|The Third Culture||Ellis Rubinstein|
The Erosion of Traditional "Divides"
I believe the world to be experiencing an unprecedented erosion of traditional "divides". Yes, we can all point to examples of horrific ideological conflict, but such tribalism surely seems anachronistic to most of us. And that is because many of us have grown accustomed in the latter decades of the 20th century to a kind of social enlightenment that stems from urbanization, globalization, and the sharing of common information disseminated by our extraordinary new communication tools.
Now, it may seem obvious that nationalism and political and religious ideologies are having an increasingly hard time remaining "pure" in the face of increased face-to-face contact with those who see things differently from us. Moreover, we cannot easily cling to our most formative views when we increasingly find ourselves in conversation via phone and e-mail with others who see the world differently from us. And, finally, it must be ever more difficult to remain isolated in our views of others when we are surrounded by images of them often touching images on film and television.
Still, all this may have been discussed somewhat in various media. What especially intrigues me is the apparent erosion among relatively educated families of a different "cultural divide": the generational divide. What are the drivers of this shift? And what are its effects?
In my necessarily limited experience, I have observed that parents and children are increasingly "friends". It has been much noted that the Baby Boom generation and their children share many of the same interests in music. At formal events I think of my recent experience in Sweden attending the Nobel festivities teenagers and 20-somethings happily mingled with their elders who, if they were male, were dressed in cut-aways. Indeed, some of the young people were wearing special costumes in order to play roles in this highly traditional event. In my time, we would have seriously considered committing suicide before putting on costumes provided by our elders, then attending hours of events populated largely by our parents and grandparents, and finally dancing to "retro" music in the closest imaginable proximity to our parents and even grandparents.
I conclude from this and similar experiences that as this new millennium begins, a sort of truce has taken place between generations, with parents and children attempting to bridge divides that, in my view, ought naturally to exist between them. If I am correct about this, then surely there are major ramifications on our culture...and I'm not at all sure they would only be for the good. I worry, for example, that some needed element of rebelliousness is being "bred out" of the system of growing up. I worry that this may have an effect on creative thought. And I worry that the potential lack of tension between generations might lead to a kind of stagnation in the arts, humanities and sciences.
Am I alone in this concern? I personally haven't seen this topic addressed in the all-too-limited spectrum of publications I can personally scan. So maybe others have publicly shared this concern. If not, however, I vote for this as one of the most important underreported stories of our time.
ELLIS RUBINSTEIN is Editor of Science