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The murkiness of social change

October 7, 2020

Virtually any history of the gay liberation movement in the US spotlights the Stonewall riots as a key event that changed broad perception of those issues. Yet no one realized that at the time, or even for a while after. Their key role was apparent only in retrospect. That is not unusual. Current events that go almost unnoticed at the moment can seem hugely important in the decades following, while those that seem hugely important in the moment may, in a few years, seem not to matter much. That is not because we are blind to what is going on in our own culture, but because we are bad at predicting how culture changes. We read impact into current events, and that embeds some foretelling of how we think the future unrolls. It usually unrolls differently.

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