The Times They are a-Changin’ (again)

“Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand,
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’”

Bob Dylan 1964

On 24 May this year Bob Dylan turns 80. He was the voice of the 60’s generation and his song, ‘The Times they are a-Changin,’signalled the beginning of a social revolution that swept the western world.

Like all revolutions, the 1960s brought a mixture of both good and bad social change: racist and sexist attitudes were challenged, and significant progress resulted. Aboriginal people were given the vote in 1967 and women of Australia secured an equal pay ruling in 1973. These were definite marches forward in society and no rational or moral person today would argue against their benefit.

But there were also negative results of the 60s revolution. As Bob Dylan warned parents, their ‘sons and daughters were beyond their command’ and so anti-authoritarianism bred teenage rebellion in the home and in schools. There was a significant rise in drug abuse, and aspects of the sexual revolution such as unwanted teenage pregnancies and rising divorce rates strained traditional family structures, leaving vulnerable and damaged children in its wake.

Social commentators of this period often spoke of a significant ‘generation gap’ that had emerged between the teenagers of the 1960s and their parents. And they were right. The generation gap was really a values gap. Again, as Dylan noted, ‘The old road was rapidly aging.’ Parents and children could not see eye to eye because they saw the world through very different lenses. Their worldviews clashed and family conflict was often the result.

I raise this issue, because I foresee a similar generation gap emerging between parents and children in a new social revolution that is emerging. Again, not everything the social revolution will bring is good or bad. It will be a mix. But as a parent and likely future grandparent, you need to understand the social culture your children are currently swimming in, as its foundations are fundamentally different to the values in which many of us were raised.

When my daughter began her studies at one of our ‘great’ sandstone universities in 2018 she undertook a course that was said to be studying the ‘great books’ of the world. Her lecturer warned the class up front that they would not be studying ‘the likes of Shakespeare and other dead white males.’ Instead, a diet of contemporary minor Marxist and feminist writers were offered.

Now, to be clear, I have no objection to my children learning about Marxism, feminism or any ‘ism.’ Indeed, I would consider their education poorer for not having learned about such things. What I object to is the lack of balance her curriculum provided. Has Shakespeare or Dickens nothing to offer her generation? Similarly, after four years of political studies she has not been compelled to read even one of the great liberal or conservative thinkers like John Stuart Mill or Edmund Burke. It is as though history began with Karl Marx.

So what is the generation gap being created here?

Most of us grew up at a time when liberal values were strong. Liberalism (with a small ‘l’) champions the freedom of the individual – freedom of thought, freedom of speech, economic freedom, freedom of association etc. These values are increasingly being replaced in the minds of our young people with a creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to think of themselves in terms of a group identity (eg. Black, white, male, female, gay, straight, transgender, Christian, Muslim etc etc).

Good and evil is seen in terms of power. Those groups perceived to have power must be compelled to give it up. Those groups weak in power must be affirmed and given more power. In this worldview, to disagree with a vulnerable group is to harm them, or worse, erase them. Therefore, disagreeing is seen as an attack – a hurtful violation against a group. Where such disagreement occurs is not a safe space. To make it safe, you must silence the disagreement…This ultimately leads to a cancel culture which is the antithesis of liberal thought and freedom. And right here is the values gap between many in the older and younger generations.

So how can you work to ensure that a new generation gap does not cause unwanted conflict in your family? You must speak. Families should discuss these issues they see emerging. Do not leave it to the media, universities or even school to teach values to your children. Otherwise, you may find yourself ‘cancelled’ by your own children.

Liberal values are not perfect. But are the new values better? Can we learn from both systems of thought and find a better way to do society together? For me, the Bible teaches that every person is made in the image of God. In other words, although the individual is important, the common human identity trumps all other groupings, including gender, sexuality and even religion. I am commanded to love everybody and cancel no-one. But I am not commanded to agree with everyone.

Is there still room in our society for us to love one another, even to help one another, while allowing polite disagreement? I hope so. The times they are a changing’, but there are still some old values worth holding onto. Teach them to your children.

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