Regret Me Not: "What Were People Thinking?"

Gay Guy,

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Outlook section of the Washington Post by Kwame Anthony Appiah: What will future generations condemn us for?

The article tries to find a formula for determining which current but controversial norms will be discredited in the future. And if so, will they been seen as abhorrent (slavery) or quaintly misguided (prohibition)? Here's how it works:
A look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation...

First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice...

Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity...

And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit...
He goes on to focus on four future regrets for our generation: our prison system, animal cruelty, elder abuse, environmental policy.

Maybe, maybe not. I don't doubt that I'll look back and wish things had changed sooner, or that I had done more. But I don't think that fundamentally I'm on the wrong side of any of these issues. (But no one ever does, do they? Otherwise they'd already be on the other side.)

But I assumed that, in terms of civil rights, he might mention two topics that often pop up on this blog: the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and laws against same sex marriage.

I liked his formula and thought that both issues fit the criteria for future regret.

I'll admit that one of the great conveniences of being a liberal on civil rights issues is the confidence that time will prove me right. It's the social conservatives who always seem willing to risk looking like fools over the long haul: the anti-suffragettes, the blacklisters, the censors, the witch triers, the racists, the book burners, and the guys who refused to film Elvis from the waist down.

Are you prepared to join this proud company, Prop 8ers?

It should also be noted that my vending machine habit also meets all three criteria for future condemnation. But I refuse to face the evil in which I (and the Entenmann's Corporation) am complicit.


--Straight Guy


Oddyoddyo13 said...

Hmmm....I don't know about "condemning". People make mistakes, people believe things that others don't...doesn't make them bad per se (Unless they've, you know, murdered someone or something. That's definitely condemning.) its more like what you believe in.

Hold on, that was confusing. Let me start again-you know how there are two sides of every argument? Well, you think you're right, and you won't back down, and vice versa. Its what's right that people get mixed up with-their beliefs can sometimes differ from the best thing to do in a situation.

But that's a very hard thing to admit. Its not worth condemning someone for.

Straight Shooter said...

Some condemn your vending machine diet in the present...but, only because you continue to maintain your svelte boyish figure. ;-)

Straight Guy said...

I don't know Oddy, the article implies that folks who have information (beyond their core beliefs) that change is needed and still argue in favor of staying the course, face harsh judgement in the future.

If you loudly campaigned against Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, how should you be judged by history? If you burned copies of Huckleberry Finn or wrote that Elvis was a grave threat to values and decency, do you just get to say "whoops" and move on?

SteveA said...

It's a tough call - each generation views can be guided by the groups they are in and how insular those groups are - take for instance - the modern Nazis - we have to fear them and the next generation who would be worse off because that hate is inbreed!

It does take a battle to win a war - so now it seems to be on in America about gay rights and same sex marriages - gays aren't as afraid as they were before - and that's because there's nations like Argentina, mexico and South Africa to look at and follow!

Gingerella said...

I think you're absolutely correct in that the gay rights (military, marriage) issue is going to be remembered as the biggest civil rights issue of our day.

Other things I think will be looked back on with a rueful smile are Hummers, and the McMansion phenomenon.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

True SG. But you have to admit that, at the time, many people thought Elvis WAS a grave threat...I understand that mistakes are made, and I agree that you can't just say you made a mistake and call it good. But the other side of that is that they really believed in those things-at the time.

Straight Shooter said...

People have believed in a lot of things that were acceptable "at the time" but have been later condemned through the ages:

The Gladiatorial Games
The Inquisition
The Nazis
Uncle Joe...Stalin
The Other Joe...McCarthy

But, in each instance, there were those who saw through the hype, spin, propaganda, etc. and tried to speak out against what they saw as wrong.

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