I have always believed that humankind is on a ever-inclining evolutionary path. Granted, sometimes our progress is so gradual as to be all but invisible but over all, we continue to evolve. We follow Nature's timeline (or God's, if you prefer), not our own. And if anything seems certain about Mother Nature/God, it is that s/he is in no hurry. If it takes eons to arrive at wherever our eventual destination is meant to be, so be it.
I got into a discussion with a friend on a political group I belong to yesterday. She argues that America's greatest years are behind it and that the 60's were the best of times. (She's a liberal but conservatives agree although they believe the "greatest" years were the 50's - I think they are both wrong.)
My friend is just enough younger than me (57 to my 65) to romanticize that era. To the teenager she was then, it was an exciting tie-die decade with the sombre colors of the old culture swirled together with the bright hues of new ideas in an rainbow amalgam of conflicting views.
We were all having our consciousness raised - blacks, women. (Gays, maybe not so much). Although raised conciousnesses are generally good in the long-range scheme of things, you have to be young to get off on a steady diet of drugs and free love and rock and roll. You have to be young to believe that getting blasted with water hoses and beaten with billy clubs and hauled off to jail in handcuffs is fun. It isn't fun for the participants although they willingly put themselves in that position for what they see as a more just society.
We accomplished positive things in the 60's and 70's and some not so positive things. We made gains in civil rights and slightly fewer gains in women's rights. But, as the conservatives proclaim, we weakened the ties of family and while that meant more freedom for adults, it resulted in less security for children. My generation of mothers believed fathers and step-fathers and boyfriends were interchangeable. They're not. Have you ever seen those happy, muddy children on the cover of the Woodstock album? Do you really believe their stoned and naked Mamas were paying much attention to their welfare?
Eventually, as always happens with people, we rode the pendulum too far. Bobby was murdered and so was Martin Luther King. Woodstock turned into death at Altamont. The J's all died of overdose - Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix and Jim Morrison (along with lots of total unknowns). The non-military children turned against their brothers in uniform...until the roles were fatally reversed in Ohio.
We burnt out on all the ugliness and subsided back into the boredom of the 80's. We became Yuppies. Our greatest aspiration to live in a McMansion. Instead of "make love, not war", our new motto became - "hell with that, let's go make some money!" But that's all right. We fought our fight and no matter how much we backtracked, it wasn't all the way. It is never all the way. We took two steps forward in the 60's and then took one step back.
If that were not so, we wouldn't have an African-American president (who, with a few votes more, could just as easily been a woman president). We wouldn't have gay marriage prevailing in state after state. We wouldn't have an all-volunteer army (even the Bush/Cheney cabal wouldn't have dared to tell America's parents they planned to re-institute the draft).
The other side - those "the 50's were wonderful" people - know they are losing the culture wars which is why they are battling tooth and nail and getting entangled in the web of contraception and Personhood Amendments and anti-gay marriage issues. They are clawing to remain relevant but in the end, they are doomed.
The latest generation has seemed to be sleeping or at least playing video games and texting on their I-phones rather than paying attention to what is going on in society. But, it is time now for them to take their two steps forward. I believe the Occupy Movement is the start of that. Income equality is the next great rallying cry. Women are waking up to the realization that the gains their mothers made for them are under threat and organizing to defeat those threats. This great Awakening will also result in failures along with the successes, just as ours did.
Two steps forward, one step back. That's the way it always goes and though sometimes, it is discouraging, the end result is a steady snail's pace forward.