I divide news into three broad categories. Much of what gets put forward as news—such as the latest if-it-bleeds-it-leads sensationalism—isn’t really news at all. There is also news that effectively informs, but is concerned primarily with events of short-term consequence. Such news is “old news” in a few days or weeks. And finally there is news that has important long-term implications.
An important subcategory of this last kind of news has particular pertinence as far as the future—and to this blog: news that reflects change of a culturally mature sort. Part of my job will be to report on it. In the last month we have seen three important examples. Each is striking for how quickly changes have taken place.
Most dramatic was Ireland becoming the first nation to approve same sex marriage by a popular vote. Given the historic strength of the Catholic Church in Ireland, this achievement was quite amazing. Ireland only legalized divorce in 1995. And social progress previous to that was even more limited. When I first visited the country of my roots back in the 1970’s, it was impossible to purchase a condom. Why this sudden turn? The way sex scandals in the clergy have weakened the Church’s hold is part of it. Whatever the reason, it is exciting to see Ireland stepping forward and providing this kind of important cultural leadership.
Also significant was Walmart’s announcement that they would require suppliers to reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals and provide animals with more humane treatment. The announcement came on the heels of decisions by McDonalds, Tyson, Foster Farms, and Costco, to phase out the use of antibiotics in the meat they sell, and by Taco Bell to eliminate artificial flavors and colors from its menu. Greater attention to the health of the food we eat and more compassionate treatment of animals are each consistent with Cultural Maturity. Fanaticism on either count is simple-minded Unity Fallacy and stops well short. But we don’t have to be fanatical to recognize the need for making more healthy and compassionate choices.
Finally, there is Los Angeles’s decision to adopt a $15 minimum wage—following the lead of my hometown, Seattle. Culturally mature perspective doesn’t condemn discrepancy between incomes. Our economic system is based on competition, and with competition some people will do better than others. But it does challenge today’s extreme discrepancies. Excessive gaps between rich poor, besides being morally questionable, produce social and economic and instability. I think of the resulting house-of-cards picture as a particularly dangerous example of what Creative Systems Theory calls Transitional Absurdity. The $15 minimum in but one step toward creating a more healthy and sustainable economic system (and whether it is ultimately helpful can be legitimately debated). But the fact that there is growing consensus that extreme economic disparities put us all at risk is good thing.
With each of these examples, we see change happening more quickly than most people would have predicted. We also see a kind of change that should have ever-broader acceptance in years to come. With each, we see reflected an important aspect of our time’s needed—and increasingly possible— “new common sense.”