Where is the world going? Baby boomers don’t have to look very hard to see a lot of downward trends. But as Don Caplan writes in this Boomer Opinion piece from his home on Canada’s Vancouver Island, there might also still be reason for a little wishful thinking too.
I’m told that I sound like an old fart when I bemoan certain social phenomena. But I don’t see it that way. I’m not pining for “the good old days”— which exist only in our imagination anyway. My concerns are related more to what I perceive in the present without comparison to the past.
To wit: I think that over my lifetime, common sense and rationality have been sacrificed at the expense of our humanity and fundamental decency.
I am aghast, and at times troubled, by the brashness, rudeness, and meanness of social media content, advertising and cultural symbols that go unabated. The irony is that at the same time as we endure social media excess, we are subject to the timidity of extreme political correctness in our schools and institutions. I really find it difficult to square the circle of the universities that are fearful of dissenting speech, fearful of having students feel “uncomfortable.” I am uncomfortable these days with the very purpose of universities, which should be to foster critical thinking and debate (and yes, discomfort). Yet we won’t control the far more damaging incendiary vitriol on social media.
Sociologists and economists are predicting that today’s undergraduates are expected to be the first generation since industrialization to have a greater chance of being less economically well-off (on average) than their parents. Yet college campuses have become bastions of ensuring comfort through bland, unoffending speech at the expense of free-wheeling debate and mind expansion. (Maybe I’m guilty of a little hyperbole here. But it sure feels that way).
Each of us has the intellectual capacity, some to a greater degree than others, to think, to explore, to weigh differing ideas and views. But there are social and cultural pressures blunting our judgment and making us fearful of offending. Have we as a free society lost our backbone with political correctness and at the same time lost our manners with on-line rants? By the way, political in-correctness does not equate to the mean-spirited rudeness, misogyny, and racism exemplified by the current U.S. president.
Why do I feel indignant? Am I watching too much of CNN? Am I taking the narcissistic, psychopathic tweets of the president too seriously? Am I choosing to read the wrong books and articles? Or is that just how I’m supposed to feel as an aging baby boomer?
But let’s not end on a downer, because there still may be hope for a better future. According to the World Bank, global poverty has plunged for the first time on record. As difficult to believe as it may be, the number of wars in the world right now is at an historic low (according to a recent UN report). And, a few years back, Africa went its first full year without polio, thanks to Bill Gates.
If our children and grandchildren are forced by necessity— as I believe they will be— to measure progress not by economic gain but by the positive use of technology, like the reversal of greenhouse gas emissions, maybe there’s more hope than us old farts would have you believe.
All the best for 2019!