OP-ED: The Foolish Hypocrisy of “What We Had is Good Enough”

Hey readers! Taking a moment from Fireteam Freelance to make a quick post. One that, well … Let’s just see how this goes. But first, a heads up that Colony and Jungle have picked up something like six new Five-Star reviews/ratings in the last week! Welcome new readers, and thank you for leaving your thoughts! I’m glad you’re loving Colony and Jungle!

Okay, news over! This post, like some here on Unusual Things, is one of those posts inspired by an actual conversation. In this case said conversation was between myself and an individual who shall remain nameless, but who is an outspoken critic of the “younger generations.”

Note: If you thought “Oh, a boomer!” or “OK boomer” then you’re on the right track here. Anyway, this individual holds that the social difficulties of today aren’t difficulties at all, that they’re simply a byproduct of the younger generations being lazy and incompetent, and that no one has had it harder than their generation (red flag much?).

But … that’s not where I’m going with this. No, I want to use this interaction to show the hypocrisy of a mindset that is, unfortunately, bought into by many. The idea that “Well, we had it good enough, so anything past that we perceive means you’re coddled/weak/less than us.”

Let me give you an example. The individual I was in the conversation with gave their “example” of “you have it so much better than the generation before you who had it so bad, how dare you complain about anything” by bringing up cell phones. Cell phones and smart phones, they argued, were just a sign of a coddled, weakened generation. ‘The younger generation doesn’t have money,’ they argued, ‘because they spend it on cell phones, which they don’t need. If they were really poor, they’d get rid of their cell phones.’

Okay, now despite the holes of logic that one could pilot a star cruiser through (such as even basic, minimum-wage jobs—so you know, banks, retail, medical, etc—requiring their employees have cell phones for scheduling, 24-7 access, etc), this person didn’t stop there. They just had to “drive the point home.”

‘When I was the age of the younger generation, the apartment block I lived in had one phone, at the end of the hall. Most used it only once a week to call someone important like their family.’ And here’s the moment where they messed up. They then finished if ‘If it was good enough for me and my generation, then it’s good enough for you.’

I responded in a way that caught them off-guard. I asked why they felt they needed to use the phone, if a letter worked just as well. They replied that why shouldn’t they use the phone? After all, it was there to be used.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘But did your parents have access to a phone like that when they were your age?’

‘Of course not,’ they quickly retorted. ‘They sent letters. There was no phone.’

‘Then why didn’t you send letters?’ I asked. ‘After all, if it was good enough for them, shouldn’t it have been good enough for you? You didn’t need to use a phone.’

Instant. Anger. And cue the rant.

And a rant it was. I was acting incredibly disrespectful, according to them, for daring to question their use of the phone. As they loudly proclaimed, the phone was there. Why shouldn’t they use it?

At which point they were caught in hypocrisy, and I pointed out that it was foolish to proclaim a younger generation disrespectful, lazy, deadbeat, Et al, for using the technology and innovation available to them, when this individual had naturally done the same thing.

At that point it ceased to be a conversation, and became a louder rant from this individual as, now caught by their own logic, really went off on the younger generation. Disrespectful, lazy … you know the tirade.

Okay, so why share this story? Because like it or not, this concept, or belief, has sunk into a wide portion of society. This individual from the story? Not the first person I’ve heard similar from. There’s this odd fixation in society currently that some such point in history (the one a generation grew up in) was the peak. And anyone who’s got it rough today? Well, look at all this stuff they have access to! Don’t they know how great that stuff is, or how cheap it’s become! How entitled they are for being paid low wages when there’s all this stuff they have access to that’s so much above what came before?

There may be some of you that are nodding and thinking “Yes, this makes sense.” And yes, it is true that society, as a whole, tries to trend upward. But it’s the denial of that upward trend that makes this hypocritical argument possible.

Take, for example, the television. A favored argument of people buying into this hypocritical argument is that “TVs are so much cheaper today than they were when I was _____ age, therefore you don’t appreciate what you have. In my day, we had to scrape and save to afford a television set! They’re all cheaper now!”

Well … yes and no for one. If you pull up an advertisement from 1970s, you’ll see that a nice color television ran between $400-$500 … which is $2,600-3,400 adjusted for today, and there are plenty of nice televisions that cost that much and higher. The technology has improved, yes.

But beyond that, that’s what the world does. The same generation that likes to drop the TV example? When their parents were children, an AM radio cost $35 … a whopping $462 dollars today. But when today’s generation was young? A better AM/FM radio with a clock cost a whole $10 … or $63.45 today.

Literally ten times less in the span of the single generation. Should their parents then, have decried them for their “ease” and the progress society had made?

Of course not. Not unless they’d also wanted to be hypocrites. Or selfish.

But somehow, something seems to have gone wrong for a lot of the minds of, well, a particular generation. Not all of them. But a lot of them. Many have become convinced that, for whatever reason (I’ll get to my theory on that in a moment) those that come after them should be demonized for embracing the same march of progress that they themselves benefited greatly from. And that although they themselves had hardships, trials, and difficulties despite all the benefits they embraced with that march forward, those coming after them cannot have hardships, trials, or difficulties because of that same match.

As I said, it’s foolishness. And as for why? Well, I think it has to do with pride.

Society always advances. It’s intrinsic. Children before 1954 died to polio. Children after 1954 were vaccinated. Children in 1918 played with wooden blocks, children in 1964 lego blocks, and in 2016 Minecraft blocks.

Society advances.

q5tmfm14rpw31But … in the US currently, there’s a generation that quite a few members seem resistant to that. Maybe it’s because they were one of the first to grow up under a 24-hour news cycle telling them how amazing they are. Maybe it’s because they grew up under a system (and near motto) that “America is the greatest place on Earth” (and thereby, so are you).

I don’t know. But now that age has set in and newer generations, younger generations are trying to rise into society and push it onward, it’s resulted in a pushback that doesn’t make sense. Maybe in their mindset, they see the march of society as a threat to their “position” as the greatest. It “can’t” be better than anything they had or their position is “threatened.”

I don’t know. Not for certain. After all, I’m not one of them. But what I do know is that a lot of the pushback, regardless of why it persists, is utterly hypocritical. Criticizing a generation (or age) for being part of the march of progress that the criticizer made use of (and likely still does)? Hypocrisy. Insisting that because things have progressed, therefore there are no trials or difficulty? Foolishness.

And yet somehow both those ideas seem to have merged into one for a pushback against younger generations and against moving forward. As if the invention of the cell phone wiped out homelessness, or unemployment, and those things cannot exist. Or would only cease to exist if someone forwent their use.

Little about it makes sense, even when examined from an illogical perspective. But somehow, it’s a position I’ve heard time and time again from far too many people.

But if a hundred million people say it or a dozen, it still doesn’t change the hypocritical foolishness of it. And personally, taking such a stance? It’s selfish and prideful. Who wouldn’t want to leave a better world for those who come after them? A safer world, or a more advanced one? Such was the pursuit of billions of parents, inventors, and creators over the years. They aspired to create better art. To create better cures. To create better machines. Better harvests. Better roads. Better buildings. Better transport.

It’s the height of selfishness, pride, or perhaps both, personally, to have taken all that advancement and then decry anyone who tries to take it further. Can you imagine what would have changed in human history if entire swaths of civilization had adapted that mindset?

“Those who embrace these ‘immunizations’ are weak, lazy, feckless good-for-nothings, and should be ostracized and decried for not just letting those who are weak die, like we did!”

“A steam engine? Everything about that is wrong and you should feel terrible. We have arms and horses, and there are no problems, logistical or otherwise, that could make this steam engine a better choice than a horse!”

“A pulley? How dare you disrespect your elders by doing it differently and with less effort! You should be crippled by overwork by 35 like the rest of us! What, you want to live to be 40 like some hoity-toity noble?”

“Indoor plumbing? You’re such a lazy git. You should be prepared to spend an hour or more of every day fetching water like I did, rather than having water come to you. What are you going to do with that extra hour each day, huh? You’re just lazy.”

Thankfully, while there may have been a few village idiots who expressed such opinions back in the day, the majority of society at the time saw the advantages for what they were. Eight out of ten children not dying from smallpox. Shipping that opened up inland continents. More work for less labor. Trillions of hours saved.

And yet now some argue that it’d be “unfair” to those who came before to advance. That those who do are the villains of the global stage. Or that because of these advances, other things that they didn’t solve must have vanished as well, as if a GPS is able to stabilize financial markets and magically create jobs.

“What we had is good enough” as an argument is nothing more than a foolish bit of conceited, prideful thinking.

If this post feels like it’s hitting two things that are similar but different, well, that’s because it is, and because a lot of people are conflating them into one and using that to, well, push. As I said, it is illogical. And hypocritical. So yeah, it’s kind of a muddled mess.

So then where does that leave me? Or rather, where does it leave us? As in, me and you readers?

Well, I don’t want to leave you sitting here with an incomplete thought, that’s for sure. Yes, I’ve picked a common argument apart and pointed out some flaws with it (admittedly large ones), but I don’t want to stop there. Rather, I want to follow both ideas all the way through and present a, as I see it, more grounded take on both paths.

So first, the idea of technology and society progressing. This is both key and a needed part of human development. We should never look at where we are and say “this is good enough” when it comes to our technological and societal development. There’s always some direction to grow that can make things better for everyone. Vaccines. Medication. Canned food. Self-driving cars. Cell phones. Yes, even automation.

We should want to leave the world a better place than we left it for those who come after. Now, what you think that is may vary a little, but at the end of the day, we’re meant to grow, not stagnate.

Now, the flipside of that. Growth isn’t always easy. There are growing pains. There are missteps. Sometimes things create more trouble than good at first, and that can spiral for a while before we gain control and a surer idea of what we’re dealing with. We’re seeing that with things like phones. Is it legal for your employer to contact you 24-7 whenever they want to? Well … no. You have zero legal obligation to be at their beck and call. But because business went there before the law caught up (and it still hasn’t really caught up) and so now we’re living in a work world where many businesses just assume that they own you like any piece of kitchen equipment, at their beck and call.

But does that mean we should give up cell phones? No, it does not. Progress and change are always difficult, yes, but in the long run things become better. Cell phones have revitalized entire nations that needed such a valuable communications tool. Safety and emergency alerts have been redefined. GPS units in the hand of everyone has made travel safer than ever.

At the same time, this sort of progress also doesn’t mean that old problems, or recurring ones, such as homelessness or disease, will simply vanish. Indeed, sometimes new technology can make things for a time worse (and we’re seeing that now with the US job market, washed away by technology that’s barely understood by many and entirely unregulated). And it also doesn’t mean that new problems can’t arise. Just because people swapped letters for phones didn’t mean that there were no new issues with using phones. Both a letter and a phone suffer from a badly-recalled address, for example, but only a phone can give you a busy signal. Or a telemarketer.

Or ring off the hook constantly as your boss realizes that now they can reach you any time of day.

What I’m saying is that while technology and society march onward in improvement, that doesn’t mean everything is just automatically better for everyone involved. Stopping the death of eight out of ten children from smallpox, for example, means a population explosion as children stop dying and start living and eating. That means food prices go up. Now most families have to pay more for food. That’s a struggle.

Then more people become farmers, because there’s a demand and there are more people. The price of food drops. Things stabilize.

Then new tech is invented to make farming easier and cheaper. The price of food drops. As does the number of farm employees by half. Food is cheap again, but there’s no work for half of the previous farmers.

All this was caused by someone curing smallpox. Does this mean that smallpox shouldn’t have been cured? No, no more than it means that curing smallpox fixes the economy forever. Or that because people today have access to cheaper TVs and computers that the economy is clearly fixed and no longer capable of having problems.

But at the end of the day, should we shutter progress? NO. If I actually believed that we as a species had peaked, well … turn off the lights and shut the door. Time for mankind to end.

Because that’s what a lack of progress is. If you have no progress, you have stopped. In a system where stopping is, literally, synonymous with death.

So then, bringing us back … I guess at the end of this rambling post … don’t listen to hypocritical fools.

I kid, though that’s not bad advice. No, at the end of all this, I’ll say this:

Mankind is always progressing. And we should. We should strive to improve and to grow. Ceasing that growth out of some sort of misplaced envy, or worse, jealousy, that those who come after us “might have it better” is … well, stupid, selfish and self-destructive.

But just because some things become better doesn’t mean everything does. Or that these new creations won’t create new problems, or disrupt old ones. “Unemployment” for example, has existed as long as job markets have. On the other hand, most people didn’t use to have to worry about overeating. But in the modern world many do. And both sides of “starvation harvest versus harvest of plenty” still have to worry about malnutrition, though for different reasons.

But we shouldn’t stop trying to make the world better. And we shouldn’t be angry or jealous of those who may in some way have “more” of what we wanted. I mean, that’s literally a commandment. And sabotaging human progress in that pursuit? Well … yikes. Grow up.

Seriously folks, let’s all keep moving forward. Let’s quit pretending a new TV cured cancer somehow, and embrace a newer, better tomorrow rather than decrying it.

Me, I’m hoping for even more robots.

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