12 February 2005

Institutional Dotage (1)

It rarely pays to make sweeping generalizations about generations when it comes to their politics. Blanket statements about "the Greatest Generation", "the Baby Boomers", "Generation X", "Generation Y", or "the SpongeBob Generation" (OK, I made the last one up) imply that viewpoints are essentially homogenous within the group described, that a group consensus has been somehow been found. Generalizations misfire, sacrificing genuine and substantial differences of outlook for the sake of intellectual simplicity and ease of description. Looking to the group actor making the generalization will usually reveal more: identification of another group's "views" serves to distinguish them, using the "us versus them" dichotomy to create increased cohesion within the group whose self-appointed representative makes the generalization in the first place.

Thus, I recognize that it's a bad start for me to begin generalizing about my parents' generation versus my own. Once we look through generational identity to individual characteristics and views, all generalizations tend to fall apart. I recognize my parents as very different in outlook from one another; I recognize them as a couple as very different in outlook from my acquaintances' parents; the trend holds the further afield I look. Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that within groups there are some very limited number of shared values and viewpoints. Again, getting beyond very broad identification of these values and viewpoints is problematic: for instance, it's easy to identify "love of country" as a shared value, but to descend beyond that generic level to get into political detail or identify stands on particular issues immediately fragments the grouping into divergent political opinions. As if I could do otherwise, I'll go into this blather with the intention of remaining superficial.

Over the last several years, I've noticed a few significant political differences between large swaths of my generation and large swaths of my parents' generation. Two of these differences relate to each group's valuing of governmental institutions: One is each group's views on the value of Social Security; I don't plan to get into that topic now, but it's been on my mind of late, so perhaps another day I will. The other concerns the United Nations.

Both the United Nations leadership and observers in the press and media have recognized the U.N. as being in a current crisis; all have fallen short, however, in understanding the depth of the crisis and in attributing its cause to the numerous scandals which have embroiled the U.N. recently. The crisis is not a current situation brought on by current events and discrete scandals, but rather is the natural product of the obsolete structures and objectives of the U.N. As such, it is not treatable by making right the damage directly caused by the reported scandals and smoothing over the losses of good will associated therewith. To attempt to remedy the condition of the U.N. by fixing these outward indicators is akin to assuming that old age is a condition to be cured with a pill.

Where my generation will differ from our parents' is in asking whether the United Nations can and should be saved, rather than assuming that it is and always will be an ideal within the natural order of things. We may determine that it can be mended and elect to do so, but we will first ask that threshhold question; once asked, it will be asked again and again in subsequent years and, if the U.N. is to survive those years, the United Nations' leadership and membership must work to produce satisfactory answers to those questions. It will no longer be possible to ignore the questioners and assume that the past good works of the U.N. justify its continuing existence.

More later . . . .

[Part Two]

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