Why They Will Hate Us in the Future
It happens to every generation, and not for the reasons they expect
Nothing is more arbitrary and changeable over time, or regarded as more self-evident and absolute in their moment, than social mores. In my own fleeting half-century, I’ve watched mores shift (and, long after them, with tectonic slowness and resistance, laws) until the landscape of the past has become unrecognizable.
Twenty-first century kids will never know the dreamy peace of lying on the shelf beneath the rear window of the car, looking up through the shield of glass at the stars. When I was in grade school, we sometimes played an unsanctioned game at recess called “Smear the Queer” (less offensive/more self-explanatory regional variant: “Kill the Guy with the Ball”). When a student brought what he said was a bomb to high school, Mr. Trautwein, our biochem teacher, told him to quit being an idiot and confiscated it. I grew up to see school massacres become a fad, and binary gender become passé; to see cutesy Christmas cards from boring married gay couples, and marijuana gummy bears. As Robert Stone wrote in his last novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl: “That which was unspeakable may thrive and is blessed. That which was tolerated is an abomination.”
I’ve always been bemused by the condescension of the present toward the past: the presumption that we, by virtue of our birthdays, are more enlightened, humane, empathetic, somehow better than those incomprehensibly evil people who came before us. Today’s passionate young radicals, through no fault of their own, get to see themselves become tomorrow’s irrelevant old reactionaries. Each generation is shaped and defines itself by its struggle, and so inevitably becomes married to the thing it opposed.
And so each generation regards the last with contempt, and the next with incomprehension.
For example, boomer and Gen X feminists had to be tough to survive in a man’s world, and knew that complaints would only get them banished from it; they learned to take abuse and harassment and condescension, ignore it, brazen it out, or joke their way past it. To them, millennial feminists look like whiners and tattles who revel in their victimhood…