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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Passing On

Another friend of mine just passed on. That's happening a lot these days.

These happenings make me think about when and what I am passing on. As does starting my 78th year in a Continuing Care Retirement Community where I am reminded of aging and dying each day. That is now my vocation: thinking about not so much when, but what I am passing on.

What I can best pass on is some critical thinking regarding my culture and my world. And I pass them on to next generations, to my children and theirs and maybe to theirs. Since I believe that critical thinking is what will best serve them, it is not so much the content, the ideas, the words, the knowledge that I hope they get. Rather, I hope to inspire them to do their own critical thinking. An open mind and an open heart is what humanity needs, it seems to me. Curiosity and the desire to know more and more along with empathy in sharing that desire with all globally.

So I think about my generations. There are five with which I am acquainted--my own and the two before (my parents and theirs) and two now following (my children and theirs). Since I believe that humor, and especially satire, is the main sign of critical thinking, I will label them by whom I consider to be representative or iconic humorists of those generations.

And so I call my own generation that passed adolescence in the 60s (I should add that though I was a pre-boomer, I was also a late bloomer) the George Carlin generation. My parents who passed adolescence in the Great Depression and lived through WWII were the Charlie Chaplin generation. Their parents--the Will Rogers generation. My children are the Jon Stewart generation. And my grandchildren who are just now reaching adolescence are in the I-don't-know-yet-what generation.

At this point I should present an elaborate treatment of the ironic, iconic humor of these generations. But let me here just offer a few reflections on my own. My generation grew up in the age of "American Exceptionalism" bequeathed to us by our "greatest generation" parents which our humor, to the chagrin of our parents, loudly criticized as tragic hubris. (And unfortunately to which many fools today even in my generation are trying to return.)

There were other great humorists besides George Carlin who could typify my generation e.g. Dick Gregory, the SNL originals, Robin Williams, Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut. But Carlin best expressed our wavering between idealism and cynicism.  He made us laugh at the culture we were trying to change and at ourselves in trying to fit in. He identified the silly beliefs and rituals, the holy texts of our fathers, the taboos and sacred cows, the symbols and myths of our exceptionalism. Carlin passed on awhile back. His stand up performances and quotes that he passed on are still worth experiencing.

But now as many of my contemporaries pass on, I take stock of what we are passing on to the next generations.

1. A warming earth whose oceans and lands, water and air, have become a dumping ground for our vast wastes threatening a sixth great extinction which could include us this time.

2. Nation-state groupings with disparities in and among them though very interconnected in global networks of communications and commerce.

3. Nations armed with weapons of mass and targeted destruction ready to fall in the hands of tribal bands.

4. Terrorism, drug wars, refugee flight, crime arising from the growing disparities and uncontrolled weaponry.

5. Economies and politics that are free and work for some, but not for many others, based in a morality with diverse, diversifying, and deficient understandings of humanity.

6. Exponentially growing technologies including weaponry, artificial intelligence, robotics, biological interventions that challenge our understanding of what it means to be human.

For these issues, even though rooted in 4 million years of evolution into the anthropocene age, I take responsibility. I do not presume that little old me caused these problem; but we, including me, did not solve them because we often sacrificed social issues to private gain.

By taking responsibility for these and admitting my complicity, I now choose and declare my freedom to do something about them.

So what I am also passing on, thanks to 4+m years of evolution, 40+k years of symbolic thinking, 4+k years of culture, 4+c years of science, and 4+d years of action and reflection is the capacity to think and act. And I hope I pass on the faith and desire to continue the human experiment and struggle for greater empathy and freedom in our globally connected world.