Friday, May 16, 2008

The Great Leap Forward

I've always suspected that my generation and below really couldn't be bothered by the racial, sexual and gender identity issues that so perplexed and challenged those who came of age in the turbulent '60s and before. That same boomer generation has always wagged its finger at Gen X, Y, Z, etc., preaching that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but I think the assumption was that the younger generations were outright ignorant of polarizing political strife rather than indifferent to and beyond it. Those are two very different things. Barack Obama running for president (and likely winning), the slow expansion of equal rights of gay couples, environmental awareness and human rights issues ... these are the kinds of things that earn a shrug - "like, duh" - from young people but still get a rise out of the "before" generation, still fighting a losing battle of laws and rhetoric while younger Americans have increasingly muted the volume or changed the channel.

Well, I have a hunch this election cycle is one of the last gasps of that "before" generation, which, no matter who gets elected in November, will soon give way permanently to the "after" generation. There will always fundamentalists, reactionaries and extremists in self-imposed exile. But (West Virginian yokels aside) I suspect they're having more and more trouble hiding from humanism. They can keep their Bibles and "don't ask, don't tell" approach to anything that might differ from their ingrained but truly ignorant beliefs. The rest of us are, surely and steadily, moving on to a brighter future.

And that's not idealism, either. It's reality, which gets harder and harder to outlaw and legislate down to stalemate as time marches on.

Of course, some might argue our enlightened friends in Europe and elsewhere are there already, but I'm not so sure. The Europeans have the same generation gap that Americans have, but the young folks are, I suspect, more complacent, which in turn leads to stagnation. When you take progress for granted you stop progressing. America, on the other hand, really seems on the cusp of something. For the first time in at least a couple of decades if not as long as 60 years, we may have a chance to take the reigns of global leadership once again, but rather than use that power to rally troops and drop bombs, maybe for once we'll actually start trying to make the world a better place, not just for Americans but for everyone.

Now that, I'm afraid, is totally idealistic. But one can only hope, right?

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