Friday, July 20, 2007

We're living in the Descriptive Century:

Every century until the 21st has been a prescriptive century, that is, a century in which people talked and wrote about how we should behave, rather than how we do behave. The revolution started, I think, with the novel, which accepted society's norms while showing how people tiptoed outside them. The revolution continued in the 19th century with photography. Real pictures of our Civil War battlefields and victims began to force us to discuss, to mention, to accept, more of the true face of humanity. The revolution continued in the 20th century, and every big step has caused a furor; this is, after all, a revolution. The Kinsey Report forced us to begin to look at homosexuality, and sex out of wedlock, in more realistic ways; although in retrospect, the Kinsey report appears to have been more prescriptive than it claimed to be.

Today, one of the great signs of the turning tide is the tendency of our youth, to put what we oldsters call incriminating evidence on their websites. Over and over we counsel people NOT to put anything on the web that might ever keep them from getting a job. We warn them: that stuff will be online forever! But they don't care, because they sense that they are living in the Descriptive Century.

Web searches, frank blogs, sophisticated statistical analyses applied to the web, frank social sites, chat groups for Nazis, hackers and terrorists: they're all leading us in one direction, to the time when we will have to accept the way people ARE, because the evidence is all around us, rather than how we would like them to be.

I'm certain I'm right about all this, but I doubt it's a good thing. Until recently, most of us have hemmed in our aspirations with a desire to measure up to many standards of behavior. In the Descriptive Century, those standards will lose their force to reality. Some day, religions and systems of ethics will become strong enough to enforce standards of desirable conduct again. But before that happens, there might be decades of what we oldsters will call immoral lawlessness.

Have fun, everybody!
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