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Woke and Hindsight: The Short-Term Memory of Generations When Changing History

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.


One of my friends online likes to post political articles attacking Trump and Republican policies. He’s very opinionated in his views that anything not progressive is evil or fascist. As a consequence, he has been criticized before for his views, saying that he generalizes people and believes himself to be in the right all the time, rejecting any criticism that challenges his position. I agree with much of what he says, but I have a hard time with one thing.

All Eyes on Me

I struggle with the belief that somehow his generation is now 'woke' and therefore morally superior in their position to prior generations. I’ve seen this attitude with many of my friends. Social media is full of people bashing anything anti-progressive and to be fair, there are people on the other side too who are like-minded, like from Fox News and many right-wing radio talk shows.

The term thrown at the current generation, social justice warrior, or ‘sjw,’ is derogatory. A slang for liberal people who think of themselves as high and mighty, taking it upon themselves to attack any perceived offense towards changing society.

I don’t think the problem is them saying something. If anything, it's refreshing to see that sins of the pasts are not wholly forgotten, decreasing the chances of repeating it. My issue is that it's the same story with a different narrator, and the narrator doesn’t recognize that he is merely the latest incarnation in a successive line of narrators.

"The older generation fucked up and now its up to the new generation to make it right." This is not original. This story has been being told since the 1960s cultural revolution and the reasons for it are real enough.

America has more than enough injustice and blood on its hands for how it came to be where it is today. Each generation has taken up the call to do its best to right those wrongs and that certainly is not a bad thing. The mistakes of the past often happened because no one bothered to say anything at all.

However, more often than not and for varying reasons, older generations eventually become set in their ways and it's difficult for them to change the status quo they’ve become accustom to. It’s hard to really tackle issues or make the necessary changes that requires continual sacrifice and effort. So there is a reason behind the frustration.

The greatest obstacle to change isn’t politics but the eternal, human conflict between security and freedom.

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Your grandparents or parents.  The culture-shaking radicals of the 1960's and 1970's became the conservative backbone of the 1980's and 1990's.

Your grandparents or parents. The culture-shaking radicals of the 1960's and 1970's became the conservative backbone of the 1980's and 1990's.

You Missed Something

Changes were made but not enough. Blacks got the right to vote, but gays still couldn’t marry and were stigmatized. Women were in the workplace, but still had to—and still do—struggle to make top positions with equal wages to men. And when being openly gay became more socially acceptable, Arabs, Sikhs, and anyone who looked of Middle Eastern descent were still targeted as soon-to-be-terrorists.

And each successive generation criticized the former for what they missed, so as to once again call the banners for the ‘new’ revolution that was going to make everything right.

"This is not a single generation’s flaw but all generations for the past forty years."

Ignorance is Bliss and Empowering

This moral and historical blindspot is my problem. Instead of recognizing the accomplishments of their predecessors and why they stopped, it's instead treated as a hard reset. The previous battles never happened or at best are no longer ‘relevant’: time to start over. Many newcomers from each generation don't recognize that their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were probably in their very shoes not too long ago and it's this sense of judgment and entitlement because of youth that many of their opposition resents. Their own contributions to the cause being ignored because it's not trendy or cool anymore. This is not a single generation’s flaw but all generations for the past 40 years.

Forgetting the efforts of the past and downplaying them not only hinders forward progress, it could even reverse it. The new revolutionaries become arrogant in their assumptions and that arrogance is what the people whose minds they are trying to change see, rather than the reason for their protest in the first place. This results in them pushing back.

This is what happened with the 2016 election of Donald Trump and why so many progressives, who thought they were living in a new, liberal utopia, were caught off guard. It was a swift kick up the ass and also why during the recent midterm elections they realized they had to get off it.

It Is Never About My Generation

Our cross-generational curse is that we see the struggle centered around us, our generation and in our prime, instead of seeing rather that we are part of a long term, multi-generational struggle. We are all victims of the fast food mentality, we want what we deserve and we want it now! The reality playing out is that despite that, you may not get it now anyway and to make that change may take decades or even centuries before it truly sinks in on a social level. Modern societies no longer think in terms of the future, but in the immediate short-term, feeling cheated somehow if we don’t also reap the rewards our descendants do.

Our mistake is that we think the revolution is about us, when in fact it is not. It's about the current of history and the overall growth of human society: social evolution. That has always taken a great deal of time to accomplish because human beings don’t like to change when current life starts working in our favor.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Jamal Smith

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