That gad-durned, newfangled, modern thinkin'!
As an atheist I know there is nothing beyond what we are, there is no cosmic driving force directing our actions. But that has never stopped us from becoming what we aspire to be. Aspiration and work towards a goal, coupled with a bit of luck, has proven sufficient to remake a society into whatever it chooses to be. If a person wants meaning in their lives, they choose what it is and the result is meaningful. How powerful is that? The problem is it works in reverse too.
The Greatest Generation being great
When I was a kid there was a holdover mentality in effect from the Greatest Generation still being the mentors and authority figures in society…...but these ‘elder statesmen’ were already being challenged. The sense of honor, personal responsibility, and inner strength of character that these elders relied upon during some of the most challenging times worked in their time, but now it was the 1960’s and a new generation was pointing to the glaring holes in that golden veneer. And they weren’t wrong either. Vietnam was not WWII, racial inequalities were glaring, and the patriotism that had meant laying down your life for one’s country, loved ones, and honor, now was being eyed suspiciously as a flag-waving excuse to support a potentially corrupt government. Science was on the rise and religion on the ebb. Protests were everywhere. People became empowered. It was the beginning of a different kind of individualism. Not the “rugged” kind…..but the one where you either looked out for yourself or risked being a sucker.
A not-so-noble truth of that same generation.
Then came Nixon. Now even the stalwarts had to recognize that things weren’t as innocent and rosy as had been believed by the preceding generations. The last veil was stripped away, and nothing was the same after that. Suspicion replaced faith. And while that sort of philosophy can be depressing, how could anyone go back? It was like Adam & Eve eating the apple…….yes, they lost their grace and innocence…...but they did gain knowledge. The hallmarks of American idealism as evidenced by a glance at any Norman Rockwell collection became corny nostalgia. And that is where we are now decades later.
At the time of his death, Norman Rockwell, our nation's beloved illustrator, was a sad, disillusioned man, who felt all of his life's work was a lie.
There have been attempts to swing back to those glory days of God and country and family…..but every time the proponents of these values were exposed as frauds and hypocrites. There were plenty of lecherous TV evangelists, corrupt politicians, and people saying one thing but doing another much more self-serving thing in secret. And then people started doing something that while understandable, led to where we are today: they sort of gave up.
The Bakkers before the fall.
There are quite a few things that people gave up on, but I think the worst two are ‘thinking’ and ‘taking responsibility’. For a society blessed with the opportunity to learn more than any one that came before, we are just getting dumber instead. There is so much information and so much that contradicts itself, that again people seem to have just given up and instead of trying to learn and evaluate, they are just indulging themselves with distractions. And in our current age of ‘tribalism’ no one needs to work harder than listen to whatever proselytizing “talking head” is their side’s current shaman. Gone are the days when established didacts were challenged by new ways of thinking. Now anyone with a few minutes of airtime or a cell phone can be regarded as equally valid as anyone else. So any philosophy, no matter how wrong or dangerous, can be instantly validated with a Google search.
The right half of a phony coin. (And yes, it has a left half too.)
When an individual mentally crashes after one tragedy and then another, we look at them in sympathy and understanding. We get that there’s only so much a person can take. But what if that happens to a society? It’s dangerous enough for a distressed individual to think: what difference does it make? But how much worse is it if that is a general consensus? What sort of message are our kids getting from a society that feels and acts this way?
The other issue is a holdover from the ‘victim culture’ that came into vogue in the 90’s. Nothing is anyone’s fault. We are all victims. So even if we do bad things, or see someone else do bad things, no one even needs to be sorry……..“Be sorry for ME! I’m the real victim!” How can we point to a kid growing up without consequences as a problem when all around us is an entire world of people, many more wealthy and powerful than us…..who suffer no consequences either?
A troubled kid can always find solace in the church, right?
So take a kid, especially a troubled one, with parents who have sort of given up on everything except consumerism and where is the guidance that could either help him through his crisis…..or at the very least ….identify the crisis before it turns to tragedy? And if a kid is disturbed and angry and feels like going into a school with the intent to kill a lot of people is a good idea….how empowering is it for him to think about the possible consequences and conclude: what difference does it make? And besides, I’m the real victim here?
Would spanking him at an early age have helped? Probably not, but if spanking was just one part of an overall parenting system centered on hard work, goals, responsibility, learning, thinking, discipline, and consequences, then maybe yes. But you could still instill all of that without the spanking and still probably achieve the same result. But for that you first need parents who are not part of the overall problem.
There is definitely a prevailing sense that something is different and that something is wrong. Well, if we are to be honest, every society in each generation has been different and each one of them had their share of things that were wrong. This is our set. Is there a way back? No. Like Adam & Eve, there is no going back. You can only move forward, but that is not a bad thing.......unless where you're headed is even worse than where you are.
OK, so the fall seemed bad at the time.....and a lot of nasty shit happened.....but look where this (symbolic) decision led. Nothing we have would have ever been possible if we never evolved past being a clever primate.
But I'd like to think the kids we raised that are now just coming into their own might redefine society once again. Perhaps there will be a new "Age of Reason"? After all, a society need not be naive to have noble standards. And perhaps besides my own kids and step-kids, who I think are doing pretty well, their kids (my grandkids), raised by the standards instilled in them, might turn this all around......with or without spanking.