A wise old friend of mine used to say that there were two kinds of parents in the world.
And the cosmic tragedy of that, he said, is that, no matter which kind of parent you are, you are likely to be disappointed.
Those who are not just comfortable with, but inspired by, the prospect of their children growing up to know, see, feel and accomplish things they never dreamed of often undermine their own goals because, by being that kind of person, they start ahead of their progeny and, by continuing to learn and grow, stay ahead.
At least until they die. At which point their children might, indeed, overtake their most immediate ancestors in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. When it is too late for the parents to appreciate it.
(Or maybe not. I, for example, proudly display my father’s 11-volume set of Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” on a shelf in my office. But he actually read all those tomes. I, who have now had 15 years to catch up and surpass him, haven’t read any of them. He, of course, had fewer distractions, living in a pre-Twitter, TV-with-only-four-channels, age. But, still.)
Those who live in terror that their children might develop belief systems and accept ways of life and worldviews different from their own are also sabotaging their own hopes. If the parents are truly fixed in their beliefs and views of everything, some of their children might remain similarly entrenched. But chances are good that, just by living, the next generation will seek, or stumble into, a broader and more open view of life, the universe and everything.
As a clinching argument for his point, my friend noted the fact that, after taking a college course in genetics taught by a future MacArthur Fellow, he went out and got himself a vasectomy.
It was a selfless act of respect for the rest of the world, he reasoned. But it also ensured that there would be no disappointing progeny for him. And no children wondering how they managed to get themselves saddled with such an oafish old dad.
There had been reason to hope that the variety of parents who saw their mission as holding their children in place was in decline. After all, a lot of the worry over the past generation or so has been that -- due to the growing concentration of wealth and public health concerns ranging from AIDS to antibiotic-resistant germs to opioid addiction -- the rising generation would be the first in just about forever to not be wealthier and healthier than their parents.
The fear was that of a failure to launch. Of squandering the groundwork laid by our ancestors’ achievements and sacrifices. By now we were supposed to be living on Mars, driving flying cars, curing cancer, living life in peace.
That very real concern has been horribly and successfully perverted by right-wing media, including but not limited to Fox News, and the sitting president of the United States. They have turned it into a fear of other people, mostly poorer and less healthy than even the lower socioeconomic levels of First World society.
They call the supposed threat of more people from south of the border, or from the Islamic world, an “invasion.” An “infestation.” They warn that, without quick and resolute action, we are going to be “replaced.”
A violent refusal to be “replaced” was the stated motivation behind the deadly march of Nazis in Charlottesville and the attacks on the Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, the Muslim mosques in New Zealand and the Walmart in El Paso.
To which the only rational reaction is, Bloody hell, mate. Of course you are going to be replaced. We all are. And, like all those thousands of generations that came before you, you don’t really have much say in who will be replacing you.
Oh, we have things we would like to live on after us. Not just our biological descendants who, of course, are increasingly likely to intermarry with other ethnic groups, to switch or abandon religious traditions, or just to wander off, as white folks did in settling North America, South America and New Zealand.
We are right to also hope that our principles of freedom, equality, opportunity, growing knowledge and understanding will go on into the future. But that will only happen if we convince each new generation, of folks all over the world, that those principles work.
If we try and keep all of that to ourselves, our way of life will be replaced. And it will have richly deserved it.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is resigned to the likelihood that he will soon be replaced by a robot that can readily quote Abraham Lincoln and The Beatles.