Oh, them young folks!

At a conference on photography recently, some people were complaining about the apparent state teenagers were in, when it came to their media consumption and interaction with the world online. I immediately felt old. I wondered if I had already reached the point in my life where I am surrounded by people complaining about them young folks. I recently turned 40, but somehow, I expected that I might experience this clash between the generations for some more years either from the other side or as a neutral bystander. But maybe I have to get used to this debate, since more might follow in the years to come.

I am bad in remembering quotes, maybe because I am too easily triggered by certain buzzwords, but some in the conference were addressing their concern that young people today might have just become too easily influenced by advertising and they were following the promises made blindly. It was something to that note. That brings me back to something I find extremely important not to forget. In general, other people are not more stupid than you are, even though from your perspective, reaching this conclusion seems very easy. Maybe it has something to do with our survival instinct and with the way evolution has shaped us. There might be some variations in the level of stupidity in some people around you, but as a whole, every generation seems equally cursed.

Bashing other generations is certainly not new, there always seems to be something older and younger generations do that can be considered offensive.

To address some of the concerns voiced by the people at the conference:

Maybe young people are media savvy. I guess, even more so than any other generation. Maybe they understand the way advertising tries to influence them. Maybe it is something the feel good to live with. Maybe some don’t get every miniscule detail yet, but that might be OK as well. Judging the generation I grew up within … we ourselves have not really proven to be the highpoint of human development. There are as many morons in my generation as in any other. And in some aspects of life, I might easily be classified as a moron myself. No one always shine brightly.

Maybe they want to chose they own gender roles. Maybe some of these roles might appear to older people as if they were making a step backwards. Maybe some of them are happy to appear more conservative. That is the way they choose for themselves. I see this only as an issue, once they themselves try to pressure others into their set of classifications.

Being Guilty in War

Most countries still commemorate their soldiers that have been killed in the wars they have fought. Even though in Germany, this is done less openly, there are still monuments for the soldiers killed in the First World War in almost every town and city and quite a few graveyards for the soldiers of the Second World War. A couple years ago, the German Army opened a new memorial site for those who have been killed since the foundation of the Federal Republic. Other countries are far more open about that and some, like the US, even celebrate their veterans on special holidays.

Maybe the most famous war memorial is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It bears the names of 58000 soldiers who had been killed during the Vietnam War – on the American side. These soldiers are named. Not named – at least not on this memorial – are the two to four million others who have become victims of this war. At least half of them civilians. That is a strange ratio. 58000 to 2 Million.

What if every war memorial would read something like “To the brave soldiers who died fighting for their country and to the people they have helped to kill.”? Of course, that would cause a huge outrage. People tend to look at some wars as something justified and therefore at some soldiers as fighting for a just cause. Others believe that many soldiers had been forced into fighting and were just following orders. And the soldiers, by giving their own life, made the biggest sacrifice possible and that should be admired. Right?

I think that defeating the Nazis during the Second World War was the right thing to do. But innocent people were killed on all sides of the war. And some of those, who did the killing should be looked at as criminals. And that is true for fighters and soldiers on all sides. We seem to have this very black and white view on some historical events. The things, the Nazis did, seem so outlandish, that many people believe, that this serves as an excuse, for everything those fighting them did. But that is just not true. Even while fighting the devil, you are still able to commit crimes yourself. This is even true for some actions that could not be avoided. Maybe, while fighting for his own life, a soldier just had to kill some bystanders or another soldier who did not really pose a threat to him. Maybe there was just no way to avoid it. Still, as a society, we should never be able to find a real excuse for his actions. Killing always has to be outside the norms. It should never be overlooked.

I understand, that this is difficult to cope with, since in a society that still lends many of its moral codes from the Bible, we expect there to be some kind of a clear distinction between good and evil. One has to be able to choose good and avoid evil – how else would one be able to enter Paradise? But this clear distinction might not exist in real life. You can be forced to serve in the Army. You can be morally conscious while fighting and always take the utmost care not to harm civilians. You might be able to avoid killing anyone. You might serve in a unit far away from any fighting. And still, you participating in war means that you are aiding in the killing of innocent people. As long as your side wins the conflict, you seem safe from any prosecution. This is not the point I am trying to make though.

Justifying some forms of violence against certain groups or individuals is precisely what has fueled war for millennia. Some killings seem justified, while others seem outrageous and call for revenge. Countries and societies try to find justifications for their actions, but maybe there are some things that are just not justifiable. And at that point we might want to rethink our culture of remembrance.

To those graves and memorials for soldiers, we might add memorials to all these unnamed widows, families, orphans, parents, friends. Memorials to those merely wounded, those who were not willing to participate and those who lost their sanity while fighting. And we might add memorial sites to those killed in our name, no matter if the war seems justified or not. No matter, if we won or lost.

War should be considered outrageous and inexcusable. We should not attempt to look at it merely through a single perspective. It is too easy to fall for certain justifications and excuses. After September 11th, America did a lot of harm all over the world. American soldiers killed many innocent people. Yet this should not prevent us to approach these American soldiers with compassion. Many of them have become victimized themselves. Even those who became killers. There are many people who are just victims. Pure and simple. And then there is a whole greyscale of people who are in part victim in part perpetrator.

Maybe each and every society, participating in armed conflict, must question its own role and responsibilities. I am not calling for a toothless democratic system. I am myself willing to protect the values I associate myself with, even with violence. I am calling for a more open approach in our attempt to understand the reasons for conflicts and what makes people kill one another.

Old People and Fear

Henry Ford in 1919

I have spoken to my mother recently and I recognized she is getting old. The hint she gave me was the fact that she constantly seemed to be afraid for my wellbeing. Since this is a thing mothers seem to be preoccupied with, that alone isn’t entirely new, yet it felt more urgent. I mentioned I was going to travel to the UK in the coming weeks and she was talking about an attack with nerve agents that happened in a UK city recently. I was mentioning a short daytrip to the outskirts of Berlin and she was talking about forest fires apparently engulfing the surroundings of Berlin (nothing I have heard about before). And I was talking about a workshop in Saint Petersburg and that started an entire tirade on Russian politics and the way dissidents are treated. From what I remember she hasn’t always been like this.

When I talk about her reactions with friends of mine, we all seem to be able to blame her age for the increase in fear. Maybe it is true and old people become more fearful over time and it seems as if old people might become more conservative. The second issue might not stem from the fact that they become more conservative, but rather they become stagnant, while society as a whole tries to be more progressive. But the fact that old people seem in general somewhat less open to progress seems to be as old as the idea of progress itself. When the first young people started to smelt metal, there were certainly old people around telling everyone that they have always used stone tools and they were always working just fine.

But what happens, when people live longer and longer? We are already experiencing this, but so far, with age comes ageing and with that come limited abilities to partake in every miniscule detail of social life. What happens in a future, where ageing might be limited to those who are not able to afford the perfect medical care? What happens if the people who have accumulated the biggest share of wealth just wont die anymore? Their demise and the redistribution of wealth (a limited redistribution of course….) has always been an element that drove progress. Maybe in the future, grumpy old folks, who are easily scared might be even more powerful than they are today. Maybe this is what already drives the era of Trump in the US. More and more wealth is controlled by old people who seem to believe that progress is evil. And these people happily pour their money into ultra conservative groups.

Maybe this is not about age, but rather about the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few people. But still, if people tend to keep accumulating wealth for another fifty years, while being fully in control of their own agenda, this might create some issues. We fondly remember many of the US business magnates of the early 20th century by looking at the trusts that bear their names. Yet, many of these guys, while still alive, were ruthless towards their employees and workers and their practices were often contrary to the greater good of society, let alone progress. And they would not have changed one iota, if medical progress would have made it possible to them to remain in control of their wealth for another hundred years. These people would still try to support their own agenda, while at the same time accumulating more and more wealth. If Henry Ford would still be around, he might be able to pour a lot of money into groups that support moral codes and ideas that stem directly from the 19th century. Progress might skip entire generations, without them ever being able to further their own agenda. And once these people die at the age of 150, they are then replaced by their children, who are in their early hundreds and who are themselves already extremely stubborn towards every new idea.