Sunday, November 18, 2007

progress report

when i was a teenager, i heard, 'don't trust anyone over 30.'

the warning was generally well founded, almost certainly well intended, even if in need of some qualification.

there were, of course, older people who were worthy of trust + sources of inspiration, just as there were young people who were meanly motivated.

but, on the whole, our elders based their values on fear, reverence for authority, intolerance of relativism + uncertainty, + acceptance of injustice as a fact of life.

forty years later, the opposite seems to be true: i ought not trust anyone under 30.

again, some qualification is needed, but on the whole the values of the young today look like those of our parents. not all of the young, of course, + the values themselves, of fear, authoritarianism, intolerance, + passivity, originate not in the economic depression, world war, + hellfire + brimstone our parents grew up with, but in the frenzy of reagan-era consumerism, terrorism, aids, + media hype.

our parents had false idols, the young today have false 'american idols,' a cult of celebrity + instant, easy success.

our parents were tight with a penny, acquainted with + chastened by the poverty of the 1930s. the young today freely spend--not out of philanthropy or even pleasure, but out of a self-centered, joyless drive to keep up with rapidly advancing technologies.

religion is not what it once was. a growing number of the young are not religious at all, even frankly, happily atheistic. but the majority of young americans remain christian, though they no longer read the bible, because they no longer read anything. their christianity is marketed to them through slogans, jingles, + imagery, just like their soft drinks + music.

last night i looked at the facebook group for the christian school i graduated from in the early '70s--a fundamentalist evangelical school i remember for being racially segregated (under the pretense of moral purity + separation from the world), banning miniskirts + flared trousers as immoral, + encouraging drabness as a reasonable substitute for modesty.

gone are the earnest asceticism + (admittedly hypocritical) unworldliness.

the young people at this school today look just as stiff + borderline hysterical as i remember kids (myself) being under the rod of our elders, but in their profile pics i don't see the pretended sanctimony of our old yearbook pictures--instead, the girls look gym-toned + dressed seductively for sex + the boys pose shirtless, flexing for the camera, + sternly adopt their 'hard' faces.

but like the old-time christians they are undoubtedly still officially celibate + excruciatingly straight, while either guiltily fucking in secret or suppressing their libido with mild forms of mental + physical self-abuse. the new show of skin seems rather to represent a triumph over eroticism, rather than a celebration of it.

these kids look confident in belonging to the elites, the master multi-race (enforced segregation being, thankfully, a thing of the past).

they look certain of themselves, even if uninformed about life in general.

they lack any knowledge of philosophy or spiritual wisdom that cannot fit on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt.

as i was a fundamentalist during the 'summer of love,' i see the improvements, to be sure, but i am shocked by the lack of liberty, imagination, + generosity that to some extent characterized even uptight me + my puritan friends.

these new kids are high maintenance. they plug in + recharge their imagination, pay a monthly fee for it. they don't care about the world--they want good-paying jobs, not callings. they value security over freedom--for them, freedom is something to give up in order to gain a blemishless + no-risk hothouse existence. they want families + children. they want the government to keep its hands off the church while it legislates + enforces the values of the church.

i'm speaking in generalities, of course, sounding like the pontificating middle-aged man i sometimes am. as i said before, i do see the improvements. i do recognize that, among the young today, there are still a few romantic idealists, some skeptical thinkers, some libertines remaining. i do admit, also, that my generation was not uniformly progressive in its thought or ambition.

i guess mainly i'm disappointed that things aren't better than they are.

the most important human needs are still unmet.

democratic + rational ideas seem under greater threat today than at any other time in my half century of life.

people, young + old (+ let's be realistic enough to recognize that bush + cheney--the real problem--are anything but youthful), still are unwilling (to cite the jingles of long ago) to give peace a chance or put a little love in their hearts.

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