I've been thinking about this idea a lot.
It came up recently at work, to describe a situation from which there was no practical return, and I think it applies equally to the polarized American zeitgeist of the current presidential election.
It's 2016, and there's a small but vocal minority of people who want to put the toothpaste back in the tube. They want to "Make America Great Again," which in the light most charitable to this slice of the electorate, means a few different things, I think.
It means a rust belt revival where high-paying industrial jobs return to the heart of the country. Where women and minorities are satisfied with their designated places in the social caste system, or at least quietly resigned to them. Where America and other nations have impervious borders, and rise or fall in their own quarantined, capitalist biomes. Where the four seasons keep circling as they always have, and our lost winters and devastating storms are a mere coincidence. Everything will go back to the way it was. The toothpaste is going back in the tube.
Except it's not.
You can want all of these things to happen, and think that they should happen. But that doesn't mean they will.
The world is globalized, and there is no undoing it. The Internet reveals in nanoseconds how people everywhere live and die and for what; shocking affronts to human rights and dignity are a click away. Aided by this same technology, women and minorities are organized in unprecedented ways. They have awakened to their systemic oppression--both subtle and overt--and they are not going back to sleep. The earth is warming, and our relationship with nature will be forever changed.
You don't have to assign any value judgments at all to any of this to be realistic about it. You only have to take your head out of the sand long enough to look around and accept that the toothpaste is out of the tube, and it's not going back in. People who think otherwise are lying to themselves, in a state of denial, or both.
Bob Dylan said it best during America's last great cultural upheaval: "You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changing."