There Never Was a Golden Age

I keep meaning to write a long, interconnected, analytical post about how annoyed I get with the concept that Times Are Bad Now, Not Like the Olden Days.  My theory is that the Olden Days were good and bad in many and varying ways, just as our present times are good and bad in many and varying ways, and all of this for the simple reason that we’re talking about the history of human beings, a notoriously brilliant, stupid, open-minded, prejudiced, generous, stubborn, violent, peaceful, and above all self-centered species.

But another signal trait of our species is procrastination — think any other species would have survived, evolutionarily speaking, if they procrastinated like we do?  “I’ll worry about gathering acorns later.”  etc. — so of course I have never gotten around to writing that definitive, all-encompassing psycho-history-of-the-human-race post.  So I thought I’d start a new category — #thereneverwasagoldenage — and just add examples as I find them.

Today’s example:  there never was a golden age of lawyerly civility.  Every time some lawyer does something buttheaded these days, you hear the unison tsking of mainstream tongues about how it didn’t used to be like that, when we could settle a case over a G&T at the club instead of having to fight about depositions and interrogatories and (big, privileged, sigh) metadata.  Herewith, an example of legal argumentation in the good ol’ days of mid-1960s Mississippi.  First, the background of the case:

[P]etitioners and other Negro and white Episcopal clergymen undertook a ‘prayer pilgrimage’ in 1961 from New Orleans to Detroit. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit church institutions and other places in the North and South to promote racial equality and integration, and, finally, to report to a church convention in Detroit. Letters from the leader of the group to its members indicate that the clergymen intended from the beginning to go to Jackson and attempt to use segregated facilities at the bus terminal there, and that they fully expected to be arrested for doing so. The group made plans based on the assumption that they would be arrested if they attempted peacefully to exercise their right as interstate travelers to use the waiting rooms and other facilities at the bus terminal, and the letters discussed arrangements for bail and other matters relevant to arrests.

Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 552 (1967).  The point of the case is that the clergymen had standing to challenge segregation despite the fact that they did so knowing they were going to be arrested.  But here is an example of just how civil it was in court in the olden days:

the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on the . . . claim against the police officers because defense counsel had been allowed to cross-examine the ministers on various irrelevant and prejudicial matters, particularly including an alleged convergence of their views on racial justice with those of the Communist Party.

Id. at 551.  Something (one small example among many) to think about next time some old fart lawyer (in whose ranks I now count myself) tries to explain how much better it used to be.

3 thoughts on “There Never Was a Golden Age

  1. Daniel Grabois

    There never was a golden age for musicians. The invention of the drum set put huge numbers of percussionists out of business (one guy (yes, almost always a guy) could do the work of six), but it’s not like there was a thriving cadre of millionaire percussionists before that. A few people made tons of money playing jingles in New York and movies in LA, but mostly musicians have always barely scraped by. It always seems worse at the present moment than it used to be, probably because we try to forget the bad parts of the past.

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  2. ginny1ward

    Thank you.

    I feel the same way when I see those postings about how wonderful life was in the old days when your parents spanked you, there were no seat belts, no vaccinations…no government interference and how we all turned out OK.

    I lived through those days and they were no picnic. I remember scars and complications from measles and chickenpox. I was a Polio Pioneer. I remember seeing the faces of kids whose parents beat them and girls dropping out of school the day they turned 16 to be married off to some guy twenty years their age chosen by their parents. I remember so many people dying right after they retired at 65. No health insurance for the average person. No Medicare. Women grew up to be secretaries or nurses and quit when they got married. Girls didn’t play sports.

    “They”, meaning people of color or immigrants or those who were very poor, lived in segregated neighborhoods. I recently saw some 1950’s western shows and was shocked by the number of prejudicial comments broadcast on TV and on radio and in the newspaper.

    Come to think of it, things haven’t changed a lot, just gone underground,gotten faster through the use of computers … We really aren’t that smart. The more I learn about what nature has done in spite of us, the more I laugh about people ruling over the earth. Tell that to the bacteria and plants.

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  3. Amy Adams

    “We could settle a case over a G&T at the club” because we were all white men who had gone to prep school and college and law school together, belonged to the same club, (belonged to the same fraternity) and had more in common with each other than with the clients we were allegedly representing. Also, there were cigars, and we arranged elections at the same time, without all that pesky vote-counting.

    Now we have all these women and minorities and people from other socio-economic backgrounds and traditions and experiences and cultures…just making things soooo complicated….

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