The Nation's Pulse

Looking Good

Gazing into the future of moral condemnation.

By 10.28.10

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You can tell a conservative from a liberal by those things each worries about. Conservatives tend to worry about things like creeping socialism and socialist creeps, while liberals worry about what their great-great-great-grandchildren will hate them for.

Conservatives couldn't care less about such things. After all, we'll be dead. Even our kids, conservatively speaking, will be dead. Do you think the ghosts of Cortez or Buffalo Bill Cody give a damn what we think about them? (They would probably think we were a bunch of softies, and in the main they would be right.)

But for those who do care, if only as a thought experiment, here then -- according to this "think piece" in the Washington Post -- is what our ungrateful, smug, condescending descendants will condemn us for:

Prisons, feed lots, nursing homes and the environment.

Really? That's all they got on us? Compared to past generations with their pogroms and lynchings, slave trading and, lest we forget, disco music, I'd say we look pretty good.

Anyway, I'm not at all clear why we would get blamed for these things. It's not like our generation invented prisons. Or nursing homes. I suspect that feed lots have been around for a few years. So has the clear-cutting of forests. Just read Jared Diamond's account of the collapse of Easter Island.

What's more, I happen to think the jailhouse a fine, albeit old fashioned, institution. The author, however, doesn't believe non-violent criminals should be locked up. I disagree. When thieves are behind bars they aren't smashing my car windows and stealing my GPS device. He believes in alternatives to prison -- not alternatives like public shaming, which might hurt a convict's self-esteem -- but alternatives like probation where the criminal is set free to smash my car window just as soon as I replace the last one he smashed. Apparently, the author considers loosing "non-violent" criminals onto an unprotected society -- no doubt he opposes gun ownership too -- the "moral" thing to do, which tells me his moral compass must have been stepped on by elephants.

Factory farming seems another odd choice. His biggest gripe is overcrowding. Not overcrowding in our cities, our schools, or even our emergency rooms, but in feed lots. I guess the livestock the author knows just aren't living la dolce vita. As a guy who is chained to desk in a fabric-covered cube nine hours a day beside a fat guy with gastro-intestinal problems, I have little sympathy for the living conditions of swine.

And why pick on those Baby Boomers who ditch their ancient relic of a parent in an (obscenely expensive) nursing home? Has the author never heard of karma, the circle of life, Nietzsche's eternal return of the same? Soon enough those selfsame Boomers will be taking mother's place at Delmar Gardens. After all, what comes around, goes around.

I DON'T DOUBT that future generations will be better stewards of the environment than we are. We are better stewards than were our grandparents. Water and air are cleaner today than fifty years ago because of legislation and technological advances. These advances will continue. For our great-great grandchildren to feel smug because they'll be born in a time of greater innovation is like me calling Aristotle a simpleton because he was wrong about the theory of gravity.

The author takes for granted that our descendants will be uber-compassionate, vegan liberals and not gun-owning, meat-chomping conservative-libertarians. This is by no means a certainty. (Apparently he has never seen A Clockwork Orange.) But don't take my word for it. The idea that we are becoming more liberal and compassionate will be overwhelmingly refuted in next week's election.

My generation -- Generation X -- may not have lived through the Great Depression, defeated communism and fascism, and made America the greatest nation on earth, but we haven't really done much in the way of global destruction either. That's because we are at heart a bunch of slackers, and prefer to gaze at our own navels or play video games, which is why we were the wrong generation to get behind the Bush Doctrine (spreading democracy to undemocratic countries), and explains how we managed to run up a $13 trillion debt. (Four in ten Gen Xers say they've got too much debt to consider investing or saving.)

Therefore, if a few future-scolds want to condemn us for nursing homes, prisons, and crowded feed lots, I say we respond in true slacker fashion: with a collective "whatever."

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.