The Queen 1926 – 2022

Last Thursday, September 8th, 2022, for one brief unreal moment, the world gasped, and we all tried to figure out what we were feeling.  Elizabeth II had died.  It was that simple — yet completely unnatural.  For every person on this planet (and that’s not an exaggeration) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Queen.  She was not a queen, one of many queens, although there are still many queens in the world.  She was The Queen – universally recognized.  This is partially to do with the enduring power of the British monarchy – nearly 2,000 years old – but mostly it’s to do with the Queen herself.  For over seventy years she studiously cultivated her position in the world.

In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, Britain was still an imperial power.  Winston Churchill, who had served Queen Victoria, was the Prime Minister of Britain and Harry S Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri, was President.  He was the last President who did not have a university degree.  Joseph Stalin, a peasant from Georgia, was the ruthless master of the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao, a librarian from Hunan, ruled China.  Joe Biden was 10 years old but Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Liz Truss weren’t even born yet.

People wrote letters to each other.  Telephones were attached to the wall, and long distance calls were an event.  People still sent telegrams.  In 90% of the British Commonwealth (as it was called) television was an intriguing rumour.  Most people didn’t fly, and great distances were covered in boats and trains.

Computers were electronic monsters that filled whole rooms with their whirring and buzzing.  They were run by geniuses and mountains of hole-punched paper cards.

In 1952, the majority of Queen Elizabeth’s British subjects earned (in American dollars) less than $250.00 per month.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were outrageously expensive out of season, and there was no such thing as fast food.

In 1952, walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction; Sir Edmund Hillary hadn’t even walked on Mount Everest.  Although transistors had been invented by Bell Laboratories in 1947, it would take Sony, a Japanese company that didn’t exist yet, three more years to commercially market the Transistor Radio.

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and nobody thought that sounded strange.

In 1952, automobiles didn’t have seatbelts.  Cyclists didn’t wear helmets, and consumer products didn’t come with warning labels.  There were repair shops for household items.  Doctors made house calls, and lawyers didn’t advertise.

In 1952, the world was halfway through the 20th century.  The good old days were vanishing and our contemporary society was just being born.

It is a testament to Her Majesty that, despite the upheavals of a world that now seems to be spinning faster than most of us can understand, she maintained an unassailable dignity. For over seventy years, she represented the best of what we are supposed to be.  Quietly and continually, she did what was expected of her, not perhaps what she herself wanted to do.  She spent a lifetime dedicated to her task — without comment or complaint or the flares of ego so common these days.

Few, if any, institutions have survived intact from 1952.  They’ve all been swept away by history.  Yet, Queen Elizabeth II (even in death) remains The Queen.

The Future of YouTube

In the future, when archeologists mine our computer data, they will eventually run across YouTube and when they do, they’re going to come to some interesting conclusions about life in the early 21st century.  Here are just a few examples.  (In no particular order.)

Half of all Russian drivers had dash cameras and the other half were drunk.

The tattoo industry was basically illiterate.

Our society was obsessed with puppies, kittens and fat people falling over.

Stairs were dangerous, trampolines were dangerous but the most dangerous thing of all were stripper poles.

It was common practice to scare the crap out of people – friends, neighbours, total strangers.

Construction workers were idiots.

Every man on the planet was nailed in the crotch by a ball, a bat, a rock, a pole, a stick, a croquet mallet, a hot beverage, a flying piece of fruit or some other heavy item — at least once.

The number of skateboarders who attempted suicide was astronomical.

Grown men spent their lives looking for mistakes in movies.

Taylor Swift was part of the problem.

Kanye West had only one song.

Millions of people spent millions of hours watching men doing various activities with a variety of balls.

No one could get through an entire day without mentioning Trump.

People made all sorts of things out of used plastic bottles and old toilet rolls – but they were totally useless and looked like they were made out of used plastic bottles and old toilet rolls.

Western religion was based on celebrities and babies.

Bikinis made women stupid.  Men started out that way.

People worried about zombies a lot more than they did nutrition.

Accidents, catastrophes and natural disasters were spectator sports.

Marriage proposals were publicly staged and elaborately planned.

Wedding, yearbook and family photos were objects of ridicule.

But actually:

Despite all their research, future archeologists are never going to be able to figure out who was filming all this stuff or why.

1984 or Brave New World? (2022)

It’s been several decades since George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984.  It’s considered one of the pivotal books of the 20th century, and if you haven’t actually read it (in the 21st century, most people haven’t) you certainly know what it’s about.  It’s a complicated tale, but the Twitter version is we better watch out or Big Government is going to go power mad and control (read “enslave”) us all.  Orwell lined up the usual suspects – censorship, disinformation, propaganda, surveillance, informants and fear – to create a pretty scary Stalinist view of the future (read “the present.”)  In fact, it’s so convincing that many of the terms Orwell invented — like NewspeakDoublethinkRoom 101 and Big Brother — are now part of our language.  The problem is George may have got it wrong.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Some computer in California is probably reading your text messages and can pinpoint your location, anywhere on planet, but – uh — so what?  Quite frankly, if the CIA, MI5, FSB or the Chinese MSS want to know anything about you, all they have to do is log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and they’ve got all the information they need.  And that’s the crux of the situation.  Who do we have to fear – our government or ourselves?

For my money, if you want a scarier version of the future (read “the present”) take a look at Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932.  Huxley’s view is deeper and darker and a lot more prophetic.  Huxley’s says the future won’t be bleak and hungry but actually rather happy – too happy.  Huxley’s society is just as closed and lock-step conformist as Orwell’s, but the difference is nobody cares.

In 1985, Neil Postman published a book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and part of it is a comparison of 1984 and Brave New World.  Here are a few of his observations.

Orwell said that, in the future, many books would be banned.
Huxley said there would be no need to ban books because nobody would read them.

Orwell said that information would be strictly controlled and distributed by the government.
Huxley said that there would be so much information no one would pay attention to it.

Orwell said the truth would be concealed from the people.
Huxley said the truth would be irrelevant.

Orwell warned us about the dangers of the Cult of Personality.
Huxley warned us about the Cult of Celebrity.

Orwell saw a joyless, sexually repressed, poverty-stricken society that had lost its soul.
Huxley saw a drug-soaked, sexually promiscuous, consumer society that didn’t have one.

Orwell feared a manipulated culture.
Huxley feared a trivial culture.

Here, in the 21st century, the future is now, and Big Brother might very well be watching you — but personally, I think the bigger problem is … he doesn’t need to.

I wrote this in 2019 but it bears repeating!