Post No.: 0112
Like throughout history so far, people, maybe fifty to a hundred years in the future, might look back to today and think that our generation was strange, blind or naïve regarding many things we currently culturally, ethically and possibly even scientifically believe in. Yet every generation broadly arrogantly felt in their time that they knew the absolute best and all there was to really need to know to live and shape their societies; and this applies to our generation too.
Although everyone can see that every new generation in the past has consecutively become educationally wiser and wiser (the total pool of human knowledge has only grown over time so far) – many people still tend to believe that their own generation was/is the wisest of all time (the ‘golden age’ of this or that), hence elders preach to their children and won’t listen as much in return. Elders do generally have much wisdom to share but they should sometimes listen to their children’s generation too and not just demand that their children should listen to them as the absolute authorities. Naturally, some specific things get better (e.g. natural explanations for phenomena previously ascribed to supernatural causes) and some specific things can get worse (e.g. ideas regarding fervent nationalism for some of those who didn’t live through or learn enough about WWII) from one generation to the next, but children tend to be correct when they claim that their parents are now out of touch! Well this is the same as when you probably realised one day that your own parents’ generation became out of touch regarding something!
Like how we judge some of the views and behaviours of the generations before us (e.g. regarding slavery, racism, women’s rights, gender or sexual orientation tolerance, physical disability/ability, mental health, environmental concerns, imperialism or colonialism) – although progress has overall been made today – future generations will highly likely still judge some of the views of our generation as naïve, over-simplistic and/or immoral, and they’ll likely be as ‘correct’ in judging us as we deem ourselves ‘correct’ in judging the generations before us. And these changes in attitudes will be down to cultural evolution, which will include an evolution in the amount of knowledge and understanding acquired, more than inherent genetic evolution.
Although it’s hard to predict what far future generations will find immoral about our generation (apart from maybe still finding that our actual behaviours regarding gender and racial equality, environmental protection, animal rights and the like still had some ways to go), it might regard things like having a universal basic income, sentient robot rights if we ever answer how consciousness arises, maybe even living plant rights, or understanding that there should be no natural privilege accorded to one’s talents or work ethic, just like societies have begun to understand that there should be no natural privilege accorded to one’s ethnicity or gender because no one chooses what they’re born with? Civil rights and women’s suffrage, for instance, are considered ‘no-brainers’ or ‘yes obviously’ by most enlightened people today – but this wasn’t always the case. So what will even more enlightened people in the future think are ‘no-brainers’ that we don’t today? Who alive right now knows for sure?
To be more accurate, it’s not really about a person being from this or that generation but about who’s making better-informed decisions. Of course some individuals within a generation will hold opposing views to others from the same generation. But you’ll likely make better-informed decisions the more you know, and since the pool of knowledge has only grown over time so far – although there may be blips along the way – later generations in general are overall likely in the long-term trend going to make better-informed decisions than earlier generations in general.
We also cannot say that the quest for actualised gender and racial equality, for instance, is just a ‘cultural phase’ which will eventually pass, or it ebbs and flows like prawn cocktail goes in and out of fashion – it’s generally one-way progress due to science revealing that every gender or ethnicity is overall equal. There are differences on average but there’s no objective superior or inferior group and they’re overall equal and so should be treated as equals (well for a start they’re all genetically human rather than any gender or ethnicity being ‘subhuman’ and e.g. only fit as slaves, and there’s so much mixing of genes that ethnicity categories are highly blurred or arbitrary. Even gender lines are blurry i.e. intersex people such as those with XXY or XYY chromosomes, and they’re just the physically obvious blurs rather than those that are mental), or at least the variance and overlap between the individuals of any gender or ethnicity is so great that what matters more is judging each individual as an individual rather than prejudging anyone based on their gender or ethnicity (e.g. some women are physically stronger than some men).
Therefore these things aren’t merely a matter of the whims of each cultural time period that might wax or wane in the future but due to the ever-increasing understanding of each other/things over time (as long as people pay attention to such information that is!) And who knows for absolute certain what people will understand more about in the future? This is why no generation should ever think it knows all it needs to know.
So never be afraid to admit you were wrong or have become out of touch, even with respect to your strongest and longest held worldviews. Although not all change is improvement, improvement involves change. Don’t ever be obstinately loyal to a political affiliation or single philosophy but be adaptable to new findings and new circumstances. Those who fall out of touch with the latest scientific findings and wisdom are those who stick firmly to their views via confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance, no matter the shift in the preponderance of evidence or logical argument.
Even right now, examples of lots of scientific research and knowledge have yet to filter down into general mainstream knowledge or therefore ‘common sense’ – even some things that first came to light many years or decades ago. There are lots of examples from the field of psychology, for instance. Regarding one of the aforementioned cases, the term ‘hermaphrodite’ (although not an accepted term for intersex anymore) has been understood and used for decades or maybe even centuries, yet many people today still believe there are only two distinct genders. Outmoded beliefs still persist even in countries where education is easily accessible – the information is out there but we cannot force people to read and learn it. So sometimes the opportunities are there but people just don’t want to take them (e.g. there are many free MOOCs available or this blog is free to access if you have an Internet-connected computer (where much of what is written here is based on what has been learnt from taking online courses for several years) but people still need to put in the personal effort to do some ‘long’ reading!) Hence you must actively seek knowledge and education because the knowledge won’t simply come to you. (The problem with ‘common sense’ is that it’s common rather than advanced.)
So building upon Post No.: 0077 about the need to keep up-to-date with the latest findings and possible shifts in the overall confidence of what we think we understand (not just individually but collectively as a species) – be open to and seek new information. Embrace facts that don’t fit into your current worldview – regularly and continually seek to update your knowledge and worldviews based on updated data. Some things taught at school go out of date but most adults tend to stop their formal education after they’re at most about 25 years old. I also believe that people need to continue to formally take exams (or mini-tests) throughout their lives to test the factual knowledge that shapes their beliefs too. An informal, social and mainstream media-led education, in large parts, only presents an over-sensationalised and over-simplified picture of the world, and maybe a biased one too based on the particular news outlets or sources one has personally chosen to rely on. And informal gossip with other people who also don’t know enough about a particular subject (or who generally believe in the same things as each other already) isn’t a good or complete way to update or test your knowledge or views either. Formal education should really be a continuing and regular part of one’s furry life until the day one reaches the grave – just like exercise!
So like if you think your elders are out of touch or naïve in today’s world – the next generation will likely think of you in exactly the same way if you don’t continue your own education until the day you die. The bias and arrogance is thinking that one’s own generation is the generation of perfect enlightenment and cannot be improved upon. Once you think you know enough and stop learning, you’re falling behind.
The younger one is, the easier it is to learn as much as possible due to the effects of brain ageing/reduced neuroplasticity, but it’s never technically too late to learn new stuff. And well if/when one is to be ‘set in one’s ways’ – it’d be best to be set in a way that understands as many different perspectives as possible and with a mind that conducts in critical thinking and ‘devil’s advocate’ self-questioning. If one is to be rigid in thinking – be rigid in diverse thought and be stuck in a habit of questioning things.
Question traditions, question the status quo, check facts, check statistics, question yourself, question everything! It matters not what you or other people believe. Take nothing given at face value. Be neither prejudicial nor lenient. For every cause you support, you must also periodically question everything you currently believe coming from your own side too. Be always curious and ask questions like a 5-year old – don’t just passively accept the given answers or stories without scrutiny. Science is precisely about testing and challenging beliefs, hypotheses and theories – nothing is accepted without critical analysis, and checking for new evidence will always be ongoing in case something new contradicts a prior-held conclusion (e.g. we cannot ever be 100% certain of understanding all the different types of stars there are until we’ve checked every single star that has ever existed, exists today and will ever exist in the universe – that’s why the endeavour of science will forever keep on searching for more information, and so should we).
Woof! Unless you’re still at school, can you think of anything you learned or believed when you were at school that has been personally updated or refined since? If so, please tell us by using the Twitter comment button below. Hopefully you can think of something because as the world of knowledge has grown, you’ve grown too. One thing for me is a shift from thinking that the world is black or white, that good or bad, or right or wrong, was always clear – to an understanding that most things are far more nuanced than that.