A Sign of the Times

Zeitgeist is a German word that roughly translates to “tempo of the times or the sign of the times.”   A sign of the times may be “tribal tattoos” or SUV’s, or black Fridays.   I can see a list developing here, some of the things I associate with the “Times” today are:
  • Greed is good
  • Shop till you drop
  • He who has the most toys wins
  • Serial killers
  • Pedophiles
  • Helicopter moms
  • Sports scholarships, sports stadiums, sports salaries
  • Astronomical college tuitions
  • Non-stop news, sports and stupid sit-coms on TV
  • Billionaire Ponzi schemes
  • Increased  gas prices
  • Decreased water resources
  •  Global warming, climate change, swarms, tornadoes, hurricanes, fire storms and more storms
  • Casinos, lotteries, pull tabs and scratch offs
  • Ridiculous lawsuits, ridiculous litigants and ridiculous lawyers
  • Celebrities, royal moms, TV Stars, Movie Stars and more celebrities
  •  Smart phones, Facebook, LinkedIn and IPads
  • Travel leagues, T-ball, gonzo fans, gonzo coaches and gonzo parents
  • Crooked politicians, stupid politicians, partisan politicians, despicable politicians
  • Outsourcing, off-shoring, insourcing, global competition
  • Designer jeans, designer dogs, designer homes, designer weddings, designer funerals, designer people
  • Aging, retiring and dying baby-boomers

A “sign of the times” may be the poor attitudes of teenagers today.  But wait, wasn’t that a sign of the times during the days of Socrates?  A quote attributed to Socrates holds that:
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Perhaps a sign of the times is the “great recession” that we are either coming out of or still in.  Maybe a sign of the times is the increased unemployment or maybe the “war on drugs” or maybe the increased road rage or maybe our attack on immigrants and immigration.  Maybe it is our shift to the political right and the increased influence of evangelicals and Republicans.   A sign of the times is an expression used to denote something that seems symbolic or emblematic of the era we are living in. “Sign of the times” was a phrase strongly related to Roman Catholicism in the era of the Second Vatican Council.  It was taken to mean that the Church should listen to, and learn from, the world around it.” (wikipedia.org) 
The problem is we do not have any good reference points to compare our times to.  Most of us do not have a very good knowledge of history or of what happened even a few years ago.  We all tend to forget how things really were. So we think: crime is worse today, teenagers are worse today, life is harder today, etc. Then we say: “it’s a sign of the times.”  However, it could easily be a sign of many times and eras gone by.  What then are the dependable and predictable signs that would allow us to say with certainty that our times are different (for better or worse) than past times? 
Very few things really emerge that make good signs of the times.  Rising costs and rising taxes have been true forever.  War, famine and pestilence were frequent during the days of the Pharaohs and are still with us today.  Disease kills millions yearly and people do not really seem any less or more happy than in days gone by.  Is life easier or more difficult today?  You would probably notice that it depended on who you asked.  How then can we find a true and accurate “sign of the times?”  Bottom line is you will probably not. The idea sounds good on paper but it is just too subjective.  There are few signs that exist today that could irrefutably tell you what year or even decade it was, without the value of hindsight.  Twenty years from now, it will be possible to look back at today and say things about it with some certainty but the present is never certain.  That is why the past cannot predict the future. 
We seem to dwell on the “bad signs” but maybe you can think of some good signs of the times.  For instance, income levels are rising across the world and many diseases have now been eradicated that plagued humanity for centuries.  We should make a list of all the good signs.  I think it would probably be longer than the list of bad signs.  What do you think are the signs of the time today?  How would these compare to your signs twenty years ago?  Do you think your signs would hold up if you went back two thousand years?  Will these (my list and your list) still be signs five or ten years from now? When do signs become obsolete?  Do your signs tell you that things are better or worse today?
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