Moment Magazine: In this challenging, chaotic time, there are moments when many of us, even optimists, fear that society is regressing. Is this fear justified? Are we really moving backward? Or is what we are seeing a temporary detour on the path forward? Is there even evidence that such a phenomenon as progress exists? How we feel about this “Big Question” influences how we perceive the world, including how we vote. It’s a human question, so we have not limited this question to Jewish thinkers. But, as you will read, it is also a very Jewish question. Our thinkers, of varied ages and backgrounds, touch upon a breadth of topics and diagnose different problems. We hope you take your time going through their insights, and return to them, as you ponder our shared future.
I have two minority identities in which there’s been a real shift in recent years. I suffer from depression, and one reason that I’m able to function reasonably well and have a good and happy life is that there’s been an enormous acceptance of the idea that someone can have a mental illness. I’m also gay. And you can’t really be a gay person and look at the world and not say the progress has been astonishing. My whole life was unimaginable when I was a kid. Now I have a husband and we have children, and we’re accepted as a couple in pretty much any context that we choose to go into. I know that there’s still a lot of homophobia, and I know that my experience is an experience of privilege and that there are transgender women of color living in Louisiana who are having a really horrible time, and I don’t trivialize how much work there is still to be done.
But there is also a pull, especially from the right, but also from the left, toward lack of freedom and closed-ness that I think is very frightening. I’m troubled by the incursions into free speech on the left. When we close down arenas of discussion, the anger and hatred don’t go away, even if we curtail their expression. They become harder to deal with and harder to control because there’s no open public expression of them. We’re in a period that’s parallel to the late days of the Roman Empire, where everything became decadent, everything began to fall apart, and ultimately, we were plunged into the Dark Ages. I feel like there could be dark ages right ahead. But there is also a pull toward an ever more embracing society. And as a beneficiary of that greater openness, I feel it would be churlish for me to say that everything is just going wrong.
There’s also been an intensifying polarization in the larger society. People for whom it’s better have it much, much better. People who are left at the bottom of society are having a really tough time.
Privileged Americans have achieved greater acceptance for a range of identities, from deafness to autism to transgender, but there’s a large underclass. And the idea that somehow justice will trickle down is naïve. We have to really work for the privileges we have to trickle down. The moral impetus now is to fight to ensure not only that there are new rights, but also that the rights we have reach down to the people who don’t have access to them.
To read responses by Madeleine Albright, Chris Anderson, Colette Avital, Larry Brilliant, Shalom Carmy, Deepak Chopra, Haleh Esfandiari, Thomas L. Friedman, Marisol Garrido-Martinez, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jill Jacobs, Nicholas Kristof, T.M. Luhrmann, Bill McKibben, Joel Mokyr, Steven Pinker, Natan Sharansky, Eric Ward, Isabel Wilkerson, George F. Will, and Caroline Randall Williams, please visit Moment Magazine.