From a 1995 column by Arthur Railton:

Nothing good is happening. The sky is falling in. Run for your lives, the dam has burst. Family values have taken flight. We abuse our children, kill our parents, rape our neighbors, murder our ex-wives. Nowhere is the sun shining.

We don’t want to have anything to do with folks who don’t look like us, think like us. Who don’t worship our God. We triple-lock our doors and load our guns to protect ourselves from “them,” whoever “them” might be. We’ve dropped out of Society, that wonderful community humans invented thousands of years ago when they decided that the group could do things better than the individual. Looking out for “me” was not the road to happiness. So the cavemen joined hands, accepted their differences and set up the human society.

It was a selfish act that required some selfishness. Each person gave up a little so the group had more. The weak, instead of being left to die, were protected by the strong. The fortunate looked after the less fortunate. The clever drew the plans and the less clever moved the rocks. Those primitives didn’t know it, but they had created civilization.

Now, some of us seem ready to go back to the cave. Back down the road to where humans were a hundred thousand years ago. I’ve got my cave, you get yours.

If you don’t believe that’s our mood, just read the Op-Ed pages of your newspaper, review the Letters to the Editor, listen to the radio talk shows, watch afternoon television, sit though those dreary Sunday morning “news” programs on which every sentence begins with “I think . . .” The government, the folks we have chosen to be our leaders, is witless, stupid. Never does anything right, not even the simplest of things. Politicians? All dummies or crooks. The smart people, the ones who know all the answers, aren’t in government, they’re too busy sounding off. These nay-sayers, who have never run anything, except off at the mouth, know exactly how to run the world, how to solve every problem.

It constantly amazes me that the folks who know the least about a problem always know most about solving it. It’s an infallible law: the less you know, the easier the answer. That’s why candidates always have solutions before they’re elected, but can’t solve things afterwards. It’s not that they’re scoundrels, frauds or liars; it’s just that they didn’t know how complex the problem was. Of course the world has problems, plenty of them. Sure, we created most of them. But not on purpose, not by being demons, but by ignorance. Take the simple problem of septic systems (after all, human waste is a pretty simple thing to understand — we’re all producers). For thousands of years, the ground was the place for it. The top of the ground. Then we made great progress and invented the privy. Then came the flush toilet. But despite all the progress, the problem was the same. The ground was the place for it.

Humans didn’t set out to pollute the ground water with their waste. But it happened. And now we have to solve the problem. Of course, nobody likes the solution — it costs money. Blame it on the politicians, they’re stupid.

But step back and take a long, hard look. Turn off the talk shows. This planet, with all its problems, is still the most beautiful place to be. Even after our despoiling. Or would you prefer the moon? Or perhaps Mars. Or Venus? Not I. I’ll take the earth, our planet, with all its problems.

Last Saturday was one of the days so perfect you choke up with the sheer joy of just being alive. The perfect day to take my boat to Menemsha for the summer. With me were two newlyweds, honeymooning on the Island. Those two young people, in their 20s, were overwhelmed by the beauty of the morning. Two generations younger than I am, they’re a lot more likely to see the Armageddon than I am. But they aren’t worried, You couldn’t convince them last Saturday that the world is going down the tube. To hear the joy in their voices as they exclaimed about what they were seeing, to watch their eyes sparkle like the ocean water, made me glow inside. Maybe my generation hadn’t totally messed up things.

When we pulled up to the dock on Quitsa Pond, the calmness of the morning, the total quiet, the clarity of the air and water, the sheer beauty of the place made the moment spiritual — we were too awed to talk, we sat together, hushed as though in a cathedral.

These two young people, just starting along the long and twisting road of married life, were as overwhelmed as I was. There was no “the sky is falling ” in their minds. They, like me, were too filled with appreciation to speak. There was no hatred, no disgust in their hearts. The sheer joy of being alive on such a moment, at such a place, took over.

Like them, I forgot the gloomy nay-sayers, those peddlers of doom. We all should. Instead, we should look around us. Smell the flowers, watch the sun come up listen to the pounding surf. Sit by the window and enjoy the birds at the feeder. Step outside and inhale the aroma of the newly-mown grass. Then ask yourself: where is there a better place to be?

Compiled by Alison Mead