I’m an angry old man. Well, maybe not angry so much as disillusioned. This is not the future I expected. It’s not the one I was promised by pretty much everyone from “futurists” to cartoonists to song writers. I’m not talking about space stations and Mars colonies and things like that, although their lack is disappointing, too. I’m talking about peace, prosperity, freedom, equality, justice…. Age of Aquarius type stuff, the dreams of John Lennon’s Imagine.
In the latter half of the last century, young, naïve idiots like myself truly believed that a new age of human understanding, progress, and cooperation was just around the corner. Humanity would finally realize that race, religion, nationality, gender, and things like that, really don’t matter very much. It wouldn’t be a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It would be more like “don’t know, don’t care, not important.” Not to society in general, anyway. People are people. Black or white, gay or straight, religious or secular. All of them. All of us. Whatever differences we might possess are far outweighed by the things we have in common. The dawning of a bright new century would somehow bring a second Enlightenment that would leave all our petty biases, prejudices, and superstitions behind us. We would finally accept that working together to achieve common goals made far more sense than constantly arguing and fighting one another over relatively unimportant things, most of which boil down to matters of taste or opinion.
Obviously, that idealistic future didn’t happen. In some ways, it seems we’ve become even more sensitive to minor personal differences now than we were half a century ago, especially when it comes to matters of religion and gender. Perhaps this kind of sensitivity is a result of people grasping for some semblance of individuality in an increasingly homogenized world. Maybe it’s a cry for acceptance by those who feel that society has rejected them. I don’t know, but I find it disheartening. I shudder when voters rally to support a politician simply because he or she claims to share their religious faith. I don’t understand why anyone would be hypersensitive about gender pronouns. Neither a person’s religious beliefs nor their gender identity makes any difference to their ability to be a valued citizen. Any society that respects personal freedom should be equally accepting of all choices like that.
I now appreciate that there was no realistic way this kind of change could have happened. Not in half a century, at least. Human history, and probably human nature as well, is burdened by far too much irrational baggage for that. I understand that, now. But unjustified as it may be, I can’t seem to let go of the dream that somehow, someday, the bright future we imagined back when I was young might still happen. I’m not confident it will. I certainly don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, but I can’t seem to abandon all hope in it. So, yeah, I’m disappointed, but I guess I’m not entirely disillusioned after all. Maybe we can do better with the next century. I wish I could be there to find out, but countering the incredibly inconvenient and invariably terminal effects of aging is another thing we haven’t made much progress on.