STRANGE NEW WORLD
Just ask Baby Boomers what’s changed over the course of their lives. They’ve got plenty to say beginning typically with the technological marvels that have come their way, like color television, microwaves, power steering, smart phones, pacemakers, computers, the internet, etc. Prompt them further and in no time they’re telling you about the bewildering social changes they’ve witnessed. “Everything is different today.”
What’s different? One way or another they’ll talk about women, senior citizens, African Americans, Latinos, gays, the disabled and how all of them have gained recognition and are entering the mainstream. They’ll mention that women went off to work in droves, parents and children left the cities for the suburbs, and how families fragmented because so many Americans headed off to such places as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. You’ll hear about men and women living longer, using birth control, marrying later and divorcing sooner. If they stayed married, both had jobs, leaving kids in the hands of others. If they didn’t marry, both were more likely than ever before to live by themselves. Church attendance headed lower, incarceration levels rose sharply and both prescription and hard drug usage soared as did out-of-wedlock birth, and the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country. In the media sex and violence became ever present and markedly more explicit. You get the point. It has become, as they say, “a whole new ballgame,” arguably the most rapid pace of social changes ever experienced by a society.
Most of us have managed to roll with the punches, welcomed, or learned to live with all these developments. Large numbers of Americans, however, find this altered landscape and many of these “rule” changes both confusing and painful. As they see it, the traditional moorings of society have become unhinged. We’ve lost our way. Demoralizing and disastrous – that’s how they’d characterize what’s happened. It all must stop, better still, rolled back. Traditional families must be reconstructed. Gays should be counseled and encouraged to return to normal heterosexual relationships, Illegal immigration must end and the undocumented currently in the U.S. sent back. Women must be denied abortions, discouraged from living in sin. The war on drugs must continue unabated until supplies dry up. Advancing secularism needs to be countered with prayer, support for faith-based organizations, and a return to religious observance. A lid has to be placed on uninhibited sexuality and persistent violence.
Is that at all possible? Can we turn the clock back? Has that ever happened? Or does social change, once critical mass is achieved, become irreversible? Remember many of the sources of traditional authority and restraint have been weakened and put on the defensive, whether it be the schools, the family, the church or civil authorities. Besides which, while certain social changes have surely been unwelcome and wrenching, many have enhanced individual choices and promoted freedoms rarely exercised before on such a large scale.
Predictably the debate will not end for it reflects both the dynamism and doubts of modern societies. The demand that curbs or cures be applied will continue even as the engines of change disrupt and transform our society.