This is the third post in a series about the changes I’ve seen happen over my lifetime (from the 1940s to the 2010s). See my introductory comments in Part 1.
Increased polarization between left and right; demonizing those who disagree with you
One glaring result of this polarization is the paralysis in Congress. They can’t seem to compromise on anything, and each party’s main goal is to destroy or discredit the other party. Everything in Washington is about the party or ideology, not about conducting the people’s business or working on behalf of those who elected you and on whose behalf you committed to work.
Sadly, Congress isn’t the only polarized institution. Churches are following the example of society rather than following the teachings of Jesus. Mainline denominations are divided over issues, especially regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Denominations are being torn apart, as we have seen in the Episcopal Church. Their split started with the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop, an openly practicing homosexual. What’s especially sad are the nasty battles that take place between the religious left (yes, there is such a thing) and the religious right at annual conferences, synods, etc. With all this animosity, one has to wonder, what ever happened to the teachings of Jesus? And then they wonder why they are losing members!
Preservation of the institution takes precedence over constituents; lack of respect
The government and other institutions lost a lot of respect in the 1960s and 1970s, partially as a result of the Vietnam War and the Nixon cover-up and resignation. In more recent times, it has become obvious that institutions are unable to police themselves. So when scandals or other problems occur, and lack of oversight or a cover-up are discovered, further respect is lost. The priest abuse scandals in the Catholic Church are good examples. Rather than getting the abusive priests out of the ministry immediately, the church passed them along to another parish, and then engaged in cover-ups.
The problem is that in most cases it’s all about the preservation of the institution, not about protecting the people you are supposed to serve. That’s been true of the Catholic Church, the legal profession, the medical profession, etc.
Increases in violence: mass shootings, gang killings, random acts
Society has become more violent, as we’ve seen with serial killers, mass shootings (even in elementary schools), gang killings, random acts of violence, road rage, and home invasions. There are rapes (including in the military), muggings, and the often violent stealing of thousands of smart phones each year.
Crime and violence have always been with us, but today I believe it is much worse than when I was younger. What’s happened?
I believe the driving factors are:
(1) Graphic violence portrayed on TV, in the movies, and on games. That can’t help but influence impressionable kids and create a climate in their minds in which violence is acceptable.
(2) Another influence is drugs. Addicts rob (and often commit violent acts in the process) to get money to feed their expensive habit. There is also violence between drug dealers, but innocent people occasionally get caught in the crossfire.
(3) Increasing poverty and a sense of hopelessness can drive some to crime and violence. High school dropouts with no job, no prospects, and nothing to do will often take drugs, rob to fund their habit, and seek “thrills” by committing random acts of violence.
(4) Poor parenting that does not teach children life skills, right from wrong, and a strong sense that crime and violence are unacceptable behaviors. Some kids learn their values in the streets where it’s often survival of the fittest (meaning survival of the most violent).
(5) Alienation of “different” youths from the mainstream, with bullying or other forms of harassment taking place against them. This sometimes leads to violence such as mass shootings in schools.
(6) Widespread availability of guns, including careless gun owners who don’t secure their weapons properly, thus enabling their children to easily get a gun. Another aspect of the availability problem is the fact that mentally ill people can easily buy guns.
Like crime and violence, bullying has always been with us, but today I believe it is more widespread and vicious. A cyber bully puts malicious stuff on the Internet for all to see, humiliating the victim publically. Girls seem to be into this kind of bullying in a big way, but when I was a kid, it seemed to me that it was mostly the boys and mostly physical (think of the neighborhood bullies who pick on Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story”).While that type of bullying certainly isn’t good, I believe the psychological bullying done today is more damaging to the frail egos of children. Hence the teen suicides that sometimes result from such bullying. Unfortunately parents and school officials don’t seem to be taking bullying seriously, and so it continues.
More on societal changes in a future post