Stagnation

     I was always happy to reconnect with old friends I’d lost touch with over the years, but in the back of my mind I harbored the fear that life shaped us into completely different people then we once were – that our respective experiences changed our outlooks and personas into two people no longer compatible for friendship. This is always a possibility and indeed is a fact of life, but one can’t help but hope the friendship can continue where it left off. This has been a recurring theme in the recent months, and although I’ve encountered it time and time again I still feel the tinges of that fear when running into a familiar face.

     And yet, this has almost never been the case. When running into old friends, it as though no time had passed at all since our last meeting. Rather than being overjoyed by this (that my fear was all for nothing), I find myself disgusted. ‘How have you not changed?!’ I scream inside my head. Throughout the past five years, not a thing has occurred to change your opinions or personality? How were you left behind as time moved forward?

     This was illustrated when, while catching up with a friend, an acquaintance of his who he had not seen in a similar amount of time approached. Their reunion was also a happy one, and while speaking the stranger embraced my friend saying ‘Man, you haven’t changed a bit’. My friend had the biggest grin upon hearing this (for it was given as a compliment) and I realized that it was indeed accurate. He hadn’t changed a bit. Nothing in recent life has affected nor moved him so that he changed in one small way, and he wore that stagnation as a badge of honor. A quality that is anathema to the concepts of life and growth is taken to be a compliment of the highest honor. Your current weekends are identical to your weekends half a decade ago. Your evenings are still spent using substance to fast forward through your life. You have wrapped a blanket of familiar experience around your body and refuse to leave the safety of your cocoon. And worse yet, your are proud of these things.

    I was foolish to fear that my friends have changed. Now I fear that they stay the same.

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Death of Decency

It’s uncontroversial to state that we live in what may be the most polarized political environment our country has ever faced. Pair this with our current level of technological advancement that affords every average person a ‘voice’ and you have a recipe for chaos. With this greater tendency for every conversation to become politically charged, there has been a rise in dishonest discussion tactics that is leading to a degradation in our exchange of ideas.

Our current political climate has radicalized many into distinct ‘political tribes’ that have no interest in learning from those who they may not agree with. Therefore, many discussions between these groups have the unsaid goal of ‘winning the argument’, not resolving the disagreement. With this clear objective in mind, it is more common to see individuals attempting to discredit their opponents by painting them in the worst possible light. People will associate their opponents with the absolute worst group or person who also disagrees with their position (Nazis, racists, etc) because their opponent now must distance themselves from said group or risk giving this imagined association validity, thus taking the focus off their position in the disagreement. The people that propose these links don’t truly believe that their opponents are associated with these groups, but do so as a debate tactic because their objective is to win the argument.

Worse yet, modern technology provides a record of everything a person has said over social media sites which is available to the world. Because these ‘receipts’ are available, dishonest debaters will ‘research’ their opponent’s accounts for any unsavory viewpoint that may have been said in the past. They will hone in on three or four words and stretch them to extreme hyperbole to make the opponent out to be a vile, abhorrent human being. It is much easier to force your opponent to defend a statement made five years ago than it is to explain why your position on the issue is better than the opponent’s. Again, this is a tactic used to discredit your opponent because, as stated earlier, the goal is to win not learn.

These tactics are incredibly damaging for two reasons: shutting down the discussion reduces your exposure to alternative viewpoints and removing the necessity of defending your own viewpoints prevents you from fully exploring what you believe and why you believe this particular position. Setting your sole objective as ‘being right’ limits your growth and results in intellectual stagnation. When you view opposing viewpoints as ‘wrong’ opinions that ‘need to be defeated’ you further reinforce your current positions and view anything outside of those positions as ‘enemy’ positions. It is vital that we abandon these dishonest tactics and return to a climate where disagreements can take place civilly and decently. Our future growth depends on it.

Generation Contrarian

It’s no secret that in modern times each successive generation attempts to find its identity by rebelling against the values of the previous generation. Slowly at first, but beginning with Generation X society has become exponentially more liberal and provocative with each wave of youth. This phenomenon has radically increased in every direction, resulting in today’s youth opposing the views of those merely decades older at nearly every turn.

G.K. Chesterton predicted the plight of today’s youth in the following quote – ‘The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us’. The gospel of ‘progress’ is preached at every turn, whether by those demanding diversity in every population, those who believe it’s a woman’s turn to be president, or those who champion a religion that was virtually nonexistent in the West. When pressed on why they hold these views, the answer usually directly references the past (‘these institutions were always predominantly white men / we have only had male presidents / it is our values which are truly wrong’). This doesn’t denote a conclusion reached through rationality but instead by following the maxim ‘change = good‘.

American author Edward Abbey once wrote ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell‘. Those who idolize change above all else form their opinions around whatever is opposite the common belief. This is a trend which eventually results in a valueless society, where people form their opinions by what others believe rather than a sense of rationality or morality. This was foreshadowed by the rise of the Hipster movement, where everything well-liked was uncool. Hipsters feigned depth through contrarianism, operating under the mindset that by rejecting the commonly-held belief (the mainstream) they were more enlightened than others. As these people grew older and became more politically involved, this attitude followed, resulting in the birth of the Progressive Movement (more aptly described as the Change Party).

Those who worship change neglect to acknowledge that our society exists not in spite of the past, but because of it. Changing every aspect of society because one believes that change in and of itself is an improvement will eventually knock our society’s legs out from under it, causing it to crumble. Improvement is a worthy goal, but it should be pursued by building upon our foundations rather than tearing them down.