I’m taking a break from the long-running series Travis Chapman and I are doing on the Speculative Fiction Writers Guide to War. It’s interesting to note though that he and I both work with the military on a continuing basis, including military members trained for combat, though neither of us work directly with the infantry troops most people usually think of when the subject of war comes up.
It’s my interactions with military members that in fact inspires this week’s post. Nothing I have to say here relates to fiction at all, or is speculative–other than me speculating on human nature. All of what follows below is based on my personal thoughts and observations, especially observations I’ve made in the military.
You see, military members on average are younger than the populace at large. I’m getting to be quite old for the service–and I think I observe differences between how the people I work with now act versus those I worked with when I first enlisted in the Army (which was, by the way, 1989).
I think I need to say up front that I see two general tendencies on how to see the generations younger than my own. The first tendency, coming from people who deeply believe in social progress, sees younger people as more open-minded, more tolerant, as making steady social progress over the past, as “woke,” or in short, as morally better than the past. (Notleia, who regularly comments on Speculative Faith posts, probably is a fair representation of this group.)
The second general tendency is to see that society is going downhill. To see the current generation as full of vices that the past didn’t suffer from. According to the people who hold this view, younger generations are more obsessed with their own pleasure in this view, tolerant only with those who agree with them, too thin-skinned, too “snowflake.” It’s usually older men who are the most open at expressing this point of view, guys like Mike Duran, also a regular contributor to Speculative Faith. (Notleia might be eager to add older white men here, but I think anybody who believes that hasn’t had enough conversations with older Black and Hispanic and other ethnicity men.)
My very use of the term “generation snowflake” implies I’m with Mike and the other older guys who we might fairly call “crusty,” who gripe about the youth. But I want to say up front, “No, not really.” I in fact increasingly see a sort of Law of Conservation of Evil in play in society–like how energy in a closed system neither increases or decreases but simply changes form, it seems to me evil in societies actually has a tendency to neither increase nor decrease, but simply to change form. (Though I would also say our society is not really a closed system and it is possible to add evil to the overall mix, even though it’s not easy…but that observation moves away from my point here…)
I explain this to say that I’m not with either general tendency on how to see youth. I’m not predisposed to see people younger than me (Millennials plus Generation Y people or whatever you wish to call them) in a negative light–nor in a positive one. My first thought is to notice how they are different from me, without assuming such differences are good or bad.
Differences in the military as I see it between my generation and the past are pretty striking. In the old days, military culture embraced a lot of consumption of alcohol. As someone who out of personal conviction does not drink alcohol at all, it used to be rather difficult to avoid military social gatherings without drinking. Oh, you could avoid drinking, but some people would always treat an abstainer with contempt. That’s not really an issue now.
Old-school military culture also engaged in quite a lot of cussing. I think military culture cusses somewhat less now–but I’d say the choice of curse words have changed. “G-d d-mn” and “J-sus” as curse words used to be extremely common. Now the cuss word of choice stems from all the multitude of variants of the F word. Note this change has accompanied a military that increasingly less religious (as judged by how few people attend chapel services now) and more marked by sexual liaisons between military members (yeah, that didn’t happen much in the old, mostly male, overtly hetero military of the past). Which is rather ironic. The past military, which believed in God more, profaned his name more, whereas the present military, which believes in sex more, uses a word referencing sex as their go-to profane word.
One thing though that I especially notice is that military culture in the United States very much believed in overt confrontation. It was common to have a sergeant yell at a soldier in front of everybody–and this still happens, but far less. Sure, this kind of open confrontation usually went from senior members downhill to juniors, but it was also considered normal for peers to take peers aside and give direct advice about what you should and should not do. Even subordinates could and did directly confront superiors under certain controlled situations.
I’m finding–and this is what really inspires this post–that people younger than me in the military reflect the society as a whole in that they are much less likely to confront someone. Which at first may seem like a more pleasant environment to work it–a whole lot less yelling is going on, that’s for certain. But my “Law of Conservation of Evil” is at play–people are not necessarily nicer or kinder or actually like other people more. They just deal with disagreement or problems differently.
So people today are more likely to punish someone who is perceived to have done wrong by denying a person access to a service or by refusing to speak to a person than by a face-to-face confrontation. And people are more likely to talk about someone rather than to someone.
I can’t help but think social media affects this kind of reaction. Having a problem with someone online? Just block or unfriend. Or maintain as a friend, but “unfollow” so someone you don’t actually tell is not really a friend of yours is someone you never want to hear from. These tools make it easy to isolate yourself from social criticism if you choose to use them. And to surround yourself with a bubble of people who agree with you–and it’s this tendency to isolate self from criticism that attracts my use of the term “generation snowflake.” People can certain seem too sensitive to criticism from my point of view. Yet please understand the whole context of what I’m saying–I do not believe generations younger than mine are inherently worse people than my generation. Even if they are in some ways more sensitive.
On the other hand, speaking of sensitivity, I should note that the current generation can at times be hyper-aggressive under specific circumstances. Instead of yelling in public where a person might be criticized for behavior, it’s possible to adopt a pseudonym like “Sandy Balz” or something, where it’s possible to attack, attack, attack, without anyone knowing who is doing it. The Internet troll is the flip side of the technological liberty expressed in a person who isolates himself or herself from everyone who disagrees with him or her.
People directly confront less, yet still deal with people they don’t like. How? Usually by means of exclusion of some kind, often permanent exclusion. Such a system encourages being unforgiving, encourages refusing to see others as being capable of change, and even goes in the direction of shutting out nuance of meaning, since social exclusion can and often does take place before you even know what other people really mean by what they’re saying.
Note I’m not saying it’s always better to yell at people. No, that culture was toxic in many ways. But current culture is also toxic, just in different ways. The way I’ve phrased this brings to mind the commonly used modern term “toxic masculinity.” The thing is, I’m not disagreeing that many aspects of masculinity have been toxic–yet by attacking these old attitudes, what are we (as an overall society) replacing these values of the past with? Looks to me like a lot of it is non-masculine toxicity.
By the way, I’m glad to have a military that is more accepting of what we might consider a female point of view–yet that doesn’t in and of itself make the military more effective or morally better. Not automatically. Yes, sexual assault and harassment is much more frowned on, yet “hooking up,” which includes an inherent devaluing of commitment and truthfulness, is on the rise. Evil in a society changes forms, so it’s awfully hard to get rid of, even when people are trying to enact positive change. (It seems to literally take a miracle of God for someone to actually put aside personal evil…)
On the single issue of confronting others, does the Bible and Christian tradition offer any guidelines? Yes, it does. With emphasis on how to treat other believers (but applicable elsewhere), we are to look at individuals as individuals and give a person a chance at reconciliation according to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. If the person refuses, then you take a second person. Then if the person refuses again, you bring in a group to help. And only if a person refuses to deal with an issue three times do you adopt social exclusion. (Note I would say Christ’s command is to be a general rule and needs to be applied with wisdom, meaning sometime a private confrontation is a bad idea–but only on occasion, only rarely is that true.)
Let’s observe that yelling at someone in front of everyone, like the old-school military did, was not Christ’s way. But neither is the new-school means of social punishment by exclusion without confrontation Christ’s way.
“Narrow is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it,” in Matthew 7 expresses more in my mind than just a relative few finding salvation through Christ, though that is true. It also means the world picks the broad way that leads to destruction–the world does everything wrong in God’s eyes. And the world didn’t just start doing that recently–it’s always been true and still is, even though in new and different ways.
Yet Christ calls on us to walk a different path. He meant us to stand up against the evils of the past–and he also calls on so-called “generation snowflake” to stand against the evils of the present. We are not promised that everyone will agree with us, or that life will become pleasant and easy if we chose to do what is right no matter what. Yet we are still called to a higher moral calling, whatever the society around us is doing.
In that way, nothing has changed at all.