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Some notes on a generational viewpoint

Some details on the FIRST-Ideals Network generational focus

Some people have asked, why seek to reconvene a group like this, based on an organization such as FIRST? After all, it was a generational group, for a generation which is now in quite a different stage, with more mature responsibilities. So why recreate a group which is linked to the ideas of a particular generation, and of a certain stage in life?

The answer, quite simply, is that it is the specific, unique experiences of Generation X, which give relevance to a generational focus, regardless of the stage of life which we might happen to be in.

One might then ask, how can a generational viewpoint have some particular relevance right now, given the complex issues facing the country? Let's deal with that in a second.

Right now, there is a large amount of polarization and divisiveness occurring. Each side in the national debate views the other as being totally opposed to the common good, and as being part of an irreconcilable world-view, without any common ground. This is particularly true in regard to the Iraq war, but also with other issues as well.

What would be the source for such divisiveness and polarization? It seems like this has been with us for a while. Where did it come from?

I feel there are several sources, but there are a few which seem particularly relevant. It seems to me that based on chronology, this atmosphere of polarization really got its start in the Sixties.

If you look at the politics of the last few decades, and the political discourse now, there are a few patterns which emerge, which can be illuminated by some trends which began in the sixties.

For example, the view of politics as a component of a larger cultural war, rather than as a search for solutions, has its roots in that era. Also, the assumption that a national undertaking like the Iraq War can all be summed up under the word "quagmire," and lead only to a discussion of accountability, instead of a deeper discussion of better alternative types of action.

I am not saying that opponents of the war are right or wrong. I am saying that the manner of discourse is part of a broader trend.

Also, I am not trying to assign some sort of generational blame, or to find some magical solution for restoring a positive atmosphere. I am saying that if you want to understand the current lack of common ground, of consensus, you need to look at certain trends over the last few decades, and see where they got their source. And you need to ask what it would take to offer an alternate perspective.

Remember that my original question was, what is the relevance of a generational viewpoint. I am suggesting that politics has taken a certain form due to certain assumptions from a specific era, and the experience of the generation which came of age in that era.

Thus, if you want to find a different perspective, it might be useful to take the common experiences and outlook of a new generation, beyond ideology, and use them to take a fresh look at current issues.

That actually was the original premise of FIRST and many similar groups at that time. They may not have phrased it quite that way, but they stemmed from the belief that there were certain critical basic issues which both parties were failing to address, and that Generation X should make its voice heard to bring more clarity, and to create an honest debate about the issues.

I am not saying that our group, here, can bring about this general change all by ourselves. I am saying that sooner or later, this change will probably happen anyway, so it might be useful to use our existing network and resources to discuss this in some way.

Also, I am not saying that this atmosphere is simply the work of one generation. It became dominant at one particular point in time, and has been basically accepted since then, as politics-as-usual. To change it might require an entirely different perspective.

There are a few things which are disturbing about the current political climate. It seems disturbing that Sen. Kerry and opponents of the war deeply criticize Pres. Bush, but do not then move to offer their own comprehensive plan for helping the less-developed in a positive way, or spreading democracy and economic success.

It seems disturbing that supporters of the war support our deep involvement in Iraq, but then do not need use that deep expenditure of effort and resources as a reason to move on to any broader discussion of how to cause positive change in other less-developed countries, or to look for more positive ways to create better conditions.

In general, it is disturbing to note the lack of common ground, of consensus. I also find it disturbing to note how often politicians take an issue like abortion, and highlight their narrowest differences in order to win votes, instead of seeking broader solutions. This is called "energizing one's base," but it really means "highlighting differences."

This is no great secret, but voters are so sure that there are no deeper problems to be addressed, they don't mind that politicians define themselves in this way. We need to restore that broader focus, of problems before they become crises.

It seems clear that eventually we will create politics based more on finding common ground, based on the need to actually get certain things done. Hopefully, we will be able to do this sooner rather than later, and in response to our own needs, rather than some worsening problem.

You are probably now saying that this is an optimistic scenario, or that this never actually happened in politics. The truth is, it did. During the Progressive Era, there arose a broad national consensus that something had to be done about the national monopolies, about overcrowded cities, about corrupt political systems. This led to the great era of reformers, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LaFollette, etc. People from opposing points of view, but united by the need to solve problems.

Furthermore, in the era of World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War, there were much more similarity between the two parties about how to get things done. This all changed in the era of Vietnam and Watergate.

I am not saying that polarization, by definition, will always change to something better. But it seems that right now, there are certain specific problems which will eventually compel a unified response, just like the problems of the Progressive Era, the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. These current problems include issues such as global warming, the rise of extremism, the growing gulf between haves and have-nots. There are other problems as well, but thee are some examples.

FIRST, and many similar groups of that era, originally arose as a response to the inability of the two main parties to talk honestly about the real issues, and their inability to offer real solutions, or a unified course of action.

That inability is still there. It has merely been buried under the complexity and urgency of the issues now facing us. Groups like ours, or like NCDD, are an attempt to take a step back, and to see if an alternate, broader approach can be found. I feel that our group can highlight the potential of doing this from a generational perspective. I feel there is much positive work which can be done this way. I hope you find this effort useful. Thanks very much for being part of this group.

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