Looking Back on 2012: An Oral History of American Values

I was young like you once. Don’t laugh. It seems impossible, I know. An old codger like me of 77! You probably can’t picture when I was only 47 and healthy, with all my own teeth and a libido that didn’t yet require boner pills.

Sure, that was three decades ago, and I look a lot different, what with the thinning hair, sloping shoulders, and cute little pot belly. But my memory is still sharp, even with all the weed I smoked. I remember perfectly what we were like 30 years ago, back in ’12, and I’m glad your professor asked you to do this project. I’m glad you’re talking to the older generation. Folks like me know what America was like back then, back in the time of Obama. The USA was different.

How do I mean? Well, I’ll tell you. [clears throat]. Even in 2012, which isn’t really that long ago in the grand scheme, America was still a mean-spirited country. This century! Progressive was a dirty word. There were still a surprising – and frightening – number of people whose beliefs you younger ones would find archaic. Or despicable, depending on how polite you want to be with your old uncle.

Like what? Well…[laughs]. Back in 2012, a large part of the population – people who identified themselves mostly as Christians – believed that homosexuals shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals. There were even big companies that got involved, trying to get legislation passed to outlaw marriages. Adult marriages, I mean. Those companies are all out of business now, of course. But back then if you hated gay people you expressed your prejudices by spending your money at gay-hating businesses. Some chicken restaurant got into politics, I think. Seriously! They felt that they had to take a position and stand up for God, you know, because His omniscience isn’t what it used to be. Sorry, I can’t recall their name today. But I’m sure you can look it up on the eyepiece thing you’re always wearing.

Yeah, the iris screen. That thing.

And speaking of chickens, here’s another fact: Back in 2012 – you’re not going to believe this – people still accepted food that was factory produced.

What?

Oh, yes. I’m not kidding! With the antibiotics and the feces and the cruelty. And vegetables – oh, this is funny. Do you know that they used to label food “organic”?

Yes, they did!

No, they didn’t label the stuff with cancer-causing chemicals on it “inorganic.” They just put labels on properly cultivated food and charged twice as much for it.

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. You actually paid, like, twice as much for the kind of food we all eat today. Back in ’12, you could still get cancer-causing foods cheap, without any of the excise taxes – we used to call them “sin taxes” when it was cigarettes and alcohol.  And believe me…[laughs] We were fat. I mean fat! Like morbidly obese. No, not a few freaks. I mean most Americans. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. Sad. But also sort of funny, too, right? The self-poisoning thing?

[inhales deeply from a water pipe; offers to interviewer] And…as you well know…since it’s only been…How many years?…[exhales] Right. Right. Less than ten. Yeah. Less than ten years ago cannabis was still illegal in some States. Back in ’12? [laughs] Ha! Thirty years ago the Feds were still busting medical patients.

Yes! Obama! Barack Hussein Obama. His Justice Department.

No, I’m certain about the dates. I wrote a book about marijuana around that time, when he was in his first term. It was strange: In 2012, even some of the smartest people in America still believed all the 20th Century lies about weed. The propaganda. Even Mr. Obama.

That, obviously, was before Malia came down with multiple sclerosis…

[sighs] Fate can be cruel. But so can we humans. Do you know that back when I was younger, up until my 60s, we put people in prisons at a higher rate than any other country in the world? When I say ‘any other country’ I’m including all the repressive, dictatorial regimes crushing their opponents in the courts. We were the grand champions of incarceration! That all changed when pot was legalized and the private prison industry went bankrupt. The Corrections Industry, I believe it was called. [laughs]

Isn’t that funny? At one time, earlier this century, warehousing your fellow citizens behind bars was the fastest-growing business in America. But the convict factories were the victim of weak demand. Adam Gopnik wrote that book about it – what was it? Cages & Capitalism?…Yeah, a real mind-changer. Like the Upton Sinclair book, and the Rachel Carson book…I guess we’re capable of getting hip. We just like to take our time about it.

Speaking of businesses, do you know that we used to allow corporations to pollute our water and air and not pay for it?

Yes. That was the attitude back then.

“Environmentalist” was a term of derision.  People accepted poison in their air and water because they’d been conditioned to think about low prices instead of their children and grand-children.

I suppose that continues to this day. You’ve still got your climate change deniers and your radical free-marketeers, your little cults of ignorance. But back in ’12, there were more of them than you might imagine. [chuckles] My generation! Embarrassing.

The biggest difference between then and now?…

Well, I was going to say the merger of the Republican and Democratic parties into the New America Party five years ago. But in my recollection, even thirty years ago when they were still going through the motions of opposing each other, everyone knew that they were both suckling at the corporate teat. We used to call the Republicans and Democrats the ‘Money Party’ before they formally merged. So I suppose things aren’t much different now than back then.

The biggest change, I think, is that back in 2012, the elderly didn’t have any legal rights to manage their death. No government-supplied suicide kit. No familial blessing to go early than later. No dignity. It was awful, as I’m sure you’ve heard.  I don’t think there was a single catalyst, one explosive event that swayed public opinion. ..But I remember there being a lot of talk about termites.

Yes, termites. The wood-eating insects. Those.

Well, I’m not sure if it was a book or a Pixar movie, but Termite Method became a catch phrase. You were either in favor of keeping the unwell elderly alive to live meaningless lives or you were for the Termite Method. Which was, basically, a trait that scientists discovered about termites in 2012. That’s when the whole paradigm shifted. What the scientists discovered was that certain termite species sent their elderly – male and female – on suicide missions. They literally blew themselves up through the abdomen. These toxic explosions blocked invaders from conquering the home nest.

This was a step beyond what used to be called the Eskimo Way. Which involved the elderly voluntarily leaving the igloo and ending their life alone on an ice floe. The Termite Method went further. Not only could you get rid of unwanted old people – particularly Baby Boomers, the worst – you could make them feel supremely useful and selfless as they said farewell to life.

Yes! Exactly. The Martyr Brigade that took down the Iranian nuclear facilities in 2029 were definitely from the Termite Method school of thought. And the American suicide bombers that killed that Chinese colony planner on the tour bus. They all would have been in nursing homes. Now they’re heroes and we build statues of them.

Me? Oh, I’ve got the pill.

[chuckles] When the time is right.

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