While I have regularly remarked upon the peculiar customs and habits of people who lived before me, I never considered my own conventions particularly unusual. This of course is an absurdity promoted by the arrogant conviction that I am both modern and enlightened. We mock our ancestors for burning poor souls as witches but we seldom imagine our current philosophies to be so utterly distorted and cruel.
Without enlarging upon the obvious differences between ourselves and those who lived hundreds of years ago, the fundamental split between contemporary people is that which exists between the young and the old. There are those who attempt to bridge the gap by adopting the styles, fashions or habits of the other, but generally speaking the difference is between people under or over 21 years of age. Like it or not, if you’re over 21 years of age you’ve probably already become contaminated by tradition (things like leaving school, getting a job, living on your own, having debt and ambition); or else the frivolity of youth has begun to look inappropriate (things like skateboarding, wearing preposterous clothing, generally failing to adopt “adult” habits). It likely astounds both young and old to consider that a mere generation’s difference can foment such notable differences. In short it isn’t long before any one of us is out-of-date.
Changing fashion eventually becomes commonplace if you live long enough. Fashion simply repeats itself. There is some logical strength to the observation; there are only so many alternatives available (though I can’t imagine we’ll ever return to the Victorian dress code).
What however is less trite is the change of thought. It is arguable that within one generation there may not be considerable change but I think I am safe in saying that over a space of 60 years the differences are more conspicuous. I have chosen the 60-year period because it was about sixty years ago that I became aware of my surroundings and the people in it; I had graduated from that chrysalis that is early childhood and joined the rest of the world.
My earliest recollections centre upon popular music which has since transformed from Elvis Presley to Connie Francis to the Beatles to Motown to the Mamas & Papas to Disco to Janis Joplin to Gordon Lightfoot to Punk and HipHop. There were the dances associated with each of those musical styles (the last one I can recall being “line dancing” which I was already only enjoying from the sidelines). Punctuating the trendy musical genres was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 which for me was an unbelievable event that catapulted the secure world of North America into the bizarre affairs of what was considered only to happen in a foreign country. The madness of the world now touched our shores. The succeeding Vietnam War, the hippie movement and recreational drugs insinuated our society as a whole. In the early 1970s we were gripped by the periphrastic Age of Aquarius.
The “flower power” era ushered in a consciousness of equality and freedom. Sexual and racial perspectives changed radically. Birth control, abortion and feminism were front-page topics. The entire world ultimately embraced the debate about the sanctity of marriage and spin-off gay and lesbian rights (which have slowly enlarged to include bisexual and transgender human rights).
Not surprisingly these predominantly “western” modifications aroused deep fears and reactions from fundamentalist religious organizations importantly including what is now widely known as Sharia Law in North African countries. These fundamentalist rebuttals have in turn precipitated a growing abandonment of religion by people in both Europe and North America. Traditional churches and synagogues of mainstream religions readily admit the decline of membership. An increasingly well-educated populace is less and less convinced of the palatability and authenticity of Biblical authority. Religion, being identified in many instances with the cause of violence to others in general and women in particular, is getting a decidedly bad name. We have yet to espouse the principles enunciated by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason (1796) but that revolutionary thinker (and friend of Benjamin Franklin) is at last earning open recognition in the United States.
About his own religious beliefs, Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
No glance back upon the past sixty years would be complete without an acknowledgement of the vast change wrought by television, fax machines, memory typewriters, computers, the internet, CB radio, cellular telephones, robotics, Smartphones, laptop computers and tablets. There have as well been the collateral changes to the concept of copyright laws affecting not only artistic production of music, books and artwork but the very manner of its dissemination including the dénouement of tapes, CDs, DVDs and bookstores.
The political move from socialism and communism to capitalism is now well accepted though the competing interests of the “middle class” are gaining ground as the entitlement of the very rich is now manifest. The American world dominance is being replaced by that of China. North Americans are being forced to improve their knowledge of world geography and can no longer ignore what is happening on the other sides of oceans and continents.
Mechanical advances such as microwave ovens, electric cars and solar panels also figure in the mix. The diminishing size of computers, spectacle lenses, hearing aids and sound systems is noteworthy. Cigarettes are no longer fashionable. Mixed cocktails are on the rebound. Canadiana and mahogany furniture are no longer objects of choice. Dressing up for work, the theatre or dining out is passé. Bling is in; large cars are vulgar. Open-concept apartments have anaesthetized the sting of small living quarters. People think nothing of vacationing over the Christmas holidays. Almost half of marriages end in divorce. There is still no cure for cancer while new bugs and diseases continue to materialize. Fewer people wear watches unless it is an AppleWatch wrist computer. Artificial intelligence is on the rise. Diamonds are being replaced by Moissanite in engagement rings. The last thing people want for wedding gifts is sterling silver flatware or Crown Derby china.