Generations and Change

At age 33, I am growing more fascinated with the 2 decades of conscious memories and numerous history books and stories in my head. I’m still constantly exploring the past for more insight while passing on history to teens. I’m not simply repeating information and calling it teaching. I’m trying to be aware of my own awareness of the past, the various perspectives I’ve absorbed, and share that pleasing complexity in ways that inspire students to feel engaged in history’s direction, guided by love and justice.

Each tradition struggles to “pass on” values and wisdom to the next. This challenge is greatest, of course, in a movement, the Left, that tends to denigrate all prior generations. If only everyone joined us, the world would be remade wonderfully anew. This language common in Senator Obama’s speeches riles some thoughtful conservatives, like folks at No Left Turns. I wish he’d inspire without saying “this is our moment to remake the world as it ought to be.” That’s simply hubris and it will lead to quick disillusionment.

Maurice Isserman, reflecting on three generations of New Left leaders, ends this piece with the following:

The 1960s offer mostly cautionary examples of what to avoid when one generation on the left tries to influence the next. In the early 1960s, Michael Harrington, violating his own precepts on listening for the good emotions behind bad theories, squandered his opportunity to contribute to the future development of SDS and instead indulged in a blustering, condescending, and all-out political assault on the young radicals gathered at Port Huron. In the late 1960s, Tom Hayden offered young campus revolutionaries flattery and deference, refrained from saying anything that would sound like a lecture, and wound up at best “irrelevant,” and at worst contributing to the emergence of the Weathermen.

Is there a happy middle ground for radical elders to take with their juniors, located somewhere between unproductive confrontation and unprincipled capitulation?

Or does every generation of leftists hate their elders regardless of of the elders efforts?  My own experience on campus in the early 1990s, at the tail end of the most recent multicultural/diversity organizing,  suggested that a number campus leftists would rather fight each other over which activist elders to venerate.  Stokely, Malcolm, Che, Gloria? For a while Zapatista in Mexico became “the model.”

I don’t know the role of generations for anti-sweatshop, global HIV, living-wage and Darfur efforts that occurred after I left school.  The success they had probably had to do with their more limited agenda than trying to “change the system.”

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