Today, January 17, one of my good friends, who is a Gulf War veteran, asked his facebook feed, “Where were you 23 years ago today?” That’s always a fair question on the anniversary of a major event. During the first part of the 20th century, the US Army would recruit by asking rhetorically, “Daddy, where were you during the war?” They knew that the mere notion of being shamed many years later would be enough to get young men to sign up to kill.
In this America where 95% of people never wear a military uniform, I doubt that my generation’s kids and grandkids will be taking us to task for failing to serve. That does not mean, however, that we won’t be taken to task.
As a society, as a 51%+, we like to think that we live in the best of times, and if we’re not doing the best we can about whatever lingering problems we face, well, we must be doing at least second- or third-best. We don’t think of ourselves, 50 years from now, getting caught up by a grandchild saying “What the hell were you thinking?” But that’s gonna happen. Our parents and grandparents who smoked cigarettes every day have an inkling of what I’m saying. At least they can fade into the dignity of old sepia-toned photographs. Our grandkids will be looking at videos from our spring breaks and summer barbeques and saying – “THIS is what you were doing instead of helping the world?”
I expect this blog to eventually provoke or provide original thoughts on many of the issues of the day, from fracking to French interventionism. Here in the early stages, I’d like to try to peer into the long-term future (note: word “future” in blog name) and guesstimate the subjects by which future generations are going to give us that wide-eyed look that says “WTF were you on?” In later entries, I expect to expound exponentially on these subjects and others. Today I’m just taking the long view on behalf of the 51%. I invite you to comment and tell me about the views that I’m missing.
After careful consideration, here are my top four issues of 2064, played in an alphabetical harmony that goes C, D, E, E:
Child slavery – Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times keeps banging away at this issue, but it’s not clear that people are really listening. One reason that 12 Years a Slave is such an outstanding film, as I’ve already written about here, is that it dramatizes the frozen quality of an ongoing moral outrage – through various motifs it demonstrates that its characters, black and white, feel trapped in an unchangeable system, just as we today feel unable to do much about all of the issues I discuss here today. Another reason is that the film is about slavery – and slavery exists right here, right now, in the form of child prostitution in America and abroad. Today, Amy Poehler can joke that 12 Years a Slave changed her perspective on slavery, and Tina Fey can ask her “Wait, what was your previous perspective…?” and we can laugh. But future generations may see that video and wonder why we weren’t talking about the modern slavery all around us.
Though child slavery isn’t a partisan issue, it’s easy to see how partisans blame each other for our mutual indifference to it. For the right, it was the 1960s’ liberation movements that let a thousand Patty Hearsts out of the bottle, and it’s up to the left to take a more moral and even religious stand against the amorality that turns New York into Newer Amsterdam. For the left, government programs against child abuse shouldn’t have been cut or reduced (never mind how effective they are or aren’t), and America should also be taking stronger stands (say, with sanctions) against governments that turn a blind eye to teen street-walkers and child pornography sites. Perhaps someday we can find a common cause; a firebrand Democrat can get religious about this issue, and a renegade Republican can demand better federal solutions. For now, tragically, “12 years” remains a starting age of abuse for way too many.
The debt, the deficit – I’m prepared to believe in the sincerity of the many Republicans who can’t get through a speech without bringing up the crushing financial burden we’re placing on future generations. What is it now, $20,000 for every man, woman, and child? Yeah, that’s too much. I wish I could be as happy-go-lucky as Paul Krugman, who seems to think the ship will right itself if we tack for enough decades. We need a plan. I am not an economist and I will defer to those that have produced plans, without detailing them all here now. Perhaps addressing income inequality is a plan, perhaps it isn’t. I don’t see people in 2064 saying “Why didn’t you work on income inequality more?” It is proven that poor people spend their money more, and thus it’s true that to get the economy moving and creating jobs, we need to get more money into the hands of the poor, one way or another. But that’s a short-term problem. America had a dire recession in 1873; I doubt too many people in 1923 said, “Hey, did it occur to you guys to raise the minimum wage back then?”
I have a difference from most pundits on the left and right on the debt and the deficit: my issue with that issue is that it’s the only one of the four problems on this list that can’t really be helped by any kind of from-the-bottom, groundswell sort of DIY movement. I realize that Democrats blame Republicans for demanding spending cuts as necessary in both good times and bad; my bigger beef is that by repeatedly demanding such cuts, Republicans put themselves in the position of the Big Daddy that has to make the hard decisions for the cowling dependent family that is the American people. It’s their way of saying: “I wouldn’t even be an elected official except that no one else can bring down these zeroes, so that’s why you have to have me around.” By all means, let’s elect leaders who can compromise to reduce our burden on the future. At the same time, Republicans ought to come up with a better rationale for why they can trim our government into the lean, mean, fighting machine that it sometimes has been.
Education – Jared Diamond begins his book Collapse with an anecdote about the last tree on a given island that was once covered with trees. Diamond asks, what was running through the head of the person who chopped down that final tree? Did he realize he was sowing the seeds of his own destruction, and did he have reason not to care? I think of this chapter every time another red flag is raised about our dismal education system – every study that shows Americans falling further and further behind the rest of the world. If deterioration continues at this rate, I see young people looking at our education system the way tourists today look, or don’t, at the pieces of the Colossus of Rhodes. Oh, thanks, previous generations, for taking everything away piece by piece. I’ll just stare at this empty harbor then.
If I were a Republican, education would be my #1 issue by far, because of the core GOP belief that the United States of America is an exceptional nation. On the other issues I discuss here, there’s at least a slight whiff of international compromise or dependence on international institutions like the G-20 or the UN. However, no NGO is coming to the US to help us with our schools. If we can’t compete on things like international aptitude tests, how can we claim to be the world’s best country? If I were a Republican this would fire up all my patriotic hyper-competitiveness. I guess the water on that fire is that the solutions will probably have to be imported from other countries. Why is it that if an American mentions the policy of another country as something laudable, that person must be a liberal, but if said American mentions another country’s policy as something scary, that person must be a conservative? Us 51% want both sides to get past that. For the kids’ sake. For all of us.
The environment – I know, I know, it’s liberal propaganda, Al Gore flies in a private jet, scientists are paid to maintain a myth, etc. I’m reminded of a cartoon in my admin’s office at Sacramento State which shows a lecturer giving a PowerPoint of a list of benefits of going green – like cleaner air, quieter machines, sustainability, longer life – and someone in the lecture hall stands up and says “What if we waste all this time going green and it all turns out to be a hoax?” I think I speak for the 51% of us when I say that even if recycling is part of some big scam, it still feels right. It doesn’t take much to figure out that when you visit Yellowstone National Park, and you can choose without effort between a) leaving your plastic bottles on the ground or b) not doing that, you choose b. So why not apply that to your life more generally? And do you realize what future generations will think of you if you don’t?
Not sure why global warming is disproven with every cold winter. You put ice in your glass, right? When the ice melts, does the rest of your drink suddenly get warm? No, it gets cold, at least until it feels the obviating effect of a heat lamp (in this analogy, an ozone hole in summer). I don’t know how you look at photos of the North Pole from 1980 and now and conclude that nothing has changed, that ice hasn’t melted. If so I think you’ll love The Walking Dead cause clearly you’ll believe anything. Could climate change be part of the natural cycles of life? Sure. If the people in Pompeii had a chance to dampen that volcano, should they have taken it, or instead resisted federal over-reach? If an asteroid were coming to destroy Earth, should we send Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck after it (ok, I grant, Willis and Affleck might not be the best plan) or should we wait for other countries to pony up their own Willises and Afflecks? Can we turn down the Earth like a thermostat? No, we can’t. Can we do something? Yes. If we’re talking about Americans under 30, I’m no longer speaking for the 51%…it’s more like 90%. Get creative about this or get out of the way.
Thanks for reading this far. What am I missing?