4/29/2019 09:33

The Next Generation

It seems as though older people are constantly looking to the young for salvation: These strong, bright, enthusiastic people should be able to move our society forward from wherever it is that we are currently stuck. New ideas, renewed commitment, and focused on the future, young people would seem to bring everything to the struggle that older people have lost or let slip away.

Yet here we are making the same mistakes again.

Of course, not every old person is looking with hope at the future run but young upstarts. Some older folks are fearful that they will be shunted aside, or that the progress they have achieved will be discarded, or disregarded, or that the young and their culture are as alien and threatening as some despised foreign nation.

Yet here we are making the same mistakes again.

It is right and good that new adults should be given the reins of power (not that anyone young in this century is likely to know what a rein is or what to do with one) but it is unreasonable to suppose that any generation of people will be remarkably different from the generation before. Like us they will grow older, wiser, more locked into the pattern of their lives, more consumed by the needs of their own children and then their children's children, and in general more like their parents.

A different tone, perhaps; a change in style, or a reversion in style; and still making the same mistakes again.

We do change, of course. Each of us changes over the course of our own life, most often following a trajectory similar to the changes in our ancestors' lives. Our institutions change, too, but generally more slowly -- over 50 years, or 150, and then sometimes only to do the same things in different ways. We are deceived, I suspect, by the rate of change for the few things which have changed with seeming rapidity: Our carriages travel faster and farther, and those changes happened quite suddenly in a few mass waves (of rail, automobile, and aviation). Our communications evolved with similarly sudden stages (telegraph, telephone, and electronic networks). But houses, schools, courts and jails, offices and grocery stores have changed more slowly and gradually.

The real truth is that we don't want the next generation to change everything. We only want them to change what isn't working now. Even then, we hope that they will avoid changing the bad into worse. It would be better that they make the same mistakes than that they invent new and more horrible ones -- though sometimes they do just that.

Most likely the next generation will not save us. With encouragement perhaps they may save the best of what we've done and avoid one or two of the mistakes we've been making.

In actual reality that would be enough.