For nearly a generation, "post-modern" has come to describe a mind-set, a world-view that captures the hearts of the generations after the Boomers. "post-mod" is a catch-all for a range of ideas, feelings and movements for the under 40 crowds.
In order to be post-modern, one has to be reacting or responding to the "modern". Here are some ways of capturing the post-modern ethos:
The modern world believed in unlimited progress through science and technology;
post-moderns enjoy the benefits, but no longer worship at the altar of Progress.
Moderns were skeptical of traditional religions and rigid moral strictures;
Post-moderns want spirituality without religious absolutes.
Moderns extolled the virtues of individual freedom unrestrained by anything but "love";
Post-moderns are just as chaotic, but they are searching for community.
Moderns saw the values of the West - democracy, capitalism (modified by some socialism when there is $$ around) and freedom - as a beacon of hope for the "Third World";
Post-moderns are more likely to look to the "Majority World" for better or complimentary values.
The contrasts are many and meaningful - but why is any of this important?
We are currently embroiled in an epoch-determining debate about the ideas, morals and values that will determine the future of the global community and every culture and nation that is part of the tapestry of humankind.
The Boomers continue to echo the cliches of the 1964-1974 (the "free speech" in Berkeley to Watergate era), determined to undermine anything akin to "traditional" moral and religious values, especially Judeo-Christian ones. The generation represented by the Clinton Presidency champion themselves as revolutionaries...But they are actually "modern" conservatives, trying to keep old conflicts alive in order to stay in academic, cultural and political power.
The generations under 40 are often swayed for a brief time by this rhetoric, only to realize that they have been left nothing to stand on as they confront unprecedented crises and opportunities.
To quote Bugs Bunny, "What's up, doc?" What is next? Are we destined for more polemics between the "radical right" of talk-radio and the "liberal left" on NPR and PBS? Must we choose a world choking in SUV exhaust or confined to hydrogen-powered scooters? Do we seal our borders or allow a new nation to conquer the Southwest USA?
What comes after the current post-modern fad?
Let me suggest three rules for the coming debate - if indeed there are thoughtful persons willing to discover solutions beyond the current public posturing.
First, we must face all issues directly and refuse to revert to the tactics of the personal insult and the sweeping generalization. Not all proponents of universal healthcare are against capitalism and not all pro-life advocates want to return to the "coat-hanger" days.
Second, values matter and the debates about ethics, morality, the nature of the family and personal responsibility are important. Social cohesion rests upon shared "first principles." In the USA, those principles are found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Third, the way forward may include looking back sometimes. Ancient pathways properly distilled for the 21st century provide rich resources for reflection.
Over 2,500 years ago a prophet asked what was expected of a good person. His answer?
"Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly..."
Maybe this is what comes after the post-modern.
Next week: Confronting Radical Islam