GK Chesterton, or someone like him, commented on the “aristocracy of the living,” meaning that social phenomenon under which a modern citizen imagines that he is smarter than anyone who lived before him. They did die, after all, and here he is, alive. And we are much closer to not dying, or at least it takes us a lot longer to die, these days.
It is not unlike the child assuming he is smarter than his parents, and most assuredly (in America, anyway) smarter than his grandparents. By this, however, he mainly means that he is living in the subculture of youth in America, and as aliens in that land, his parents do not know how to navigate it as well as he does. It gets worse with the grandparents, whom he assumes are of a weaker intelligence because they suffer from ideas that he, in his enlightenment, can see are bigotries.
The child’s obvious mistake is his failure to understand that the parents, if they are psychologically healthy, have no interest in being children anymore. They are only interested in the subculture inasmuch as their children are.
The grandparents have their bigotries, and some of them have almost universally been recognized as ugly; but the child forgets that he has bigotries, too. Bigotry has been framed for crimes that it has not committed – that is, it’s not always wrong. I am bigoted, for example, against anyone who wanted to teach my children in school and showed up smelling like alcohol with their clothes in tatters. That person may be smarter and kinder than I am, but the presentation is unsatisfactory. I am concerned, I think rightly, that some of the same kind of attention might be paid to the curriculum as has been paid into his or her own well-being.
And that’s exactly why it is bigotry – I could be wrong. This teacher might be as good as there is, and perhaps there is some pitiable reason for her appearance. Perhaps there is even an educational reason. Even so, to a finite person with finite abilities – this trips the wire, and I cannot accept it. Nor would you, if you’re being honest.
That is just, in so many ways, what our present culture is decrying. There are groups on the Internet, would-be support groups, that decry employers who don’t like their employees to have visible tattoos – and it is a bigotry. But it is obvious to any dispassionate observer that if I hired an employee with a tattoo covering his whole face, it would have consequences for my business (unless I could so completely isolate him that no one would be affected, customer or co-worker). I may be the enlightened soul who looks at the employee and says, “Yes, it is a shock to think he is still looking at me when his eyes are downcast, but he is quite a capable computer programmer. I will adapt myself so that we can have this otherwise mutually beneficial relationship.”
However, it is unlikely that I can completely isolate him from all co-workers and clients, and now I must help them to adapt (and hope they will) to this rather eerie phenomenon of always being seen. Let us say that most will – if even one will not, then he already has cost me more than a similarly capable programmer with no tattoo.
This is to gloss over the fact that I, as the employer, am offering this programmer a job. It should not remain for me to, by necessity, make accommodations for a choice made by the employee, which is universally acknowledged (explicitly or implicitly) as one that is likely to be detrimental to future social interactions.
Obviously, there are considerations besides these, but the main point is that the boss is hiring – he, almost always, has his pick. It is a bigotry not to pick the tattooed face because of his tattoo, but we might even say it’s a wise bigotry.
Notice, if you haven’t, how bigoted you are against the word bigotry! And that is “the bigotry of the living” – that everyone who does not agree with him must be an idiot, most of all the aged and dead.