Absolutes, civilization, and a new generation

There's a motif that runs through our society. It can best be summarized as the previous president’s declaration that “either you are with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”

What I'm talking about is the thinking that everything falls into exactly two opposite black and white camps. Not only that, whichever camp is the 'us' camp tends to be completely correct, end of story.

Look at the state of things today. A non-irrelevant fraction of the country is getting hung up on the current president’s possible un-us-ness. Seeing as a lot of these people and the generation running the country are middle-aged, perhaps it is a mentality learned during the cold war--that certainly seems to fall in line with how it seems to me the world was perceived with a good us, the West, and a back opposite, the red countries.

I was only alive to catch the last few years of it, but it seems like the people of that era could quickly discount anything un-American or un-Western--accuracy was traded for wartime expediency. In fact peaking in the Red Scare in the 50’s it was like there perennial stampede to be American or accept American ideas without giving even more than a superficial thought to alternatives.

One time in a conversation about the socialism with a person who grew up in the 60’s, the Communist Manifesto came up. Asking if the person had read it was like ice water. (But it's such a short read!) That surprised me; how can you take an informed stance on, let alone make an argument for something if you don’t know what the other position is? What I felt from the tone was not ignorance, it seemed to be more wanting to avoid anything associated with the non-us group.

An older manifestation or source of the theme is definitely religion. Take Christianity. It is all light versus dark, good versus evil, and so forth. If you’re not with god, then you must be with the devil. Moreover nothing in religion encourages anyone to find out things about the alternatives. Even before that, and perhaps where the early Xtians got the idea from, is the even older religion of Zoroastrianism, which holds that the world is the battleground of good and evil.

In comparison, China, has never been under a religious and cultural monopoly like Europe. They’ve historically had two religions: Buddhism and Confucianism. Perhaps in that case, a religion couldn’t claim its ideas as absolute truth, leaving as indelible a mark. Additionally good/bad is not a big part of those world views.

Perhaps Western religion had developed this framework and it was easy to simply paste the world of the last few decades onto it. Regardless, I care because there will be unnecessary effects if we continue to paint ourselves a binary world.

After the Cold War ended, we lost our boogey man. Lucky for us we seem to have found a new one in the Middle Eastern terrorists. If that relationship happens to not work out, it seems Plan B is China.

Instead of actually addressing and resolving the issues that cause terrorism or our friction with China or actually putting some thought into whether it even matters that a politician might be a secret-whatever, we seem to be more content to be living in a more costly world with a perpetual enemy even to the point that if there isn’t really an enemy we’ll just make one to keep things the way they are. The cost is having to spend time and effort to hold the effects of things at bay in balance instead of confronting their causes and being done.

I'm hopeful for the future. People my age grew up during the politically correct 90's capped off with the bizarre events of 2001. Looking back at it, it might have been the first decade of widespread post-modernism. In post-modernism there aren't black and white, it's all just shades of gray. This seems like a much more realistic way to approach problems and the world. In fact, our generation appears to be loosening the grip of religion, which is the last major stronghold of absolutes, especially in the US which is particularly religious among the industrialized countries. It will be interesting to watch how things change as younger generations move up.