So much of what we do as a society is in aid of two things: humanity as a whole, and the next generation. As much as people are selfish and individualistic, that is rarely geared toward oneself alone. It generally encompasses your immediate surroundings as well. I don’t just mean your geographic surroundings, but the people you surround yourself with, your family, the things you create, the community you support. Your effort is a reflection of the world in which you would like the next generation to exist.
The policy decisions and technical developments we term ‘progressive’, the ones we are most excited about, and often most divisive about, are the ones that will most affect the world for what’s next. Although we’re divided by ideology, and can’t quite agree on what measures we should take to improve our world, we seem to agree that we’re better off now that we were before—medicine, nutrition, education, peace, human rights, technology… everything is on an upward trend. But we can’t seem to agree on how we got here.
We each rely on different cherry picked moments in history that triggered improvement. As if nothing after that was advancing the cause. Both in India, where I grew up, and USA, where I currently live, each segment of society treasures a different aspect of the founders of the nation to a fault. There’s a sense that since they created the nation, an estimate of what they might want is a great gameplan for what we should do. There’s a sense that we know them well enough to know what they’d think now—the pandemic of WW_D. And so we pick our greatest figures from history, quote them, and apply their ideas to new situations in the hope we will find answers that we’re scared to invent ourselves.
There isn’t however, any evidence that they would have held their opinion in the face of new circumstances. Most importantly however, I think the idea missing is that they are regarded well because they left the world in a better state than they found it; they didn’t fight to halt change and retain the status quo. What they passed on, was a momentum of change, and increasingly, the ability to alter the world for the better as we were presented with more opportunities to do so. They taught their next generation in the hope the next generation would grow better than them. And I hope we will leave our next generation with the power to far exceed the improvements to the world we have made.
This is why, when I hear support for a ‘traditional definition’, or something reasoned to ‘protect our children’, I see an attempt to roadblock a better future in favour of a past learning.
It shows in India’s recent ban on porn, arrest of unmarried couples, victim-blaming and general outrage over western ideas…. And it shows in America’s difficulties with institutional racism, fear of socialism, enormous wealth-gap and dependence on a literal reading of the bible. Each shows a fear of some development, a change, a progression; and this is no surprise, because change is scary.
But what worries me the most, is that the justification for these restrictions is often presented as a better future for the next generation. The very same thing people pushing new ideas are touting as their justification.
“I want progress”
“No, I want progress”
That’s a debate that will last forever. There’s a semantic wall because people using the same words mean entirely different things. Reminds me of a post by Neil Gaiman: