Category Archives: Morality

IS OUR GENERATION A LOST CAUSE?

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be”

I recently had an email conversation with my mother, who happens to be quite conservative, about whether or not there is any hope for our current generation. She is living in Qatar right now (my parents are expats), and she gets most of her information about our societal goings-on from sources like Fox News and WSJ.  I thought she made an interesting point, and that you, my faithful readers, might find my response interesting as well. So here it is.

Her email:

Where is the optimistic and high-minded view?

Hey guys,
I was browsing the online wsj and came across a paragraph that struck me.  So I’m sending it your way.  You know, Dad and I grew up in, looking back, what seems like a more innocent, wholesome time period.  And, I think that the reason I look back on our time in Norway with such fondness is that the lifestyle there at that time (I don’t know about nowadays, given all the grafitti we saw when we had the reunion there) reminded me of the best days of my own childhood spent out in nature, berry picking, finding tadpoles, etc.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just the rose-colored glasses of old age.  I mean, I also grew up being warned not to talk to strangers, blah blah blah.  But when I read the following exerpt, it kind of resonated with what’s bothering me lately:
“In the Old America there were a lot of bad parents. There always are, because being a parent is hard, and not everyone has the ability or even the desire. But in the old America you knew it wasn’t so bad, because the culture could bring the kids up. Inadequate parents could sort of say, ‘Go outside and play in the culture,” and the culture—relatively innocent, and boring—could be more or less trusted to bring the kids up. Popular songs, the messages in movies—all of it was pretty hopeful, and, to use a corny old word, wholesome. Grown-ups now know you can’t send the kids out to play in the culture, because the culture will leave them distorted and disturbed. And there isn’t less bad parenting now than there used to be. There may be more.”
So, I guess I’m asking you guys, do you see anything wholesome and hopeful in the current culture in which you live?  Please send me instances of the good stuff!  Where are the hopeful, optimistic, uncynical TV shows?  Where is the hopeful uplifting music?  Can you tell me, because I’d like to see it and listen to it, and in general, bathe in it! 🙂  The 24/7 downer news cycle is not the view of life I want!
Love,
Mom
My response:
Hi Mom,
“Every generation is the lost generation.”
~George A. Silver
I really think the ratio of good to bad parents is probably about the same, if not better, today. The reason I think it seems so hopeless these days is that our communication methods have evolved to the point where a bear can’t shit in the woods without the news covering it. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but I heard a more realistic way of putting the problem from a journalist who was speaking on C-span the other day. He said that the reason most of the news we hear today is bad news is that if a plane lands safely and everybody goes home happy, the news won’t cover it. The same standard goes for crime, corruption, hatred and controversy- these are all sensational topics, and between the real news for which the 24-hour news industry was designed, that’s what keeps viewers watching/listening/reading. An overwhelming majority of negative information of course shifts peoples’ perceptions of the world to one that is mostly bad, as a passive, collateral effect.
We are all indeed, willing or not, part of the largest human experiment to ever be affected on mankind. We are also at our highest population thus far, and our population continues to increase in a nearly exponential manner. Thus, if there was one kid spraying graffiti 20 years ago, now there are a hundred, and in 20 years there will be a thousand. As human beings, we are an incredibly plastic, adaptive society. To run with the graffiti example- as the amount of negative culture increases, a counterculture will inevitably evolve to confront it. Like in Norway, for every time the word “fuck” was scrawled on a wall, a work of art was painted to confront or replace it. The city tends to paint over the bad graffiti and preserve the artistic stuff. Graffiti has in fact led to the creation of a whole new genre of street art, one that is actually receiving much recognition among the modern art community (if you’re interested, check out some of Banksy’s work, he’s famous at this point and his messages are ones of activism, reform, and peace). We cope with negative aspects of society like gang-style/vandalistic graffiti by owning them and redirecting their energies and their purposes.
I understand what the WSJ quote is saying about innocence, but I would counter with the notion that true innocence is a thing that should not, and ultimately cannot, be defended. A sheltered life is no life at all, and should that shelter suddenly be lost, well, reality can be one hell of a shock. In addition, a person sheltered from that which is bad in the world lacks a true frame of reference by which to be good. This is why guided exposure, such as that which you and dad gave to my brother and I, is the norm. It’s also why Mormons have a higher percentage of rapists in their population than the general population- by discouraging and suppressing sexual intimacy they disarm individuals of the means by which to engage in it properly (an informal discussion of how high instances of rape in Utah relates to Mormonism can be found here). One of my beefs with people who actually adhere to and espouse variations of biblical morality (a massive percentage of our population does) is that I think we should establish our sense of morality from the world around us right now, not the world around a book written in the bronze age, or by a known con artist such as Joseph Smith.
How do we develop a sense of right and wrong in practice? We experience some of the right, and some of the wrong, and what we are left with is a choice, a judgement of personal prerogative. This is how one establishes a truly moral worldview, in my opinion. I think we should all confront the world around us for what it is, rather than cling to some idealistic perception of the world as this inherently moral and fair thing. We, in reality, make the rules, and we also, as a society, set the standards of morality. By being bombarded with bad news all the time, we become more aware of the negative aspects of society, and to some extent we become desensitized to them. This is both good and bad. It’s better if we are aware of the desensitization, so that we can learn from it. I think people are becoming more aware of that factor as it happens though. The fact that you are able to perceive a wrongness in society at all is a testament to that- if we were truly desensitized we would not perceive anything to be wrong.
So, in short, I think we’re doing good. I have met many, many wonderful human beings since I have left home for school, and of course every now and then I have run into what I consider a bad, or immoral person. I have come to believe that the majority of human beings are inherently good, and thus I have retained hope for humanity. I think in the long run our society’s moral push and pull will serve to bring us to higher and higher tiers of evolution-  psychological and moral tiers, rather than a physical ones. It’s kind of cool- in the abstract, this generation is a truly transcendent one.
So stay positive 😉
For examples- Did you ever watch the Dalai Lama speak? That’s a good one. Aside from that, wow, that’s a broad request. I know, I’ll refer you to TED- never have I seen a TED talk that hasn’t inspired me. Click the links that follow to see video’s I’ve picked out, and by all means, peruse their other videos! There are thousands of TED talks on the site, and they are all great sources of inspiration. Link 10 goes to the general video page, and once you’re there you can select categories on the left.

LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK 3, LINK 4, LINK 5, LINK 6, LINK 7, LINK 8, LINK 9, LINK 10.
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