The big ask – and the kids who won’t


For traditional societies (stable ones, which have proven the survival value of their particular approach to life’s challenges over centuries), it is quite obvious that we can expect older citizens to reflect variations of the values they were taught when young.

Fiery, beautiful – and on their way out (top photo)

As a general rule, it is very difficult to ‘see’ yourself in objective terms – and it’s far more difficult still to understand the history being formed around us. Thing is, we actually know for a fact that we aren’t a stable society – because the expectations with which our young have been raised have shifted radically every few years, for the last half century and more.

It is entirely possible that we’re on the right track – but we’d have to actually hit some point of consensus and prove that worked for several generations in a row, before we could reasonably make that claim. That’s not only unlikely, it’s not even one of our goals. We want constant change and progress! (though our definitions of these, vary in rather extreme ways).

The post war baby boomer generation was specifically encouraged to believe that their primary responsibility was to consume and thus create economic activity. This wasn’t portrayed as selfishness – they were told it was outright helpful.

We now understand in clear terms that mass consumerism for it’s own sake is the equivalent of all of us being trained to defecate in our own nest. Absolutely not a survivable strategy, nor has it proven to be a route to general happiness – not even widespread reward for solid effort, except for that one uniquely charmed cohort.

It is almost hilarious, that the great ancient traditions of wisdom, (so many of which have been famously adored by the boomers) identify that exact childish always-wanting stage of self as the very thing that stands in the way of all mature and advanced character growth.

(What is the sound of one consumer, trying desperately to consume the unconsumable? Turns out to be whining like an ill-tempered baby – who knew? – aside from everyone wise who ever lived) ;o)

Sunrise red

Younger generations have also been taught consumerism, but if we look at them with respect, instead of sneering contempt, we notice clear signs that their particular mix of ideas has been shifting toward the realistic for quite some time. They are measurably fairer, more cooperative, less racist.

On the other hand – they never got anything like the bribe the boomers did, even though they have been told their whole lives to expect it at any moment, because easy prosperity is our ‘normalcy’. This is a lie that we should really stop telling. No it isn’t. The particular wave that created the largest middle class in history arrived mostly thanks to the death of uncountable millions in the second world war. Not only not a right, but a dividend from unimaginable tragedy and horror.

Is it psychologically fair to expect the boomers, who have grown up expecting more than anyone ever did – and still do – to moderate their appetites, when they have been taught these are socially beneficial?

Probably not. That truly is a big ask for any human being.

On the other hand – is it fair for the boomers to destroy the world, because it’s really hard to adjust one’s thinking in one’s advanced years? No way! In particular, the horrifying manner in which the culture war has been abused for several generations running now, really has to stop. No more being mean to any kid, for the sins of someone else (or for any other reason, actually).

Overheard in a retail store, just last year:

Customer: “Is that the very best price you can do? I’m on a fixed income.”
Clerk: “Oh wow, that must be so amazing. You always know you’ll have food and rent money coming each month, huh? That would be awesome.”

The out of reach ascent

What the heck is going on now? Why are the old norms breaking down? Because we never have been pure good guys – always were exploiting the foreign poor (as dominant empires have done throughout history) but more recently, we’ve even been exploiting our very own kids and grandkids, by means of an oversized shift of economic emphasis from worker to investment (retirement) priority – withdrawing assets on a vast scale from the commons, that were there and very helpful for us when young, and making new young starting lives insanely expensive and unrewarding. For many, destroying their entire youthful phase of discovery and pleasure. All the stress and cynicism of 60 years and the joy of 20 – maybe almost amortized by the age of 37, with luck!

Any wonder so many are furious? Let me tell you the secret about the angry vote that very few on the old traditional left or right is willing to see (and boy do they go to some incredibly elaborate and hateful extremes, desperately trying to paper-over the blindingly obvious insight).

Many of these ‘demented’ voices aren’t concerned about policy at all – they are voting based upon “I would rather smash this whole scam to pieces, than go along with it any further. To heck with everyone who built it – and everyone who is still trying to shove it down my throat.” (Yes, Bernie could have won over many – and lead their must-change-now energy in a far more socially productive direction).

To the extent that we actually do emotionally perceive this smashing-fury in the rise of fearful forces, we respond with fear and hostility – again, quite natural psychologically – what any would expect, when faced with real threat.

But it’s worth asking – can our fear or hostility effectively defeat this force, when it is so clearly fuelled by our denial of our own mindlessly ravenous unprincipled exploitations, excesses and often deadly consumerist predations? Especially when we’ve considered these to be our first-world ‘rights’ for so very long now that we can’t even imagine simple restraint anymore unless we have rare courage, and a special genius for quiet.

Boss level – graffiti on a weapons-testing range

Like many naive plans, the development of ‘the rebellious teen’ (a massive marketing effort, very deliberately undertaken in the post-war boom) has gone quite off the rails. Alienation and fear of our own young has grown radically, over the last few decades – even while the real threat has dropped sharply by every objective measure. The boomers are actually terrified of kids today being as bad as THEY were. They aren’t, not even close – chill.

The same generation that enjoyed free love, invented ‘tough love’ for their kids – started aspiring to try juveniles as adults, raised sentences – without ever recognizing they were making mistakes – neglecting their fundamental responsibility, and compounding the damage with denial.

When we hear them today sneering at helicopter parents – we know for certain they have learned nothing. This is a rebuke, folks – by someone who was raised in a state of feral neglect by a self-absorbed consumerist – and knows just how much unfair hurt it costs a child, to grow up that way.

Of course there are excesses, and kids need plenty of freedom and air – but that behaviour is most often a reaction against TRAUMA – not a vanity. Those are parents who have decided – “The last thing I would ever do is force my child to experience the same cold neglect I did, when young.”  For which anyone in favour of compassionate future humans, should salute them.

Exit, stage left

Do we have a right to cut down rain forests to make inexpensive meat for our pets? A plastic one of everything? Cheap oil? Biofuels? Almond milk? (1000 litres of diverted fresh river water, per litre) – how about this one – do we have an inalienable right to a ten percent return on our retirement portfolio?

That all depends. Do we have a morality-free right to do as much damage as our dollars will let us get away with? Do we have a right to pretend that it is ‘those evil corporations’ that cause water contamination, starvation and war, and not we, their always reliably “post-moral” customers? We have certainly asserted this right, and also the idea that the high-culture marks we have hit on the crest of this wealth surge, are infinitely more important than offering realistic hope and a future for our own children or even grandchildren.

Guess what? Not so many people are buying into that old line anymore. We are beginning to look like a bunch of predatory psychotic dinosaurs who, for all our high-minded talk, are in fact mostly intent on using up the wealth and health of the earth, for one last-ever binge of wasteful luxury and convenience. This is not about people on the left or right alone – it’s all of us together, being quite defiantly and irretrievably insane.
“I won’t act properly – even by my own declared standard of morality – until they actually force me!”

Unfortunately, this makes toppling all of us – along with the vast array of good things that we’ve accomplished, a frighteningly valid goal for the alienated, and the energetic young everywhere. We’ve got used to thinking we can cut them all right out of the deal, pretend that their hope of a future never even existed. We talk awfully grand, but we act like a faithful suicide-cult. The right to transgress always foremost, and held in common.
Anti-bullying? Get real – that is all we know! Bullying is exactly what ‘the system’ is – and we’ve been playing this game hypnotizingly long.

It breaks my heart to break this very hard truth to you, my friends, but even with our eyes closed tight and the sweet old dreams in mind, we still aren’t the plucky underdog or victim. We have become Pharaoh – and the lie of our own heroism is the stinging insult which has now put at risk, every cultural advance that we hold dear. Ego or principle – time to go all-in.

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