You Just Came Later


I don’t think that I have ever watched one of Bill Mahr’s shows. I know about him mostly from hearsay, and in that regard I often find my thinking at odds with his. Nonetheless he sometimes hits the mark with his commentaries, and recently I found myself mentally applauding his commentary on one of his shows. It were as follows:

 “People need to stop pretending that if they were alive back when, they wouldn’t have been the same asshole as everyone else. You would have driven without seatbelts and drank when you were pregnant… Because woke-sight is not 20/20, and you don’t have ESPCP: extrasensory politically correct perception. If you were around in the 1980s, you would have worn those horrible colors and the big shoulder pads. You just would have. You’re not Nostradamus. And if you were around in the 1780s, and you were rich and white, you likely would have had slaves. … Stop being surprised we used to be dumber than we are now. The humans of tomorrow will be horrified by us…Do you really think future generations will look at what you’re doing…and say, ‘That was the moment civilization peaked. We can add nothing more?’ You’re not morally better than your grandparents, you just came later.”

The truth is that we humans are imperfect now, always have been, and always will be. We are influenced by the time and place in which we live. We learn from the people around us and evolve over time. Over the course of my seventy decades on earth I have changed the way I think and live multiple times. My beliefs have been influenced by new information and innovations, which is the way it has always been for mankind.

I am from the generation that was the first to grow up with television. It’s reach into hearts and minds is incalculable but certain. As a teen I watched the walls of racial segregation being kicked down. As a young woman I witnessed the landing on the moon and more equal opportunities for women. It was my generation that halted the boom of babies with birth control. Life has become ever more comfortable for larger and larger numbers of people during my lifetime. I have things in my home that were the stuff of dreams when I was born. Polio and other dread diseases have been all but wiped out over my seventy decades. I’d like to think that we have rid ourselves of injustices that were once quietly tolerated. Nonetheless we have made mistakes, just as our parents and grandparents did. Ours is an imperfect rendering of the world and I’d like to think that future generations will not judge us too harshly but will instead be willing to balance our offenses with the good things that we have done.

Our children and their children are nudging progress forward much as every generation has, but they are also no doubt doing things that may one day be questioned by people of the future. Mankind’s journey is one of incremental progress which is more often than not somewhat imperfect. All we can hope for is that the miscalculations that we make will not be so disastrous that they set humanity back.

In the long history of civilization there have been moments of renaissance and those which have been a blotch on our progress as people. On the whole the arc has lifted us upward toward wiser and more thoughtful ways of meeting the challenges that we face. It does us little good to waste our efforts on indicting our ancestors when we will never truly understand what their world was actually like.

I’ve searched fruitlessly for information on my paternal grandfather. All that I know about him comes from things that he told me. He always said that he was Scots Irish, a term that I never really comprehended. Only recently have I learned about the journey of people from Scotland who were encouraged to leave their homeland to settle in northern Ireland where their culture and characteristics became a blend of English, Scottish, and Irish thinking. They tended to be independent souls who were speaking of liberty and freedom long before such ideas came to fruition in the new world known as America. They were often buffeted by circumstances of poverty and political clashes that lead them to wander from one place to another in search of a modicum of peace. My grandfather’s people found their way to Appalachia.

Grandpa often spoke of growing up in an isolated area devoid of any sort of modern conveniences. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter but he and the grandmother who raised him learned to adapt to their situation. The world of his boyhood was nothing like the luxury that he would eventually enjoy by the end of his one hundred eight year lifetime. He was a living witness to the history and evolution of mankind over the course of a hundred years. He marveled at what humanity had accomplished and focused more on success than failure, because the evidence convinced him that we the people may falter, but we eventually find a way to make things better. That slow progress made him a relentless optimist.

We all know the problems that we face. We all see things that we would like to correct. Grandpa and Bill Maher are correct in believing that we need to understand that we are but workers in the job of moving the world forward. We will have great victories and we will make great blunders. In eschewing self righteousness we are more likely to help forge a future that will move us closer to the perfection that we may never realize, but that we nonetheless dream of achieving. We are no better or worse. We just came later.