Like a Pendulum

From the Woman Suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century to the early 1920s, to the Civil Rights movement during the ‘50s and ’60s, American history in particular has suffered many bruises at the hands of remarkable injustices. Even going back further to the 1700s, at the dawn of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers laid the foundation for this nation as the result of an affront they and their constituents considered intolerable. Since then, we as a people have proven unable to shake our masochistic obsession-bordering-on-fascination with this approach to social governance. Quite unfortunately, I might add, for despite a brief respite of fifty-odd years since the last major social movement, increasing civil unrest has brought us to the doorstep of yet another, albeit hopefully less violent, confrontation between social norms and its ever-changing landscape.

These days, few would even attempt to validate a society in which women did not have the same rights as men. More importantly though, even if someone did try to make such a case, all but an insignificantly small number of people would rightfully disregard these statements as the baseless vestiges of a bygone era. So, too, the situation has become for those discriminating based upon race: for all but a small number of pockets throughout this country, racism has become not only intolerable, but nonexistent as well. Thus has the pendulum swung from one maximum of extreme inappropriate behavior back towards a center of measured, evenhanded treatment towards all. However, just as a pendulum continues to swing even after reaching its inflection point, so, too, have we begun to see these social movements take their causes far beyond their initial call for equality and into a realm bordering on — if not completely based in — vindictive restitution at the expense of individuals who, oftentimes, had nothing to do with the initial upset.

With respect to the Woman Suffrage movement, we may find evidence of this byzantine search for compensation in a roundabout way by examining the recent and rapidly-growing feminism movement. I do believe that society has yet to fully come to terms with women and men as equal participants, and that as a result we ought to continue pushing the envelope on this issue, but I also firmly believe that a disturbing majority of the events often held up as cause for outcry are vastly overblown. Nevertheless, anyone dealing with something even remotely near this issue, whether the two have a real connection or nothing more than a perceived linkage, has no choice but to tread lightly and as if on eggshells lest they incur the unproductive wrath of a legion of armchair activists. In the end, then, few make any progress whatsoever, and more often than not actually take a step backward with each and every outlash as privately-held prejudices have no chance of ever seeing the light of day and, as a result, changing. Thus we end the day ultimately squarely where we began it, and so the cycle repeats with increasing ferocity on one side and accordingly less participation for fear of it on the other.

Unfortunately, the broad narrative around the issue of racial inequality has become similarly politically-charged. Inner-city America has continued a disturbing devolution into a welfare state, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. At the heart of this transition are ethnic minorities who, once persecuted based solely on the color of their skin, now put on such an air of entitlement so as to audaciously believe themselves deserving of a comfortable, full, and enjoyable life merely for existing due to the (sometimes perceived) injustices suffered by their predecessors. And so no meaningful discussion can occur on this and any related issues, due in large part to the fact that those willing to participate must perform such a convoluted dance so as to keep from offending the vocal factions contributing to the problem each and every day. The same can be said for the current state of gay rights in America, where members of this group suffered from discrimination for so long that now, now that we as a society have begun to realize the inappropriately harmful level to which this prejudice was taken far too often, any discourse on this subject must be so carefully metered, edited, and hedged that no significant progress ever results. Here, too, we have swung from one wildly inappropriate extreme to another, where a ridiculous level of sensitivity precludes any and all from making meaningful strides in the right direction.

Recently, I have had the same misfortune many others have undoubtedly had in witnessing obesity transition from an odd rarity to the uncomfortable norm to, more recently, an acceptable state of existence. A society that created and later idolized the infamous proportions of Barbie dolls now creates “realistic Barbies” to instill an acceptance of mediocrity at a young age. Yes, Barbie dolls may have contributed to the pursuit of an unattainable goal; but no, I cannot see their demise as — even if they served no greater purpose than that of a subtle push in the direction of health over a lazy existence — a boon for the upcoming generations of young women. Just as the aforementioned social movements pressed on after the requisite points necessary to achieve their initial goals of equality amongst all genders and races, this less pronounced acceptance of the unhealthy has begun to go too far. Gradually, ever so slowly, it is becoming okay to be overweight and unhealthy; gradually, ever so slowly, the pendulum passes the midpoint and begins swinging towards the other direction.

Because God forbid we ever impose upon someone else.