Monday, August 04, 2008

Society, Kicking and Screaming

I talked a bit about the rapid changes technology has made and continues to make…mostly for the better, but sometimes for the worse. But it is the societal changes which have a far longer and darker history. Nearly every significant major change in our society has been forged in anger, denial, and occasional warfare.

It is of course impossible to separate technological and societal change, since it is the former which often brings on the latter. The difference between technological and social changes is that technology provides things which we did not miss before they existed. Societal changes are based more on the human mind and our perception of the world around us.

The rapid evolution of technology in electronics has produced societal sea changes. Until the middle of the last century, no one had ever heard of television, or of computers, or cell phones, or microwaves or dishwashers. With no television or video games, kids actually played outdoors and exercised their imaginations. Their days were not crammed with soccer practice and cheerleading squads and other orchestrated activities which have all but eliminated the need for the imagination or creativity. Obesity in children was not a major issue.

So many of the devices without which we cannot imagine our living today simply did not exist, and we got along perfectly well without them all. You cannot miss what you have never had and never heard of. I wonder what “wonders” the next 20 years hold in store.

Yet it is television and the internet and other technological devices which pushes and promotes societal change. Being exposed to people different from ourselves had done an admirable job in breaking down prejudices and homogenizing our world.

I’m not the first to observe that humans are an often maddening species, vehemently and violently resistant to change until that change inevitably occurs, and the exact same people who marched and screamed and ranted against it suddenly act as if it had been their idea in the first place. Segregation, ethnic and national stereotyping, women’s lib and gay rights all…every social battle that begins with a “NEVER!!!!” seems to end in a “Yeah, so what else is new?”

On the forefront of social change right now is the issue of gay marriage and gays in the military. On the issue of gay marriage, I personally don’t care how it’s done or what it’s called, so long as the end result is the same: identical rights for everyone.

I look at the smug, self-righteous political and military bigots who pontificate their objections to the right of gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly on the most absurdly specious of grounds and logic, and know full well that it is only a matter of time until these neanderthals will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. And once that goal has been achieved, I will be willing to wager my soul that there will not be so much as a ripple upon the waters, and the only question will be “what in the HELL took you so long?”

Dr. Pangloss was wrong: there is no “best of all possible worlds.” There never has been, and never will be. When it comes to social progress, mankind resembles an amoeba, which can only move when one small part extends itself out from the mass and the rest of the body gradually flows into it. We just all have to do our best to move as quickly into the arm of the amoeba as we can.

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