Last evening, we heard a David Brooks lecture nearby that confirmed our appreciation for what he says and how he says it. We’re big fans. He gave a preview of his next book, an assessment of, among other things, what needs to happen to make it through our current “slough of despond” to our next phase as a culture and community. As usual, he draws a compelling conclusion based on solid history and analysis, and delivered with humor and accessibility.
The “we’re all in this together” generation that fought and emerged humbled from World War II yielded in the 60s to the “free to be you and me” generation that in the 80s and 90s spawned the “what does anything mean?” generation. We parents said “be free” and “go be you.” Be free to do what, exactly? They are yearning to know who they are; they are lonely and unconnected to institutions and beliefs of the past. And it’s not their fault. The imperative for their futures is to become embedded in communities, causes, relationships that they will commit to and build their lives in and around.
Brooks says he now understands that the 2016 election wasn’t about the usual big government/small government issue that has characterized the essence of the Democratic and Republican philosophies since forever. 2016 was about the growing gap between those who are relatively globalistic, progressive, forward-looking and technology-enabled (generally college-educated) and others who are relatively protectionistic, reactionary, tradition-bound and technology-phobic (generally high-school educated). I sensed this schism as early as the 80s in Silicon Valley as I participated in building the new world and read on the news about the dissolution of the steel and other industries in the rust belt. The divided forces of progress and regress were catalyzed by Trump, for and against, and in the end, guess what? A wrinkle in our election rules, which are unlike any other country’s election rules, allowed the underdogs to carry the day. (I mean here the combined impact of generations of gerrymandering, the edge effects of the electoral college system, and the aggregated disenchantment of lots and lots of voters, for a variety of reasons.)
New communities need forming based on new ideas about proximity. Who is my friend and neighbor? After 42 years of moving, staying awhile, and moving on, from one coast to the other and then to the middle, my wife and I are only really proximate, connected and committed, to people and groups that are far away, Facebook friends and family, and not the next-door neighbors. But I remain optimistic about it all. Recent tragedies, man-made and nature-borne have shown every time that people do feel connected, that they will create, almost instantaneously, communities of help and support, where none existed minutes before. At the crucial moments, we are suddenly all in this together, again.