Let’s pick an arbitrary moment in history; the OJ Simpson car chase, perhaps. People who are old enough to remember that event are of an age where they will have also witnessed a huge change in society from that time to the present day.
If you were old enough to be aware of the OJ Simpson case in 1994, you’ll also remember how it was still considered a massive problem to be openly gay in many areas of public life.
Some obvious examples:
Freddie Mercury – it wasn’t until just before his death of AIDS in 1992 that his sexuality was publicly acknowledged.
Liberace – also not publicly acknowledged as being gay until after his death in 1987, despite some fairly obvious clues.
Rock Hudson – same story, died in 1984.
It seems ridiculous now to think that homosexuality would be in any way a bar to career success, particularly in the entertainment industry, in 2019. In addition, most western countries have laws explicitly banning discrimination against someone based on their sexual orientation and recognising same sex marriage as equal in law as that between men and women.
Similarly, someone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s would have seen a large change in the attitudes of the media and the general public towards the acceptability of racism.
Examples from the UK:
The Black and White Minstrel Show – a “light entertainment” show on the BBC featuring singers and dancers in blackface that ran for 20 years until 1978…. and continued on stage in London until 1988.
The Goodies – the Pythonesque comedy show regularly used offensive racial terms in the show, including at least one reference of the “N word”.
Jim Davidson, Bernard Manning, most mainstream TV stand-up comics – many relied heavily on racial stereotypes in their humour. Even the black comedian, Lenny Henry, had a rasta character of which he is probably somewhat embarrassed these days.
The same is true with the western societies’ attitudes to women in the workplace. At the highest level of office, many countries have elected female leaders, with New Zealand and the UK having had two (albeit with mixed results). There have been huge shifts in the numbers of women having successful corporate and governmental careers.
On a personal note, the majority of my corporate bosses over the 2nd half of my career have been female, completely the opposite of the previous half.
When one considers where we’ve come from to where we have arrived today, the improvements have been overwhelmingly positive. Someone uttering a racist, sexist or homophobic comment in society today would be, rightly, quickly criticised.
Perhaps we have an altogether different problem now……
If I had to give the problem a name, I’d offer something like, “the asymmetry of lobbyists and issues“.
To understand what I mean by this, consider the following thought experiment;
If you could plot two lines on a graph over time, where one line measures the organisation size (by staff or perhaps revenue) of a campaign group against racism, sexism or homophobia and the other line measures the size of the problem they are campaigning to solve, which directions would each line be traveling?
That is, do you think homophobia is getting better or worse and do you think, say, Stonewall, has become larger or smaller (not to particularly pick on Stonewall)?
There comes a moment in every war where the combatants must decide whether the fight has been won or lost and what their plans will be as a consequence.
In the example of a “real” war, one fought with bullets and bombs, once it has been won the armies generally begin the process of de-mobilisation, go home to their loved ones and continue with their lives, “turning swords into ploughshares”, as the phrase has it.
It doesn’t seem obvious that anything similar is likely to happen with culture wars such as the ones described above as, obviously, the organisations have been created and are not motivated to dismantle themselves under a banner saying “Mission Accomplished”.
The alternative is what we see today; scope creep. People who make their salaries from finding a problem and solving a problem will continue to find problems, regardless of whether those problems are material or even real.