Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Changing Times

Originally posted on January 4, 2014

    We are living in a time when in fact a great deal of our culture is in transition on a great many issues. Here are some, as a warm-up to your thinking:
– It used to be not only okay to smoke, but fashionable.
– Keeping slaves was okay for much of history in most civilized countries, and that’s shifted only relatively recently (over the last few hundred years).
-Whole populations, races, ethnicities, were viewed as being significantly less worthy and therefore it was okay to enslave them to varying degrees. The Germans and the Japanese felt this way towards the Slavs and Chinese and Koreans, for example. The Nazis felt the Jews were unworthy of mere enslavement and that genocide was the “final solution.” This degree of ethnocentricity is not all that out-of-date.
– Being very drunk was maybe tacky, but not out of line, not for people of the upper or upper-middle classes. It’s more a joke. On the other hand, there were times and places when minorities were adjudged to be drunk and disorderly and sentenced to long prison terms.
– The same applied to other forms of drug use.
– Sexual activity with someone of the same gender was a heinous crime as well as a negative quality.
– Sexual activity outside marriage was forbidden, especially for married women. It was tolerable for many men, especially if it was done discreetly. Open prostitution was low class, often illegal, but high-class prostitution was re-labeled as being kept as a mistress.
– Masturbation was evil and led to many health problems.
– Women who were raped were all to frequently blamed: “They asked for it.”
– People of any dark-skinned races were fit for low-paying jobs and as servants, but it was unthinkable to imagine them moving socially upwards in society or into positions of prominence.
– Dating much less marrying outside of your class, ethnicity, race, or religion was a big problem.  So was dating or marrying someone differently abled. What would become of the children and what would the other party’s family think or do? These were defensive rationalizations.
  – Differently abled people were marginalized—treated as near non-persons. There were few if any arrangements made for access by those who were visually impaired or blind, hearing impaired or deaf, allergic or forbidden by religion to eat certain foods, intellectually impaired, the very tall, the very short, and so forth.
  – Less condemnation for sexual activity was reserved for those who could disguise the consequences.
  – Not believing in the main religion of the community was either condemned or over-ridden. Majority groups felt no qualms about open prayers, often “in Jesus’ name,” or whatever other religion or political party was prominent. In some cultures, believing in a minority religion or any religion was marginalized.
  – It was in some quarters a major rather than minor social offense to be quite out of mainstream fashion when it comes to hairdos, baldness, beards, tattoos, ear ornaments, other piercings, too long or too short dresses, hats, head or face coverings, etc.
– It was even at times an offense to dress more casually than the style, not wearing ties, gloves, a hat.
– Also it was problematic to over-dress. One felt quite out of place if one war a tuxedo or cocktail dress, high-heeled shoes, jewelry and discovered the event was way more casual. Even being off in more subtle ways—either over- or under-dressed—could be embarrassing.
– There was confusion over the degrees of familiarity in address, in letters, public address, etc. Calling someone “Mister” or “Doctor” was too formal in some contexts, but in other contexts, if these forms of address were not used, it seemed over-familar. It was too formal in some contexts not to use the first name, while in other contexts using the first name seemed way too casual or presumptuous.
– It was gauche to speak overly loudly; yet it could be rude to speak too softly, effectively leaving out people who couldn’t hear. It was rude to speaking with too broad a regional, ethnic, or national accent, as if others should be able to understand. It was rude to apologize for being hard to understand, or for speaking too fast or slow. Many people didn’t seem to even know this unwritten rule.
– People often acted as though knowledge of the aforementioned social norms didn’t exist. They would not dream of the fact that they were belittled or excluded for being “out of it.” They would go on the attack, claiming that this was not fair.
– Being “out of it” might apply to those with mild or moderate traits of autism, Asperger’s syndrome, social learning disability, or just geeky (or dorky). We don’t even have popular terms for those who don’t pick up on the unwritten social rules. These apply also to how one is dressed, who they choose as ideals, whether they wear other socially fashionable or no longer fashionable adornments, etc.
All of this and more were part of the youth culture of many people still alive today. A fair number of these issues continue today. And in other cultures some of these items are the basis of subtle or not-so-subtle taboos. The problem with taboos is that they are often not only unspoken, but even unconscious. People don’t even know they have mild to strong feeling reactions to those who seem to be in violation of the aforementioned social norms.

In some cases, we covertly make allowances for or even support what has become no longer reputable to admit. In sub-groups in which it is felt to be a majority sentiment, many beliefs and attitudes continue to hold sway, even though in the larger society they are condemned. People who feel coerced into keeping their prejudices secret nevertheless exercise a lot of cultural influence. Many are unconscious of their bias or influence. I welcome your additions to the aforementioned list.

One Response to “Changing Times”

  • David Blatner says:

    I find it funny that when I was growing up in 1970-80s Palo Alto, I was encouraged by many (perhaps half) of my teachers to call them by their first names. Now in 21st century suburbia outside Seattle, none of my children’s teachers would consider suggesting this. Weird.

    The other huge transition going on here is that marijuana is about to become as legal and available as alcohol here (as it did recently in Colorado). It’s strangely uncomfortable for me (perhaps because I have children).

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