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

Updated on January 16, 2019
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Jamal is a graduate from 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 have a hard time with one thing.

All Eyes on Me

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 its 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.

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-have to 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, its is 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 its this since of judgment and entitlement because of youth, that many of their opposition resents. Their own contributions to the cause being ignored because its not trendy or cool anymore. This is not a single generation’s flaw but all generations for the past forty 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: and they push 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 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. Its 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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Jamal Smith

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      • LHwritings profile image

        Lyndon Henry 

        10 months ago from Central Texas

        Jamal Smith writes: "I agree with much of what he says, but have a hard time with one thing. ... The belief that somehow his generation is now 'woke' and therefore morally superior in their position to prior generations."

        This is an awfully relative issue.In my view, the currently prevailing generations (e.g., Millennials) are considerably less "woke" (enlightened?) than those of some other periods in the past, particularly as evidenced by the near-absence of class struggle and quite low class-consciousness among the working class. In the current USA, these factors are essential for the liberation of the masses of the population (i.e., almost all of us) from the class oppression of the wealthy ruling class (commonly cited as the "1%" but actually more like the 0.01% of the U.S. population).

        Other periods that come to mind with at least somewhat higher class consciousness are (1) the 1930s (era of the great industrial strikes and upheavals that gained some advances in the standard of living of the working class and other oppressed) and (2) the 1960s to 1970s (era of the civil rights upheavals, mass resistance to the Vietnam war, rise of the women's rights movement, all basically helping to facilitate the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and victory to the national revolution there, abolition of formal segregation, advances in women's rights, and other social gains). However, since then the class-consciousness of both the working class and the masses of the population unfortunately has plunged, leading to the morass we have today.

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

        I see the issues of security and freedom as items manipulated by the ruling class to maintain oppression and confusion among the working class and the masses of society. In my view, the greatest real obstacle to change is the low level of class consciousness, compounded by the class-collaboration of the labor union bureaucracy and leaderships of various other sectoral movements such as women's rights, black rights, immigrant rights, etc.

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