Monday, March 12, 2007

Gen Next and the Culture Wars

The New York Times Magazine ran an interesting, if brief, piece yesterday on Gen Next and its views about abortion and gay marriage. The article is based on “A Portrait of Generation Next,” a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center along with with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.

The article seems hopeful that Gen Next might be forging its own moral structure -- one that looks very much like the sensitive self of Spiral Dynamics, or Ken Wilber's Green altitude (worldcentric, pluralism). However, it appears a bit more healthy than their parents' version of the sensitive self. For Gen Next, not all values are relative -- they are decidedly more conservative when it comes to abortion.

Are we looking at the first generation that might be moving into an integral worldview?

Here is a bit of the article:

So what is special about Gen Nexters? Don’t count on them to capture their own quintessence. “The words and phrases they used varied widely,” the Pew researchers noted, “ranging from ‘lazy’ to ‘crazy’ to ‘fun.’ ” But if you look closely, what makes Gen Nexters sui generis — and perhaps more mysterious than their elders appreciate — are their views on two divisive social topics, abortion and gay marriage. On the by-now-familiar red-and-blue map of the culture wars, positions on those issues are presumed to go hand in hand: those on the right oppose both as evidence of a promiscuous society and those on the left embrace them as rights that guarantee privacy and dignity. Yet as a group, Gen Nexters seem to challenge the package deals.

Young Americans, it turns out, are unexpectedly conservative on abortion but notably liberal on gay marriage. Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the least Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20 percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious that on abortion they are slightly to the right of the general public. Roughly a third of Gen Nexters endorse making abortion generally available, half support limits and 15 percent favor an outright ban. By contrast, 35 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds support readily available abortions. On gay marriage, there was not much of a generation gap in the 1980s, but now Gen Nexters stand out as more favorably disposed than the rest of the country. Almost half of them approve, compared with under a third of those over 25.

Here is the most interesting part of the article:

Put the two perspectives together, and an ethos emerges that looks at once refreshingly pragmatic and yet still idealistic. On one level, Gen Nexters sound impatient with a strident stalemate between entrenched judgments of behavior; after all, experience tells them that in the case of both abortion and gay rights, life is complicated and intransigence has only impeded useful social and political compromises. At the same time, Gen Nexters give every indication of being attentive to the moral issues at stake: they aren’t willing to ignore what is troubling about abortion and what is equally troubling about intolerant exclusion. A hardheadedness, but also a high-mindedness and softheartedness, seems to be at work.

And to risk what might be truly wishful thinking, maybe there are signs here that Gen Nexters are primed to do in the years ahead what their elders have so signally failed to manage: actually think beyond their own welfare to worry about — of all things — the next generation. For when you stop to consider it, at the core of Gen Nexters’ seemingly discordant views on these hot-button issues could be an insistence on giving priority to children’s interests. Take seriously the lives you could be creating: the Gen Next wariness of abortion sends that message. Don’t rule out for any kid who is born the advantage of being reared by two legally wedded parents: that is at least one way to read the endorsement of gay marriage. However you end up sorting out the data, fun or crazy wouldn’t be how I would describe the Gen Next mix. Judged against the boomers’ own past or present, though, the outlook definitely looks unique.

Did anyone else read this article? What are your thoughts?

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