During my youth I heard many adult conversations lamenting the culture of my generation, as expressed in our music, art, language, work ethic, dress, and just plain civility. I always told myself that I would never be that person, criticizing contemporary youth and by extension modern times against some idolized version of my generation’s own past. After all, condemnation of existing society is ubiquitous throughout history, and perhaps more importantly, could reflect poorly upon older generations, which if not creating, at least acquiesce to current cultural mores. Moreover, it always seemed older adults shouldered some responsibility for raising these ostensibly narcissistic and discourteous youth.
In November 1989, I was a junior at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. I had come of age during the Cold War and the world was evenly divided between Democracy (led by the USA) and Socialism (led by the USSR). I had spent the previous 2 1/2 years immersed in international politics, especially studying Soviet politics and Marxist theory to prepare for the diplomatic needs of this divided world. But that fall semester, the Berlin Wall fell and, within two years thereafter, so did the USSR. The world and life, as I had known and studied, had forever changed.
For many years I have heard the reference that the United States is like modern day Rome – both in its glorious achievements and also in its potential downfall. While Rome had many issues that affected its eventual demise, the underlying one was moral decay. Some would argue that morality may also be at the center of whether or not the United States will continue to achieve and prosper as a nation. I would argue that it is not just the United States that will hinge on the morality issue. Indeed, across the globe, the myriad of concerns that we read, hear and see on the news and social media, are mostly rooted in issues of morality. In some respects, while the globe has progressed on many fronts since the Roman Era, in other ways, the world seems to be backsliding into a previous time when pagan societies engaged in morally questionable and societally destructive practices. As we scan the issues of the globe over many years, we seem to have spanned from pagan to sacred and back again.
In our legal system, facts rule. In our societal system, perceptions rule. The challenge is reconciling the two in order to achieve fairness and justice. Fundamentally it is this tension between the two that is at the core of the current discord in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Michael Brown. And it is our approach to the results that will allow us to address the underlying issues.