Ok. I feel like we need to have a talk. Not just a talk but maybe a ‘talk talk.’ You know what I mean. Now. I am going to avoid the “am I better off today” topic but suggest in an open letter to my generation that we may not be in an economic crisis but rather a cultural crossroads. And I may suggest that we need to quit complaining and/or blaming and step up to the plate. Anyway. It seems like we get so caught up in ‘how bad – we feel/perceive – it is today versus yesterday” we overlook this period in time may simply be an example of painful well-needed progress <oh, isn’t all progress painful?>.
“Progress? The history of all times cries loudly against it.” – Immanuel Kant
Note #1: Versions of this thought were recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Note #2: The idea that we are bad, and getting worse, feels remarkably comfortable across cultures.
Note #3: My generation seems to be crying loudly at this time.
This thought is also true for each generation’s belief, or nonbelief, with regard to our views on human nature and its prospects. Most cultures have a myth of a golden age from which we are in decline, but in the absence of evidence on whether the state of nature was violent or utopian or truly golden or gold plated.
Note #4 <or rather a question>: so … is much of our current angst about the world simply a reflection of the fact attitudinally we change, progress, is painful … as well as difficult to see while within the moment?
What made me think about all of this?
I had some beers the other night with a bunch of guys in my generation <old white guys … I am also an old white guy>. Prior to beer I was fairly optimistic with regard to the world and when I left I had a sense of several of the following:
- Armageddon is upon us <at least the old white guys>
- The world is crumbling around us <and it is mostly Obama’s fault>
- America is a pansy in foreign policy <we should be killing, crushing, smothering someone … yet to be identified but it should have already been done>
- The Islam slur video on youtube is simply an expression of freedom of speech
- Cats & dogs are living together <but cannot be married>
- We are doing nothing but complaining, bickering and blaming someone else
Personally I find it difficult to discuss progress when most people I hear think we are headed to hell <in a hand basket> and want to complain someone should do something about it or just blame someone for it.
Regardless. I am gonna try. Because I need to tell some things that are on my mind to my generation <us older folk>.
The truth is that all times are changing times. Times of moral and mental transformation whether we like it, or want it, or not. When what is viewed as simplicity by looking in a rear view mirror looks like chaos when viewing through the front windshield. What everyone knows is true becomes only wht some people used to think.
In the end? It is unsettling. For all our delight in innovations and impermanence we also long for the unalterable. We cherish old stories for their changelessness.
Oh. And media is doing its part to feed this frenzy. As retired General Wesley Clark said on a Sunday interview … “isolated multiple incidents involving the few being highlighted by the media creates perceptions of overall chaos.”
But the media is a different post for another day.
Now, I am not suggesting we shouldn’t look around with concern … albeit I would rather call it a ‘crossroads’ rather than the more popular ‘C’” word … a crisis. Because, yes, things are changing, but, yes, they are always changing.
That said … I am reminded by Rousseau: “let us begin by setting aside all the facts for they do not affect the questions.”
The question is why we are so certain the world is going into a shithole <or into chaos … or … in a crisis … pick your poison>.
Attitudinally I suggest this is partially what Gregg Easterbrook calls “the progress paradox.”
It suggests that frustrations rise with our expectations, and make us feel worse while we are actually getting better. Political interests, and media, deliberately exaggerate bad things. But it doesn’t explain the joy we seem to gain from seeing our glasses as half empty.
It is difficult to explain but I am not writing to do so … only to make the point that while we gnash our teeth about what is going on today … we have this in common with any culture and any generation you would like to query <you may need a medium and a crystal ball to ask some>. Every age produces prognosticators who declare it is worse than what came before. They might turn out to be true but within the moment it is always difficult to say whether one is declining or progressing.
It is a see saw of challenges and new innovations.
Robert Bork suggested <in an otherwise unreadable book of despair>: “every new generation constitutes a wave of savages who must be civilized.”
Despite being poetic he has a point. We learn from history and we ignore history.
Each generation wants to create a unique identity … which means you begrudgingly assume things from past generations /history. All that said the true thought is there to be found … for moral clarity for each generation we need to conserve the bits of decency left. For it is within a sense of decency we can see the progress within the seeming chaos.
Part of the difficulty in doing so in times like these is that we tend to feel better when we assume the worst.
Huh? Yeah, But It would be too easy to suggest optimists may spend their lives being disappointed while pessimists spend theirs being pleasantly surprised <although I do believe there is an element of this>. Plus. If you buy this then it suggests my generation is simply a generation of pessimists … and I refuse to believe that.
Optimists or pessimists, good or evil … frustrated or just simply believe “these are the worst of times” I will take a minute to let my generation read two items from the mid 1800’s. I included these thoughts to show some words that I believe resonate today. In fact, take the dates off and they could appear in NY Times next week:
“The dream that this young land, fresh from the hands of its Creator, unpolluted by the stains of time, should be the home of freedom and the race of men so manly that they would lift the earth by the whole breadth of its orbit nearer heaven … has passed away from the most of us , as nothing but a dream. We yield ourselves, instead, to calculation, money making, and moral indifference.” – 1855 magazine writer
“it is an affair of instincts, we did not know we had them: we valued ourselves as cool calculators, we were very fine with our learning and culture, with our science that was o no country and our religion of peace … and now a sentiment mightier than logic, wide as light, strong as gravity, reaches into the college, the bank, the farmhouse, and the church. It is the day of the populace; they are wiser than their teachers. The interlocutions from quiet looking citizens are of an energy of which I had no knowledge. How long men can keep a secret! i will never speak lightly of a crowd. We are wafted into a revolution which, though at first sight a calamity of the human race, finds all men in good heart, in courage, in a generosity of mutual and patriotic support. . We have been homeless, some of us, for some years past … but now we have a country again. This affronting of the common sense of mankind, this defiance and cursing of friends as well as foes, has hurled us, willing or unwilling, into opposition.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 1861
The late 1850’s into the 60’s was a time when the men and women, an extraordinary cast of characters in leadership & influencer roles, find themselves at a crossroad of new ideas–about medicine, commerce, economics, technology and justice. It was a time in the world where proponents of the old ways fiercely battled those with progressive minds.
A time when the intrigue, the ideas, the questioning and tension raise the level of global change.
A couple of points here:
Every generation feels like it is worse than it was before.
Every generation struggles to link past analogies to the present <because we inevitably always err on the side of thinking today is significantly different than yesterday because of ‘progress’ innovations>.
All that said let me share some bigger overarching thoughts relevant to the overall angst I believe my generation is feeling … because our beer conversation reminded me of several things:
- In America, in particular, we constantly struggle in the hollow space that lies between a self-interest mission and an idealism mission. Kissinger suggested America will always be tugged in 2 directions with its foreign policy.
1. Domestic ideals: A strong sense of what is best for America (within its boundaries as primary focus and secondarily its actions outside its border).
2. Mission of ideals: A strong belief that part of our mission is to encourage and support our “freedom of choice” ideals (regardless whether there may not be a direct self-interest reward). How about calling this ‘supporting the progress of our ideals internationally.’
A thought for my generation. These two things are not always aligned and yet our actions may still be right. Regardless. We are a country with a strong set of ideals of which are not defined by dollars and cents. The dollars and cents have always been defined by the ideals. Yes. Let me say that again to my generation … the dollars and cents have always been defined by ideals.
There is good well earned money and then there is … well … money. Notice the people who stretched the rules to make their money defend it as “money is money.” They are wrong. It may all look the same but it doesn’t feel the same. I say that because it is up to my generation to remember the ideals … and the fact we are NOT the world’s peacekeeper … we are the world’s ideal protector. Inside and outside our borders we stand up for the little guy <or gal>, the medium sized guy and the big guy wherever and whoever they are to protect the ideals. And I mean wherever and whoever. We refuse to let ideals be bullied.
I am a business guy. So let me try this on for size. If it isn’t about ideals then aren’t we just a commodity? My generation needs to put their wallets and any bias toward some religion in the drawer for a minute or two and check their ideal pulse. Cause if there is no pulse we are doomed.
- We constantly struggle with the perception reality gap of minority actions and majority truths (and I have a longer post coming up on this). Despite how it sometimes feels we are not driven by the lunatic fringe which is in the minority. The minority…the radicals, the psychopaths, the greedy, the morally inept … is just that … a minority. As a subset of the minority/majority paradox we constantly struggle with discerning the lunatic fringe from the voice of progress in the fringe. And the lunatic fringe is often sneaky making it difficult to discern. Think about Ron Paul or even Jesse Ventura. Or almost any radio talk show host (right or left). One moment lucidly insightful next moment loony crackpots.
Regardless I would suggest to my generation that we get our heads out of our collective asses and realize we are smart enough to not be fooled by some sound bite or inflammatory statement as some foolhardy fact but rather think … yes … think. Progress takes work and thinking. Therefore, the foolish voices of rage within some silly minority faction nor the silent majority of the sheep are relevant to us because in thinking our way through it ultimately we will be able to offer a clear voice of reason.
- We constantly struggle with immediacy and patient thoughtfulness. We burst into a desire for immediacy and decisiveness (which we sometimes confuse with immediacy) to right a wrong or to get something done. And yet we are unforgiving in the retrospective “blame game.”. We seek to blame. We seek the quick response. We seek self-interest. We seek hope. We seek dignity and decisiveness in our actions. We want decisive quick leaders in a complex (sometimes confounding in our attempts to unravel it all to find truth).
I would suggest to my generation we are of an age where we have run the gauntlet of hasty foolish decisions and wasted opportunities dithering over this & that. In our wisdom we should realize that while our leaders may be ‘better’ than we in some form or fashion they are also derivatives of us … having run the same gauntlet. We are smart enough to know that some decisions should be made quickly and some should be made patiently and that typically the person who knows the most <which would not be us by the way … it is them> will make the best decision possible. Will it always be right? Of course not. But the blame game is wasted energy … for us & them.
- We constantly struggle, morally, between how to act on what is versus how we believe it ought to be (I have an upcoming post on this called redefining mortal clarity). I am not really sure it was that much better when we were young but I sense things were fairer … people played by the rules more often and people did the ‘right thing’ more often. Regardless of what I sense, or don’t sense, what I do know is the foundation of a moral clarity is “we” … not I. Because at the heart of moral clarity is some decision of self sacrifice, i.e., what I am I willing to sacrifice <a me thing/benefit> in this situation so that I honor the “we” <either in ideal or actual benefit>.
I could have suggested to my generation that the struggle is between I and we but instead I took it to a higher level and suggested we explore our collective moral navels <please remove lint> and decide what we want to be teaching our future generations.
- We constantly struggle with looking backwards and forward progress. We are at an age where it is sometimes simpler to look back than look forward. We assess all the progress that has been done in our lifetimes (and desire to maximize it in some ways) rather than dream of the unseen progress to come.
I suggest to my generation that no matter how fond you are of some memory or ‘how it was’ or ‘how we did it’ you cannot go back. Ok. You can … but you ain’t gonna get anyone else other than some old folk to join you. Progress is forward. We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater <I just wanted to type that> but we need to stop slowing everyone down looking backwards. It’s done. Move on. Help progress or just get the hell out of the way.
Interestingly all of what I typed <aspects of it> may be why every generation believes it is not as good as what was before. In reaction we seek the decisions made and not the process that led to it.
So, my generation, we need to take a step back and quit whining for someone to show up and magically clean our house <assuming you actually own one> for us.
We may prefer clean <and clarity> but the world is a messy place. It always has been.
My dear generation … regardless of how you feel on this topic <we are going to hell or every generation has felt like they were going to hell> we ultimately are forced to focus on progress and moving forward. It is inevitable. And all this blaming and dickering silly backwards gilded age gazing is irrelevant. In fact it is wasting not only energy but also what we actually have to offer to progress. We are the Prophet (Idealism) archetype <Straus/Howe archetype> generation of wisdom to future generations.
Yup. Future generations. Sorry, my generation … but, no matter how narcissistic we may be, our reward, and the inevitableness of progress, is not self-interest.
It is our Children.
Practically speaking children give us a stake in the future <and a desire to see it doesn’t end up in hell>. Whether we want to believe progress is possible … in the end … you cannot possibly raise, or educate, children if you believe it is not possible.
So, my generation, maybe it is time to grow up.
It is time to battle calculation, money making, and moral indifference.
It is time to remember that which we desire … be the home of freedom and the race of men so manly that they would lift the earth by the whole breadth of its orbit nearer heaven.
It is time to insure we do not regress but rather progress.
One of the <older folk> Generation.