Posted by: lecubiste | February 12, 2018

Tension between the Old and the New

The relations between men and women are changing. As human societies adapt to their own victories over mortality, social pressures evolve. This is the great quandary: when does too much success lead to failure.

We don’t need to look back too far to see how drastically different our own cultures used to be.  One thousand years ago polygamy was the standard of culture around the world. It was practiced in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas as recently as a few hundred years ago.

When infant mortality was high around the world, women played the crucial role of the child bearer.  It was common for a woman to have five to ten children in their lives, and sometimes more. Thus child-bearing was the equivalent of a career. 

In the last two hundred years in European cultures, infant mortality has gone down thanks to improved sanitary conditions and modern medicine. As a result the social pressure on women to play the role of child bearer has decreased.  Intervening opportunities such as careers in business and government, education, and elsewhere in the economy have generated economic independence for women.

More recently we see around the world the results of this change. China for decades instituted a one child policy.  In some Asian and European countries birth rates have fallen so low that governments are instituting pro child-bearing policies, and immigrant labor has become important to many economies.

The rapidly evolving human cultures are having to redefine gender roles and these are having a tremendous impact on societies. Men must cope with the fact that women are no longer so economically dependent on them. This has had a large impact on the psychology of men, and on male-female relations. 

A new generation adapts to changing times.  Today’s young are much less concerned with homosexual behavior. Older generations of men are far more homophobic than their progeny. 

Women must now balance their roles of child-bearers and child-rearers with their relatively new role as breadwinners. Young couples must find their way through changing roles and socially defined economic opportunities and responsibilities. While none of this is easy, we can see the conflicts between modern and ancient cultures elsewhere in the world.

What would pass for conservative Christians in Europe would be liberal in some Islam nations that balk at female education and the abandonment of headscarves. We see this transition in Saudi Arabia for example where a young and more liberal leader is changing laws around, for example, allowing women to drive themselves. Conservatives everywhere cling to traditions and liberals embrace change.

Thus conservatives in America cling to the Christian Bible and “old-time religion”, while liberals embrace changing social mores and cultures. This herky jerky process of social change is testing the foundations of the US republic now as social and political polarization, the “culture wars” if you will, have led to profound divisions in the nation.

It is perfectly reasonable to justify both the old and the new.  Traditions based on old values may need to change, but the values themselves need to be acknowledged as valid. Integrity, honestly, tribal loyalty, courage, and kindness are old values found in old spiritual texts in virtually all religions.

So modern couples must deal with dating, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, and parental roles. As male aggression is becoming increasingly tamed, policies and practices concerning war, suicide, abortion, capital punishment, and environmental preservation are changing. Yet there are forces that resist adapting to the changing social environment.

Sometimes that resistance is based on a fear of its loss of values. Thus new age religions may look like a threat to old-time religion. Single mothers may look like a threat to traditional families.

Here is where the door of corruption opens. The televangelist who lives in idyllic luxury, the radio commentator who enthralls his listeners with a narrative both frightening and angering about imagined and exaggerated corruption and threats, the politician who cynically exploits both to get votes; these and many other examples of the corruption of public discourse exaggerate the clash between older and newer mores.

They pollute the well of social engagement that leavens our social bread dough and promote walls that separate us. Families are divided, social groups turn against each other, even nations go to the brink of war based on misunderstandings spread by propaganda. At the root of the corruption is the desire for wealth and power, and the egocentric passions of this new age.

The total matrix of causes and effects is far too complex to dig into in a short essay. Yet the consequences of this corruption both social and personal are even life-threatening. The denial of global warming may lead to the death, in the end, of a large portion of the human race, most likely through disease and starvation caused by drought, floods, and rising coastlines.

It seems to me that the values most crucial to maintain are honesty, sincerity, courage, and loyalty: Honesty in order to prevent false beliefs, sincerity to maintain heart-to-heart connections, courage in order to do the right thing in the face of challenge, and loyalty in order to maintain humility in the acceptance that none of us are perfect. Such is the time we find ourselves in now.

 

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