Civic Consciousness as Belonging to this Generation
Sometimes, others seem to belong to another time. When we try to understand religious fundamentalists, for example, it is easy to apply a temporal framework. They talk as though modern science, or humanistic research never occurred. They deny historical and literary criticism. They remind us of what we learned about early periods in Western history, such as the middle ages, before the eighteenth century enlightenment. It doesn’t seem that we all belong to the same generation—to this generation.
This was certainly the view Adam Smith expressed in his The Wealth of Nations. His four stages of history allowed him to see himself as a member of commercial society, living in a more advanced time than the American natives, who lived in an earlier time of development–the time of hunting. On the other hand, if we take the view of our grandchildren, and look back on ourselves, we see that all of us living today are now creating the possibilities for future generations to take care of themselves. We may not live in the same past, but we do live with the same future. The question is how should we integrate, if we can, our separate pasts and our common future?
To integrate differences is a much more complex process than the integration of similarities, especially differences that have moral significance. As we follow the development of the United States strategy in Afghanistan, where we both kill and talk with the Taliban, it is unclear what the basis for integration really is. Or is it?
We need a civic consciousness that allows us to tolerate different pasts, but also allows us to talk about a common future. Central is this civic consciousness is moral equality. Moral equality does not mean that we share the same moral beliefs, but that we recognize each other as having equal moral worth. And perhaps more importantly for the future, we recognize that each of us belongs to this generation: the generation that will create the possibilities for all of our grandchildren to have a good life. The real question is whether we can talk with each other about a future that includes all our children and grandchildren. This would be a future that provides for everyone, protects the providers, and celebrates the meaning of living together.