Sunday, October 23, 2005

Talkin' About My Generation

When I was a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties, it was pretty obvious the world was messed up. The environmental movement was exposing decades of criminal neglect on the part of industry. There was Watergate, Vietnam, race riots, nuclear accidents, and Future Shock. Above all, not a day went by in those times that I didn’t, at least once, think about how the end of the world could come about at any moment.

Adults were generally stupid (though now I know why), and I remember clearly that I and my friends were convinced that we would do a better job running the world when we got our chance.

So now it’s 25 years later, and I realize we couldn’t have been more wrong. Though my generation isn’t quite old enough that we dominate society in an economic sense, we are now the parents of the world, and that’s a very significant thing. So far, the news is not good:

We complain that our schools are not doing a good job, then bitch our kids get too much homework. We bitch when the school year, or school day, is too long. We blame the teacher when our child fails. Meanwhile, in Japan and Germany, where no such objections exist, students are outperforming us handily in academic achievement. Hmm.

Most of the school teachers are now from my generation, and across the board standards have dropped to the lowest common denominator. When I was in second grade, my classmates and I were entering creative writing contests; today, kids aren’t expected to learn to read until the end of the third grade. Standards have to be forced on schools by the Feds to make them do what they were able to do without help 25 years ago, and students still come out thinking that World War II was fought in the 1880’s, the earth orbits the sun each day, and that the Civil War was fought over slavery alone.

My generation seems to also have brought about the death of courtesy, by refusing to pass on the unwritten rules of American culture to their children. You don’t drive in the left lane of a freeway unless you’re passing someone. You hold a door for a lady, and give up your chair if necessary. You don’t cut in front of people in lines. You don’t drive 20mph under the limit so you can look cool (unless you’re actually “cruising,” which is limited to weekend nights in specific places). You don’t swear in public, and you don’t wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president. All of these things are lost on us and our children.

People my age are beginning to defile many other institutions, as well. They now run the military from the middle on down, and some of our soldiers are suddenly showing signs that they don’t consider human rights sacred. Not a coincidence. They are rising in the ranks of corporate governance, and corporate greed and corruption are on the rise. Workers are treated more and more like commodities (an intensification of the general dehumanization wrought by my parents’ generation), and no one seems to have a problem using dishonest business practices, even against their own customers (think banks). Quality has taken a back seat to bean-counting in all things.

In politics, we and our children seem to be uniquely ignorant of the values on which this nation was founded. In polls, people say the media shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever they want without government approval. They think that when Jefferson said “All men are created equal,” he meant that only Americans had rights “endowed by their creator.”—Muslims can be tortured and held without trial at will, because they’re not us. The religious right thinks that government should support their point of view, because the world would be a better place as a result—but no one asks the question, “better for whom?” At least our venerable founders were wise enough to realize that even their own religion could pose a danger to the freedom of Man, a lesson lost on my generation (and most religious people of any age).

Families have become so insular that they only function as security organizations. Everyone in my generation assumes the world is out to get them and their children. The crime rate has fallen steadily since 1990, but no one can let their kids out of their sight anymore. When I was a kid in the “crime-ridden” seventies, I walked or rode my bike to elementary school every morning, more than three miles. That’s unheard of today, even though statistics show it’s less dangerous now than it was then. My generation will even vote against its economic self-interest in exchange for perceived protection from terrorists, but never think twice about the much greater risk they take every time they drive their cars.

The bottom line of all of this seems to be selfishness and ignorance. No one thinks about the common good (and here I’ll send out a big “fuck you” to Ayn Rand and the Objectivists in the world). Everyone in my generation thinks their own rights and needs are more important than those of others. They think that the world owes them something for nothing.

And these are the lessons we’re passing on to their children, right now. We should all be very afraid.

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