or security or any of the other “human” values that are so glibly recited—and so little understood. Man does not live by bread alone, but the price of bread can be of great symbolic and practical importance. Ask any elderly German who remembers the bleak period between the wars when, because of inflation, a loaf of bread cost a million marks or more.

Ask any citizen of Argentina who has had the value of his life savings wiped out by the inflation that country experienced as a result of big spend-never-pay policies.

We can and should “live in the past” to the extent that we are willing to study history and profit from its lessons. We can and should “live in the future” to the degree that we understand it to be only an extension of the present, profoundly influenced by what we do today.

But NOW is the moment of life. Paradise may indeed be lost through the sins of ignorance, selfishness and indifference. It can be regained through sacrifice and self-denial and the exercise of wisdom. But it is better not to regret a Paradise that is lost, or anticipate one that is to be regained. Just as there is something of God in every person, so there is something of Paradise in every moment, if only it can be realized and cherished.

Today, this hour, this moment—this is the Golden Age.

  • Mr. Bradford was a noted poet, writer, speaker and business organization consultant.