Biff America: What we we thinking?
Vail CO, Colorado
“What the hell were we thinking?”
Those were the first words that came to mind when I saw that 35-year-old photograph.
Pictured were my two best friends, Keith and Clete and I. The three of us were about to embark on a cross country journey. Up to that point none of us had been out of New England.
I suppose we could have dressed in a manner that would have drawn more attention to ourselves, though it would have been a challenge. Keith had hair to his shoulders and wore a blue gas station jumpsuit with the name “Sick Puppy” embroidered on the chest. Clete sported an Afro, derby hat, buckskin pants and a poncho. I wore jeans, an Indian headband, cowboy boots and a leather jacket with no shirt underneath.
As a concession to discretion and so as not to attract unwanted attention, we did not place a sign on our vehicle that read, “HEY COPS, SEARCH THIS CAR.”
We made it to California and back to Colorado for the ski season with only a few incidents and limited brushes with the law.
When Clete showed me the picture recently my first words were, “What the hell were we thinking?”
When I look back on my life, and the lives of many people I know, I often ask that same question.
The stupid things I’ve done both in appearance and behavior are vast.
I’d like to think I’m not alone.
Most people my age or older can glance back and say, “What the hell were we thinking?”
The same could be said for nations and governments.
Taking our own country as an example you do not have to consider policies too distant to see mistakes. Laws and procedures that seemed correct and sensible to many citizens and leaders at the time, in 20×20 hindsight, seem neither.
Consider Native American genocide and oppression, slavery, suffrage, child labor, woman’s rights and governmental endorsed bigotry as just a few examples of this country’s dark days.
But just as a teen grows up and learns the error of his fashion ways, a nation can age, mature and become enlightened. In my lifetime, for example, I’ve seen this country evolve from a nation of segregated public facilities to a black man running for president.
All that progress is encouraging. Perhaps like my fashion faux pas of the past this nation has evolved to a point where we will never look back and wonder, “What the hell were we thinking?”
Or perhaps not.
Personally I know my poor choices did not end 30 years ago.
By the same token we will look back at our county’s laws and our people’s ethos only a couple decades henceforth and either wince or be proud.
From my admittedly biased perspective there is some history even in the last 10 years for which I’d like to have a ‘do-over.’ Of course the more recent the retrospection the more subject it is to debate. The closer to current an event is the more likely those discussing it are both observers and participants, consequently consensus is more ellusive.
Twenty years from now will we look back at policies as diverse as the denial of habeas corpus, rejection of same sex marriages, government-endorsed water boarding and the surrendering of public lands to the wants of oil and gas interests and marvel at our short sightedness?
The “Vengeance of history is terrible” today will be tomorrow’s history.
The philosophy of a nation is only as high minded or low brow as the leaders we elect. We all have a vehicle for input and a stake in the result. Certainly it is possible, in the best case scenario, that we will look back and say, “What the hell were we thinking?” but we can take solace in the fact that at least we were thinking …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.