On Generations: western culture has strayed far from what events such as WW II and the Civil Rights Movement stood for
While the political class chases its tail in the 2016 electoral cycle — The Donald vs Bernie etc. — the media struggles to describe the zeitgeist of a reality-show star taking on an unreconstructed socialist for the presidency. How to sum up the forces at play? Try one of the top hits of 2015: Kendrick Lamar’s “I Love Myself”, a profanity-strewn epistle to the self that uses the N word the way an AK-47 uses bullets.
The essence of Mr. Lamar’s thesis is the game is stacked against us n*****s. I mean, just look at the Oscars. Point final (falls a little short of Martin Luther King’s “I have been to the mountain top”). Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to be taking on that generational cri de coeur anytime soon.
Generational identity is traditionally defined by the seminal challenge of the times. The generation that fought World War II is defined by that cataclysmic event. Coming on the heels of the Great Depression of the ‘30s, it marked those who survived for life.
WW II was a little different, however. While wars have been fought for centuries by leaders talking about righteousness and destiny, few resulted in much more than the transfer of power from one group to the next. For all the demonization, enemies turned out to be less than despicable and winners something less than heroic.
There are exceptions, of course. The American Civil War, where over half a million Americans laid down their lives in a terrible carnage, began the process of moving America away from slavery (something achieved in in Britain in 1833 with no war).
Then there was World War II. Those who fought it knew the deception of World War I, the war to end all wars. They knew how pointless it had been to consume millions in the trenches. Yet, faced with the spectre of Hitler’s Nazism and the militarism of Imperial Japan, they took up arms all the same and paid the price uncomplainingly. No wonder Tom Brokaw titled them The Greatest Generation.
The sacrifice of that struggle infused (and continues to infuse) those who survived with a moral authority to act. It allowed them to defeat the Soviet empire without ever resorting to a full-scale war between the super powers. Their decisions have not always been enlightened (Vietnam, Iraq Pt. II), but there was no mistaking the authority to act after the sacrifice they’d suffered.
For the Baby Boomer generation that came of age in the 60's in North America, the civil-rights struggle was the seminal moment. Even the most recidivist find it hard to argue today that the end of Jim Crow and the full-scale acceptance of the black culture in the community was a mistake. Being on the right side of the issue has been the reservoir of authority for progressives in the media, culture and academia for decades to come.
Should they forget, the annual arrival of a Hollywood movie or PBS documentary revisiting the racial injustice — or President Obama dissing American exceptionalism — will remind them. The human sacrifice in the civil rights movement was minimal by comparison with WW II (the cost more emotional than physical). But the names of those who died for the civil rights movement are legendary. That’s why the much-misunderstood Martin Luther King has a holiday in his honour this week in America,
Dr. King’s authority is today ruthlessly mined for every purpose under their rainbow banner. From gender equality to income redistribution to feminist causes, those who emerged from the 60's feel their mere association with King’s cause of non-violent resistance has given them an unassailable moral compass. Every fashionable progressive notion draws its authority from the civil rights struggle 50 years ago.
The secularists who appropriate King’s sacrifice conveniently expunge his deep religious convictions from their crusades. With their unshakable faith in government as an instrument of good, they miss the point that his message was not a secular one but a bedrock belief in the notion of a Christian God whose message is rooted in the Bible’s text.
Wonder how Dr. King might have viewed his followers hounding bakers to create cakes for those with whom they had a religious objection? How he would have viewed the Black Lives Matter crew that seeks not to have black and white children join hands but rather retreat from each other into hollow accomplishment? These grievance gulags cite King’s authority (without the God part) to sanctify their efforts — even as they shun and humiliate those with whom they disagree.
As the generation of the 60's passes from the scene it’s difficult to identify what seminal moment will be the Millennials’ WW II or civil-rights moment. If one believes Kendrick Lamar’s profane thesis or the wholesale takeover of the West by immigration, the moment may just be Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton for the presidency. The years when western culture was too busy looking at shiny objects to see the future at the gate. A future for which they’re totally unprepared.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).