My husband frequently tells me that my posts to this blog are “downers.” Of course he’s right–but in my defense, any age that includes the election of someone like Donald Trump (no matter how accidental or non-reflective of the majority’s choice) is a “downer” age.
The question we face–as Americans, as humans–is: how do we make things better? ( I should stipulate that I mean my version of “better”– not David Duke’s or Pat Robertson’s or the other “Make America Great” supporters of our demented President. My version is a kinder, less hateful, more equal society.)
It is a truism that lasting social change ultimately depends upon widespread cultural shifts. Laws prohibiting discrimination are important, for example, not because they effect overnight change, but because they begin the much slower process of changing people’s attitudes about what is acceptable behavior. (As anyone with eyes can see, that process is still very incomplete.)
The MeToo# movement would have been incomprehensible to my mother’s generation, and is somewhat startling to mine; only after millions of women entered the workforce (a phenomenon that was only possible when reliable birth control allowed us to manage our reproduction) did the overall culture begin to shrug off retrograde beliefs about gender roles–beliefs mostly rooted in religion– and begin to understand the importance and nature of gender equality.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say–and so it goes.
I’m currently doing research for a book (tentative title: Governing the Brave New World), and I am seeing emerging signs of positive culture change/paradigm shift. Some examples are broad acceptance of same-sex marriage, even among younger Evangelicals; growing recognition by businesses that they have responsibilities to employees, customers and their communities as well as their shareholders; men’s endorsement of movements like #metoo and white support for #blacklives matter; rising levels of civic engagement; and diminishing religious fundamentalism.
Much of this is still tentative. Much of it is triggering furious backlash. But it’s there.
There are theories about generational change that suggest political shifts occur every 40 years or so. I have no idea whether the “bright spots” I see are part of this relatively reliable turn toward a reasonable politics or a harbinger of something larger.
What evidence is there for (cautious) optimism?
I often think of a poem my mother (a definite pessimist) would recite: “Twixt optimist and pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist, the hole.”
I realize that some regular commenters on this blog are predisposed to see only the hole. (If I saw the world the way Todd evidently does, for example, I’d kill myself.) A number of the people who comment on this site, however, see both the doughnut and the hole, and I’m directing this question primarily to them–although I welcome a response from anyone who wants to weigh in.
What are the omens of positive culture change that you see? What are the indications that America is emerging from the past quarter-century or so of the “me, myself and I” attitudes that have made phrases like “public service” an oxymoron and caused people to sneer at the very idea of the common good? (If at all possible, provide sources for those sightings.)
What are the “uppers” that you see? Inquiring minds want to know!