For reasons of an older relative’s birthday, someone I respect and love, and whose opinions I discount — often — with “he is a man of his time” I was thinking again of the ephemeral quality of human life.
No, I’m not sad about it, and it’s not even a depressing thing. It’s more that we humans tend to act like we’re forever and as if the opinions and views of our age will last forever. There is to the human soul — I think — an intimation of eternity that makes it hard for us to see how temporally bound to a passing time and place we are.
We live in our little niche and get to see — nowadays — maybe all of 90 years or so (said relative informed me you’re only old after 80, so stop whining and go work) but we behave like it’s forever, and like what we get to see lasts forever.
Hence all the talks about how we shouldn’t read the racist/sexist/eeevile people of the past, because you know, they don’t accord with how the world is currently seen. And the direction we see is, of course, the right one and forever.
It never occurs to the people saying this that their opinions, views and intent may be reviled in the future. No, it doesn’t matter if their idea is towards greater equality of male and female (end results, not even before the law, mind, which yes, is a problem.) The classical world, having more surplus production and therefore “wealth” than the medieval world allowed greater equality of females in society (at least as usual in certain classes, at certain times.)
The medieval world which came after was against it. And it’s no use all your saying that that is not right. Where are you judging right and wrong? By the standards of your time? Your time too shall be judged and found wanting.
Take my disagreements with this older relative: he believes in a much greater place for the state than I do. No, he’s not leftist. But his seeing the 20th century unfold in fire and blood did not cure him of the idea that what we need are good men at the reins. Because that’s how his mind was formed at a very young age. None of us does well at stepping beyond the assumptions instilled before we were even literate. To the extent I do a little better at shedding those, it is because I had to acculturate to a new nation and beliefs, a process that leads you to question everything and is a little going insane.
So, if the future is to laugh at us; if what is considered moral and virtue signaling in our time isn’t “forever right” how do we live? Who is to guide us? What do we believe in?
I’ll tell you what I told an acquaintance who is just now wading into public politics and discussions hinging on opinions (and history, and study, but mostly opinions): Don’t go with the loudest voice; don’t oppose progressives just because they’re progressives; don’t turn all the lies on their head and think that’s the truth; don’t cut slack to those on your side behaving badly (sure, defend them when they’re under attack, if the attack is unfair, but still call them out on their bullsh*t.)
Find out what your principles are. Examine them ruthlessly. Don’t be shocked if in some you agree with the left. (For instance, I want equality under the law for men and women, and I’m quite happy with more women in stem, but since I view people as individuals, I don’t believe in SHOVING women into stem to prove an ideological point. I also think gay marriage is a stabilizing force in society, because marriage is a quintessential bourgeois institution, and once gay people enter into it, they stop being weapons of the left. [Though I also believe in the right of churches to refuse to perform said marriage, because the civil institution and the religious one are separate, even if people get confused about it.] Also, bourgeois institutions will save the west. We need to teach our kids about them more. ALL our kids.) Don’t be surprised if in some you disagree both with the left and the right.
You can’t guess whether the future will decide you’re a monster. So if you’re going to be pilloried as a monster, make sure it is for something you believe in. Examine your beliefs. Get them down to “Here I stand. I can do no other.” And once you’re there, let the attacks come: attacks now, attacks in the future, attacks in the past, if we discover time machines.
Once you found the things you truly believe in and are willing to fight for (even if future events can lead you to change your mind, because you’re only human and you’re not part of a cult) and you’re not following the weather vane of someone else’s opinions, you have a place to stand. And you can face eternity with a smile.