Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males

I was reminded of an old post of mine where I discussed an unintentionally humorous bumper sticker: “Kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies.” The logic being used is rather odd, the former having little to do with the latter. It just makes me smile.

The fact of the matter is that few kids do any of those things. It’s true that most kids who hunt, fish, and trap don’t mug little old ladies. But then again, it’s likewise true that most kids who don’t hunt, fish, and trap also don’t mug little old ladies. Despite the paranoia of right-wing media, there isn’t a pandemic of juvenile delinquents taking advantage of the elderly.

The culture wars never die. In one form or another, they’ve been going on for a long time. The same kind of rhetoric can be found even centuries ago. It’s a powerful worldview, eliciting generational conflict. It seems that adults have always complained about kids being worse than they were before, as if the entirety of civilization has been a slow decline from a Golden Age when perfect children once were obedient little angels.

Seeing that post again, I remembered a book I read about a decade ago: Jackson Lear’s Rebirth of a Nation. The author explained the reason manliness and character building suddenly became an obsession around the turn of the century. It led to stocking rivers with game fish, the creation of the Boy Scouts, and greater emphasis put on team sports.

It was far from a new concern. It was built on the Jeffersonian views of agrarian democracy. Immediately following the revolution, it became a fear that the next generation of children needed to be carefully shaped into good citizens. The wholesome farm life was a major focus, especially among the ruling elite who worried about the unruly underclass. This worry grew over time. What exacerbated the fears over the following generations is that in the mid-to-late 1800s there was the beginnings of mass industrialization and urbanization, along with the commercialization of every aspect of life such as the emergence of a consumer economy and consumer culture. The consumer-citizen didn’t fit the heroic mould of old democratic-republican ideals of masculinity.

It relates to why Southerners worried about the end of slavery. It wasn’t just about blacks being free. It was a sign of the times, the end of the independent farmer and the rise of paid labor. Many worried that this would simply be a new form of slavery. How could a man be a man when he was as dependent as a child on another for his living?

This was a collective concern. And so society turned to collective answers. This contributed to the push for Prohibition and public schooling. It was a sense that boys and young men, in particular, had lost some essential element of character that once came natural to their agrarian ancestors. This new generation would have to be taught how to be real men by teaching them hunting, fishing, trapping, sports, etc.

* * *

Rebirth of a Nation:
The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
By Jackson Lears
pp. 27-29

But for many other observers, too many American youths—especially among the upper classes—had succumbed to the vices of commerce: the worship of Mammon, the love of ease. Since the Founding Fathers’ generation, republican ideologues had fretted about the corrupting effects of commercial life. Norton and other moralists, North and South, had imagined war would provide an antidote. During the Gilded Age those fears acquired a peculiarly palpable intensity. The specter of “overcivilization”—invoked by republican orators since Jefferson’s time—developed a sharper focus: the figure of the overcivilized businessman became a stock figure in social criticism. Flabby, ineffectual, anxious, possibly even neurasthenic, he embodied bourgeois vulnerability to the new challenges posed by restive, angry workers and waves of strange new immigrants. “Is American Stamina Declining?” asked William Blaikie, a former Harvard athlete and author of How to Get Strong and Stay So, in Harper’s in 1889. Among white-collar “brain-workers,” legions of worried observers were asking similar questions. Throughout the country, metropolitan life for the comfortable classes was becoming a staid indoor affair. Blaikie caught the larger contours of the change:

“A hundred years ago, there was more done to make our men and women hale and vigorous than there is to-day. Over eighty per cent of all our men then were farming, hunting, or fishing, rising early, out all day in the pure, bracing air, giving many muscles very active work, eating wholesome food, retiring early, and so laying in a good stock of vitality and health. But now hardly forty per cent are farmers, and nearly all the rest are at callings—mercantile, mechanical, or professional—which do almost nothing to make one sturdy and enduring.”

This was the sort of anxiety that set men (and more than a few women) to pedaling about on bicycles, lifting weights, and in general pursuing fitness with unprecedented zeal. But for most Americans, fitness was not merely a matter of physical strength. What was equally essential was character, which they defined as adherence to Protestant morality. Body and soul would be saved together.

This was not a gender-neutral project. Since the antebellum era, purveyors of conventional wisdom had assigned respectable women a certain fragility. So the emerging sense of physical vulnerability was especially novel and threatening to men. Manliness, always an issue in Victorian culture, had by the 1880s become an obsession. Older elements of moral character continued to define the manly man, but a new emphasis on physical vitality began to assert itself as well. Concern about the over-soft socialization of the young promoted the popularity of college athletics. During the 1880s, waves of muscular Christianity began to wash over campuses.

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A Generation to End All Generations

Steve Bannon is someone to be taken seriously. A while back, I quoted something he said that is quite telling when put in context. He declared that, “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.” Isn’t that a strange statement by a right-wing extremist. That statement has gone along with progressive rhetoric that Trump rode to power.

Bannon directed the documentary, “Generation Zero”, in 2009. It is a propaganda piece that was pushed by right-wing media. And unsurprisingly it blames the political left, along with some good ol’ fashion hippie punching and minority scapegoating. The documentary attempts to resurrect the culture wars for the purpose of somehow explaining the economic crash. Even so, it is based on an insightful, non-partisan generations theory that should be taken on its own terms. If you want to know the playbook Bannon is going by, you’d need to read The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

What the theory explains is that the last time we were at this same point in the cycle Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into power and entirely restructured the American economic and political system. And I’d note that this was accomplished with the use of a soft form of corporatism, most apparent in Californian big ag. This earlier corporatism kept its distance from the worst aspects of fascism. But with the living memory of World War II fascism fading, Bannon and Trump are a lot less wary about playing with fire.

Here is the documentary that puts a right-wing spin on Strauss and Howe’s theory:

I forgot that it was Bannon who made that documentary. I saw that when it came out. It didn’t get much attention at the time outside of right-wing media. My only interest in it was that it used Strauss and Howe’s generations theory which I’d been reading about since the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Largely unknown to the general public, Strauss and Howe’s work has been known by politicians for years. As I recall, Bill Clinton had positive things to say about the theory. You’d think he could have explained to Hillary why she should take it seriously because obviously she didn’t take it any more seriously than Obama.

For years, people speculated and warned about the possibility of those like Trump and Bannon using the theory as a playbook for gaining power. I guess it worked. I think Bannon is misreading the situation quite a bit, though. Or rather he is reading into it what he wants to believe.

He probably does have a good basic grasp of Strauss and Howe’s theory. And so I’m sure he understands where the country is right now. But his understanding of the reasons is most likely shallow, as is typical of the right-wing mind. He has a narrative in his head. The problem is reality doesn’t tend to conform nicely when humans try to project narratives onto it.

Ideological narratives can be dangerous, especially when we start believing our own bullshit. Some see Trump as non-ideological, as a new form of authoritarianism that doesn’t require those old forms of ideological justification, from fascism to communism. This theory proposes that we’ve entered a post-ideological era. That is naive. Trump may have a simplistic ideology of plutocracy, but no doubt it is an ideology. And Bannon for certain is playing an ideological game. In generations theory, he found the perfect frame for a political narrative.

Like Bannon, I years ago sensed the moment we were entering into. It was as if I could hear the clicking of gears. I barely could contain myself because I knew something entirely different was afoot. And it had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama. There were larger forces in society, like vast ocean currents. But I’ve never been one to so easily try to force my own narrative onto events. Unlike Bannon, I’m not seeking power. I have no desire to try to force reality to conform to my beliefs and ambitions. When it comes to theories such as this, I take them with a grain of salt. But I realized that, true or not, someone could take it as a plan of action and make it real.

Bannon is a man with a vision and with a mission. He will change America, if at all possible, or else maybe destroy it in the process. He is playing for keeps. With generations theory, he has a sledgehammer and he is going to whack everything in sight. This won’t be remembered as an era of ideological subtlety. The lies and propaganda, the spin and bullshit is going to come at us with the fury. Alternative facts is just the beginning of it. It will feel like we’ve entered an alternative reality.

“It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

* * *

Trump, Bannon and the Coming Crisis
from Generational Theory Forum

Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?
David Von Drehle

Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and the Coming Crisis in American National Life
by David Kaiser

What’s Next for Steve Bannon and the Crisis in American Life
by David Kaiser

What Steve Bannon really wants
by Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad

Bannon’s film blamed racial-bias law for financial collapse
by Ben Schreckinger

Steve Bannon film outline warned U.S. could turn into ‘Islamic States of America’
by Matea Gold

President Trump’s chief strategist believes America will face a ‘massive new war’
from The Week

Revealed: Steve Bannon ‘is obsessed with a book arguing institutions are destroyed and rebuilt every 80 years’
by Clemence Michallon

For haters only: watching Steve Bannon’s documentary films
by John Patterson

What I Learned Binge-Watching Steve Bannon’s Documentaries
by Adam Wren

You can learn a lot about Steve Bannon by watching the films he made
by Ann Hornaday

These Films That Steve Bannon Produced Are Terrifying
by Cate Carrejo

The Rightwing Documentary Producers Who Are Shaping Trump’s America
by Peter Hamilton

“That party could find itself out of power for a generation.”

What this election means will become more clear over time. The demographic data during the campaigns was interesting, indicating a voting public that was in flux with shifting patterns. It will be interesting to look at the data about who did (and did not) vote and how they voted.

The long term consequences might mean parties that no longer resemble anything from the past. The two parties might essentially switch places. Democrats could become the new big biz party, if the Clinton cronies maintain power. Meanwhile, Republicans might become the new working class party with strong union member support and an economic populist agenda.

Another possibility is that we might see the eventual death of one of the main parties. At the moment, Republicans could be in the more dangerous position. They have the numbers and power in Washington DC to do almost anything they want. They better pick their battles wisely and ensure they gain victories worth winning. They have one shot to show themselves to be a party of reform. If they fail, they could be facing a dire situation far beyond merely losing the mid-term elections.

In a book published in 1997, William Strauss and Neil Howe made a prediction. I read that book not long after that and so the prediction has been on my mind for a while. They wrote that whichever party was in power when the crisis hit “could find itself out of power for a generation.” They saw the beginning of the Fourth Turning as happening sometime early in this century and then in the years following would come the crisis, but this involves predictions of large historical cycles that could be off by a decade or so. Here is the full quote (The Fourth Turning, p. 312):

“Come the Fourth Turning, America will need both personal sacrifice and public authority. The saeculum will favor whichever party moves more quickly and persuasively toward a paradigm that accommodates both. Both parties should lend seasonality to their thinking: Democrats a concept of civic duty that limits the harvest, Republicans a concept of civic authority that limits the scattering. If they do not, the opportunity will arise for a third party to fill the void – after which one or both of today’s two dominant parties could go the way of the Whigs.

“History warns that when a Crisis catalyzes, a previously dominant political party (or regime) can find itself directly blamed for perceived “mistakes” that led to the national emergency. Whoever holds power when the Fourth Turning arrives could join the unlucky roster of the circa 1470 Lancastrians, circa 1570 Catholics, circa 1680 Stuarts, circa 1770 Tories, circa 1860 Democrats, and circa 1929 Republicans. That party could find itself out of power for a generation. Key persons associated with it could find themselves defamed, stigmatized, harassed, economically ruined, personally punished—or worse.”

Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t seem to fit this prediction, despite some fearing it would. He has retained his favorable ratings and nothing horrible went wrong during his administration. It’s just that he turned out to be an ordinary professional politician, but still he succeeded in creating healthcare (insurance) ‘reform’ and under his watch the US military took out Osama bin Laden who was America’s most hated enemy. Even the earlier Bush presidency is still remembered without too much negativity, as it was a time of growing patriotic fervor, even with it having ended on the sour note of the Great Recession.

Donald Trump, however, is an entirely different kind of creature. He will either take Republicans in a new direction or he will take them over a cliff. Upwards and onwards or down and out. It’s hard to see a third option of maintaining stasis. The problems that might come barreling down on the Trump administration could be more than can be handled, even if the Republicans had a worthy vision to offer and workable plans to implement.

Democrats are lucky for power having slipped from their grasp. Now that Clinton lost the election, her sins will slowly but surely disappear from public awareness. She might as well be a non-entity at this point. Anything that happens in the immediate future won’t be blamed on Democrats. They have been sent to wander in the political desert. Upon their return, they can act as prophets from the wilderness, pretending they were never a part of what caused all the problems in the first place.

Voters have short memories. It doesn’t matter who is to blame. What wins elections is who gets blamed. I almost feel sorry for Republicans in their victory. They have some tough years ahead of them. It could very well turn out to be a no-win situation, no matter what they try to do.

Even some on the political right have had these exact same concerns, based on the same prediction of Strauss and Howe. Back in March over at Red State, Ausonius wrote about “this ominous warning for Republicans, who think Trump is the answer for 2016”. The author continues:

“Since 1992, we have endured three Baby-Boomer presidents, a mediocrity, a passable one, and one complete disaster. We currently have two more Baby-Boomer candidates near 70 years of age, whose characters are less than savory, and whose ideas are stale, ridiculous, or formulas for destruction. It is quite possible that a Trump or H.R. Clinton presidency will not address the crisis, but will instead contribute to it by a combination of egotism, incompetence, and ideological blindness. […]

“Republicans could become 21st-century versions of their 1929 ancestors, if they select candidates – and not only for the presidency – incapable of dealing with the chaos around us. Our politicians, and certainly the president, must have a character derived from virtues: the charming, smooth-talking, tell-’em-what-they-wanna-hear techniques of the sociopathic salesman are dominant because a large minority (I hope it is not a majority) of the electorate is thinking on the 12-year old level used by television, the only level it can use.”

* * *

The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
by Neil Howe, Hedgeye

Neil Howe Warns The ‘Professional Class’ Is Still In Denial Of The Fourth Turning
by Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge

Has The Fourth Turning Brought Us Trump?
by Scott Beeken, Bee Line

From Generational Theory Forum:
Presidential election, 2016
The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
Neil Howe: It’s going to get worse; more financial crises coming
Neil Howe: ‘Civil War Is More Likely Than People Think’
It Ain’t Over, Folks
Grey Champions and the Election of 2016
Has the regeneracy arrived?
A Realignment Theory
Will a nationalist/cosmopolitan divide be the political axis of the coming saeculum?
Political Polarity To Reverse On Gun Control, States’ Rights?

 

Fearful Perceptions

They all look the same.

That is a stereotypical racist statement, an excuse for generalizing, but it isn’t just rhetoric. It is directly related to perception and so is the basis of racism itself. You first have to perceive people as the same in order to perceive them as a race in the first place.

I’ve even heard otherwise well-meaning people make comments like this, with no self-awareness of the racist implications of it. Most racism operates unconsciously and implicitly.

Then this informs specifically how an individual is seen. For example, all people perceived as ‘black’ also are perceived as older and guiltier—see the MNT article:

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Consider another aspect of perception, that of generations over time. Most people, especially as they age, look to the past with nostalgia. The world used to be a better place and the people were better too.

I’ve explored this before with the rates of teen sexuality and all that goes with it. Many older people assume that a generation of sluts has emerged. It is true that kids now talk more openly about sex and no doubt sexual imagery is more easily accessible in movies and on the web.

Even so, it turns out the kids these days are prudes compared to past generations. Abortion rates are going down not just because of improved sex education and increased use of birth control. It’s simply less of an issue because the young’uns apparently are having less sex and it sure is hard to get pregnant without sex. To emphasize this point, they also have lower rates of STDs, another hard thing to get without sex.

On top of that, they are “partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” Not just prudes, but “boring prudes.”

None of that fits public perception, though. Everyone seems to know the world is getting worse. I’m not necessarily one to argue against the claim that the world is going to shit. There is no doubt plenty going wrong. Still, I do try to not generalize too much.

The other article I noticed, by Mike Males at CJCJ, is also about changes in crime rates.

Imagine that a time-liberated version of vigilante George Zimmerman sees two youths walking through his neighborhood: black, hoodied Trayvon Martin of 2012, and a white teen from 1959 (say Bud Anderson from Father Knows Best). Based purely on statistics of race and era, which one should Zimmerman most fear of harboring criminal intent? Answer: He should fear (actually, not fear) them equally; each has about the same low odds of committing a crime.

So, why are young blacks such an obsession of our collective fear?

In the town I live in, white kids commit crimes all the time and it rarely get covered by the local media, but any black kids step out of line and it is major news. Over about a decade (1997-2009), there were two incidents where police shot an innocent men, one white and the other black. Guess which caused the most outrage? Guess which one now has a memorial in the local city park? Let me give you a hint: It wasn’t the black guy, despite his having been fairly well known in town and well liked by those who knew him.

Further on in the CJCJ article, the author points out that:

We don’t associate Jim and Margaret Anderson’s 1950s cherubs with juvenile crime—but that’s based on nostalgia and cultural biases, not fact. Back then, nearly 1 in 10 youth were arrested every year; today, around 3 in 100. Limited statistics of the 1950s show juvenile crime wasn’t just pranks and joyriding; “younger and younger children” are committing “the most wanton and senseless of murders… and mass rape,” the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency warned in 1956.

We certainly don’t associate 1950s white kids as having been dangerous criminals. Even so, if you look back at the period, you quickly realize that adults during that era were scared shitless of the new generation, between the new media of television and the emergence of full-blown Cold War paranoia. To get a sense of how kids were perceived back then, watch the movie “Village of the Damned.”

And, with immigration barely a trickle, that was when whites came to hold the largest majority in any time of American history. Following decades of racial laws and practices, it was the perfect white utopia or as perfect as it was going to get.

It is true that there was a decline, having begun with Boomers and perfected with my own GenX peers. I’ve written about that issue a lot. The economy was heading down its slow decline and lead toxicity rates shot up like never before. So, the parents were losing their good jobs while the kids’ brains were being poisoned, a great combination. The whole world was shifting beneath the American population, and it didn’t tend to lead to good results. Communities and families were under extreme stress, often to the breaking point.

Since the sainted Fifties, America has seen rapid teenage population growth and dramatic shifts toward more single parenting, more lethal drugs and weapons, increased middle-aged (that is, parent-age) drug abuse and imprisonment, decreased incarceration of youth, decreased youthful religious affiliation, and more violent and explicit media available to younger ages. Horrifying, as the culture critics far Right to far Left—including Obama, who spends many pages and speeches berating popular culture as some major driver of bad youth behavior—repeatedly insist.

It used to be that blacks were blamed for almost everything. They still are blamed for plenty and disproportionately so. Yet the political right has started to viciously turned on its own favored group, the white working class. Charles Murray did that in his recent book, Coming Apart, where he almost entirely ignored blacks in order to focus on the divide emerging between whites, sorting into the low class losers and the upper class meritocracy.

In a post from last year, I pointed to some articles discussing Murray’s book. One article (by Paul Krugman over at Truthout) makes a relevant point:

Reading Mr. Murray’s book and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: Is it really all that bad?

I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among working-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), but it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?

Well, one thing oddly missing in Mr. Murray’s work is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. Why? Because it has actually been falling like a stone, according to National Vital Statistics data.

And what about crime? It’s soaring, right? Wrong, according to Justice Department data.

So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine.

Nell Irvin Painter at NYT offers this thought:

Involuntary sterilization is no longer legal, and intelligence is recognized as a complex interplay between biology and environment. Indeed, the 1960s, the era that Mr. Murray blames for the moral failings that have driven poor and middle-class white America apart, was the very same era that stemmed the human rights abuse of involuntary sterilization. (Not coincidentally, it was the same era that began addressing the discrimination that entrenched black poverty as well.)

The stigmatization of poor white families more than a century ago should provide a warning: behaviors that seem to have begun in the 1960s belong to a much longer and more complex history than ideologically driven writers like Mr. Murray would have us believe.

Considering it all, who should we fear? That is who should we fear, besides Muslims, immigrants, and foreigners. Should we fear blacks? The young? Or the Poor? Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between our fears. Any combination of black, young, and poor will do—all three together, of course, being the worst.

When fear drives perception, we perceive a fearful world. To release the tension of anxiety and paranoia, someone has to be the scapegoat, whatever group is easiest to generalize about without any confusing emotions of empathy, which in practice means those with the least power to speak out and be heard. The generalizations don’t need to correspond to reality, just as long as a good narrative can be spun in the mainstream media.

From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

I came across recent data on the increasing mortality rates for middle-aged Americans (as pointed out in a comment from a post on Social Darwinism). It’s been written about in a number of places: David Cay Johnston at Al Jazeera America, Ian Sample at The Guardian, and elsewhere. The Atlantic article by Olga Khazan included two telling graphs:

The first thing I noted was that this is precisely about my generation, the first wave hitting their 50s these past few years. The infamous Generation X was known for its social problems in youth and now here we are again, carrying our problems into middle age. It is interesting that I have yet to see anyone else observe that this is a generational phenomenon, besides a rare comment.

This trend actually began during the Boomers, as the shift for 45-54 year olds followed 1998, but it has been worsening with Generation X. Before that, there had been a steady decline for the mortality rates of the middle-aged of the GI Generation and Silent Generation, bottoming out with the first wave of the Boomer Generation. As the chart shows, it was only over this past decade, when the GenX vanguard came into this age demographic, that the rates climbed back above where it was in 1990.

With Generation X, following the post-WWII baby boom, there was obviously a decline of the birth rate which also began as a shift with the late 1950s Boomer birth cohort, although the baby bust didn’t hit a low point until the middle of GenX. This nadir was in 1975, the year I was born. My generation was the first highly aborted generation, but its a bit odd that the birth rate began its decline about a decade in advance of abortion rate increase.

This also was a time of increasing childhood poverty, even as elderly poverty was decreasing. Funding and welfare directed toward children went on the decline during this era, although it did shift back up some with the following Millennial Generation, even as childhood poverty rates remained high:

Poverty by age

I see that child poverty hit one peak in 1983, when I turned 8 years old. The last time it had been at that level was decades before. It is strange, however, that the elderly poverty rate kept on its continuing decline. This decline of poverty has been mostly focused on the GI and Silent generations, having dropped from a high level with the Lost Generation. It dropped again in the 1990s, with another low point for the first wave of Millennials, and then rose again with the Recession back to where it was when I was a kid.

At the same time, GenXers had parents with high rates of being divorced or otherwise single. This corresponded with high rates of working mothers and kids being left alone at home after school. Mine was a generation of latchkey kids, not seen since the Lost Generation. Also, the rates for childhood and youth paid labor hadn’t been this high since early 1900s when Lost Generation kids worked as newsboys and in factories and mines.

Writing about Generation X in the early 1990s, Neil Howe and William Strauss put out a book, 13th Gen, that was published in 1993 (they designated this the 13th Generation, since that is what it is in the order of Anglo-American generations). The year 1993 was around the time the last wave of GenXers were either exiting elementary school or entering high school (I graduated in 1994), depending on the endpoint given for this cohort. These authors place the last year of GenX as 1981, although some place it as late as 1984. The first wave was sometime in the early-to-mid 1960s, with an approximate two decades in between.

From that view of the early 1990s, Strauss and Howe wrote that,

“Every day, over 2,5000 American children witness the divorce or separation of their parents. Every day, 90 kids are taken from their parents’ custody and committed to foster homes. Every day, thirteen Americans age 15 to 24 commit suicide, and another sixteen are murdered. Every day, the typical 14-year-old watches 3 hours of TV and does 1 hour of homework. Every day, over 2,200 kids drop out of school. Every day, 3,610 teenagers are assaulted, 630 are robbed, and 80 are raped. Every day, over 100,000 high-school students bring guns to  school. Every day, 500 adolescents begin using illegal drugs and 1,000 begin drinking alcohol. Every day, 1,000 unwed teenage girls become mothers.

“Assessing the harsh living environment of today’s rising generation, once national commission recently concluded: “Never before has one generation of American teenagers been less healthy, less cared for, or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.” In the 13er cult film Heathers, one teenager put it more bluntly: “You don’t get it, do you? Society nods its head at any horror the American teenager can bring upon himself.”

“Thirteeners may or may not be a “bad” generation, but what is not debatable is that their condition is bad. Even their worst critics have to admit that whatever badness they are is a reflection of how they were raised—of what other people did to them, thought of them, and expected from them—and of what happened in the adult world throughout their childhood years.”

Strauss and Howe point out that all of this is worse for minorities (p.120):

“The young male residents of Harlem are less likely to live to age 40 than the young male residents of Bangladesh—and face a higher risk of being killed by age 25 than the risk faced by U.S. troops during a full combat tour in Vietnam.”

At Alternet, Dan Hoyle made a similar observation (The Jail Generation):

“Although juvenile poverty rates have steadily declined, the percentage of children raised in single parent homes has risen from 12% in 1970 to 28% in 1998. Although it is unclear how large a role increased prison populations play in this phenomenon, the increase has been most marked among those populations that have high incarceration rates. In 2000, only 38% of black children were being raised in two-parent homes.”

There are studies that have analyzed this. Mass incarceration has played a major role in the breakdown of families and communities. GenX was the first generation to be targeted by the drug wars and mass incarceration, and this has left some communities with most of the men either in prison or caught up in the legal system. It has been devastating, especially for poor minorities, but it has harmed the entire generation to varying degrees.

Some of the articles about the middle age mortality have blamed it on increasing drug use. There might be some truth to that. If one really wants to understand that problem, the best analysis available is Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream (see here). Still, it isn’t clear that drug use has changed all that much, even ignoring abuse of prescription drugs by earlier generations. Though drug addiction rates do vary a bit over time, they remain surprisingly stable this past half century—for anything earlier than that we don’t have accurate data.

Sure, the drug wars make everything about drugs more dangerous. Yet that is no different than how Prohibition made every aspect of alcohol riskier and more harmful. Hari, for example, explains how black markets end up making illegal substances more potent and hence more addictive. So, it is government policies that have this biggest impact on changing public behaviors across generations. Different conditions lead to different results, unsurprisingly.

Some of it is a change in attitudes, which is behind the change in government policies. Strauss and Howe make clear how the earth shifted under the feet of GenXers, just as they were learning to walk (pp. 59-61):

“Circa-1970 polls and social statistics showed a negative shift in public attitudes toward (and treatment of) children. As millions of mothers flocked into the work force, the proportion of preschoolers cared for in their own homes fell by half. For the first time, adults ranked autos ahead of children as necessary for “the good life.” The cost of raising a child, never much of an issue when Boomers were little, suddenly became a hot topic. Adults of fertile age doubled their rate of surgical sterilization. The legal abortion rate grew from next to nothing to the point where one of every three fetuses was terminated. In 1962, half of all adults believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for the sake of the children. By 1980, less than one fifth of all adults felt that way. America’s great divorce epidemic was underway.

“Divorce. The fact of it, the calculations influencing it, the openness about it, the child’s anxiety about it, the harms from it, the guilt after it: Here lay the core symptom of Silent nurture of the 13th. America’s divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1975, just as Atari-wave 13ers passed through middle childhood. at every age, a 13er child born in 1968 faced three times the risk of parental break-up faced by a Boomer child born in 1948. Silent parents, authors, and screenwriters addressed divorce as though it were an episodic childhood disease like the chicken pox: something you catch, get sick from, and then get over. […] provoking children of secure families on the fragility of their world. […]

“But if parents liked to stress the “positive” side of divorce, children were left staring at the dark side. according to one major survey of 1970s-era marital disruptions, only one-fifth of the children of divorce professed being happier afterward—versus four-fifths of the divorced parents. […] Of all child generations in U.S. history, 13er kids are the “onliest,” their families the smallest, their houses the emptiest after school, and their parents the most divorced. Three of five 13ers have zero or one sibling, versus less than two in five Boomers at like age. Over the span of this one generation, the proportion of children living with less than two parents increased by half, and the proportion of working mothers of preschool children doubled. fewer than half of all 13ers are now reaching age 16 in households with two once-married biological parents. One 13er in five has half-siblings. If the proliferation of half-thises and step-thats was a challenge for the greeting-card industry, it was devastating to the kids themselves.”

To continue (p. 66):

“Academic journals suddenly abounded with articles about a brand new topic: family violence. Over the 13er child era, the homicide rate for infants and children under four rose by half, the number of reported cases of child abuse jumped fourfold, and the number of vulnerable “latchkey” children fending for themselves after school more than doubled.”

This was a messed up generation, in so many ways. The data makes this clear. I recently showed, for example, how ‘slutty’ was my generation as teens. But the pivotal issue is this was the world into which GenXers were born, and it was all that my peers knew. We were told that we were a bad generation and we came to believe it, a bad generation for a bad era (pp. 87-89):

“When something goes badly wrong, a 13er’s first instinct is to blame himself. That makes some sense, given the world he inhabits. Consider how the public health risks of American teens have changed since the 1950s: Compared to teenagers a third of a century ago, 13ers face a sharply lower risk of dying from accidents or conventional diseases, but this advantage has been almost entirely offset by what elders look upon as “self-inflicted” risks. In the ’50s, the worst threats to youth were random diseases like influenza and polio that attacked good and bad kids with equal cruelty—afflictions that have been mostly conquered. Now, the worst dangers are behavioral. AIDS. Drug and alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Homicide. And, of course, suicide. Almost by definition, “good” kids are the ones who avoid these dangers, and “bad” kids are the ones who get plastered. […] By almost any measure, the first Atari-wave 13ers, born from 1961 through 1964, mark an extreme for the sociopathology of American youth. They set the all-time U.S. youth records for drunk driving, illicit drug consumption, and suicide. They have been among the most violent, criminal, and heavily-incarcerated youth cohorts in U.S. history. Among later-born 13ers, the picture is brightening some—but not much. Many more kids than a quarter century ago continue to inflict upon themselves (and others) the most violent forms of adolescent trauma.”

Indeed, my generation was violent. After dropping mid-century, violence shot up both toward self and others. Suicides are more common among whites for some reason. But during the spike, blacks almost caught up with the white suicide rate.

Most of that increase was among the younger demographics. Why is that? Many have pointed out the rise and fall of heavy metal toxicity from pollution, especially lead additives in gasoline, although an earlier spike was related to lead in paint and farm chemicals (see here, here, here, and here):

Graph showing correlation between lead exposure and violent crime in USA

09205-scitech1-timelinegraph

I’m always surprised this kind of data isn’t brought up more often. It is clearly related.

One might expect children who had higher rates of pollution exposure and hence toxicity, which is to say poisoning, would as adults show health and behavioral problems and that this would then extend into continuing health and behavioral problems as they aged. That an increase in middle age mortality would be seen among this population is the opposite of shocking. Heavy metal toxicity really messes up the body, not just the brain, and the negative effects are lifelong.

Throw on top of this a generally worsening economy and prospects for this generation. What would one expect? Certainly not improvement in the rates of social and physical health.

I’ll end with one last passage from Strauss and Howe (pp. 98-101):

“It’s a well-known complaint that American living standards, on average, have flattened out ever since American productivity began stagnating in early 1970s. What’s less well known is how this leveling of the national average has concealed vastly unequal changes in living standards by phase-of-life, and how the interests of older Americans have been protected at the expense of young people. Consider the following core indicators of economic well-being: worker pay, total household income, household wealth, home ownership, and the likelihood of poverty. From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, all these indicators improved briskly for every age group. Since then, they have diverged markedly across different age brackets. For households headed by persons over age 65, these indicators have continued to improve as though nothing had gone wrong. For age 35 to 65, most of them have just held steady. But for households headed by persons under age 35—the age bracket 13ers have been entering ever since the 1970s—every one of these indicators has gotten worse. Some have fallen off a cliff. […]

“13ers came to realize that they bore most of the burden for the Reagan-era prosperity that so enriched their elders. They watched the drawbridge slam shut on most of the lucrative professional monopolies dominated by older age groups. They watched U.S. manufacturers respond to efficient global rivals by downsizing through attrition, letting their high-wage older work force age in place. They watched the total number of Fortune 500 jobs (cushy benefits and all) reach its historic peak in 1979—just when they first came to the job market—and then head south ever afterwards Those paths blocked, millions of 13ers wedded their future to the one economic sector in which real pay declined, fringe benefits evaporated, and investment and output per worker showed literally no growth at all: the unskilled service sector. Ronald McDonaldland

“During the Bush years, most of today’s 40 million 13ers living on their own hit their first recession. And behold: This was the only cyclical downturn ever recorded in which all the net job loss landed on the under-30 age bracket. Not on Boomer post-yuppies, not on Silent prime-of-lifers, certainly not on G.I. retirees. Subtract 13ers from the employment tally, and presto: No recession! […]

“[13ers] are beginning to ask harder questions about the policy gridlock over most of the issues vital to their economic future. Like why the college class of ’92 faces the most difficult job search of any class since the Great Depression, with nearly a third of entry-level jobs disappearing and average pay falling for those who remain. Or why the proportion of college grads taking jobs that don’t require college degree has doubled over the last decade. Or why the federal deficit keeps growing on their tab. Or why the income tax rates on billion-dollar investments are held down while FICA tax rates on the first dollar of wage income keep rising. Or why unemployment benefits are extended for households already receiving checks, but nothing is done for the most younger households can’t qualify. or why senior citizens get to clamor for yet a third layer of health insurance when one-fourth of all 13ers have no insurance at all. or why a skimpy urban youth bill, drafted in the wake of the L.A. riots, is allowed to grow into a giant Christmas tree of goodies for affluent older people. […]

“Since the early 1970s, say many economists, America has been undergoing a “quiet depression” in living standards. A bit more pointedly, columnist Robert Kuttner describes 13er as suffering from a remarkable generational disease . . . a depression of the young” which makes them feel “uniquely thirsty in a sea of affluence.” From 1929 to 1933, the bust years we call the “Great Depression,” real household income fell by 25 percent all across America. Now once again: what was the dip in age-bracket income that 13er have suffered since replacing Boomers? Twenty percent for young men? Thirty percent for young parents with children? Thirteeners get the message, even if others don’t, about a “quiet” trauma today’s older people would regard as a history-shattering catastrophe if it fell mostly on their heads.”

Alan Moore, Comic Books, and Generations

I came across a year old article about Alan Moore, written by Alison Flood in The Gardian. In it, some comments from an interview are quoted. It is supposedly his last interview, so he claims.

My first take was that Alan Moore had become a crotchety old man. For those of us who are male, it is hard to avoid this fate. I’m halfway there myself. The world passes us by, no matter how hard we try to keep up. Growing old and approaching death can put one in a bad mood.

Much of Moore’s commentary comes off as a petty, emotional rant that was fueled by frustration and bitterness. I get it. I could imagine all the critical attention an artist receives could wear a person down after a while. It would be hard to hold it all at arms length and consider it neutrally or just ignore it. I sympathize. Even if he is a crotchety old man, he has every right to be so.

Anyway, his major gripe seems to be the following:

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence […] I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

Wasn’t he once a child who innocently loved comic books? He overlooks the fact that these days, just as in the past, most people who read comic books and watch the movies based on them are those on the young end of life, not crotchety old men. He seems to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. I’m sure he read all kinds of cheap entertainment crap as a child, but it drew him into the comic book world and inspired him to try his own hand at the form.

His complaints could also come off as being arrogant and somewhat hypocritical. He is complaining about the very field that made him famous and I’m sure quite wealthy. It’s as if he is arguing that, since his own great accomplishments, there is nothing original left to be done with superheroes. This is naive as well. As I write, there are comic book artists pushing the form in entirely new directions, including in terms of superheroes. Just like Moore and his peers did, every new generation will re-create the entertainment media in entirely new ways with new messages.

Another thing More takes issue with are the accusations that he isn’t being appropriately sensitive to racial and gender issues. He spent his life trying to be a sensitive white male and then many who are younger dare to complain that he isn’t being sensitive enough. His defense for his portrayals of sexual violence toward women is that they aren’t any more overrepresented than are the the acts of non-sexual violence. It doesn’t occur to him that it is problematic that both are being overrepresented, as compared to normal life.

Over at popmatters.com, Shathley Q discusses an entirely different interview with Rob Salkowitz. A useful point is made:

“Rob muses on the idea that there’s always a kind of generational lag in comics. It’s the idea that comics’ fandom shifts generations much earlier than comics’ creators. And that the art isn’t always up-to-speed with the artists.”

That lag time is quite apparent in the case of Alan Moore. Several new generations of new comic book audiences have entered the scene since he started his comic book career. Even younger GenXers were still in their diapers when he published his first work. Generations Z and Y weren’t even in existence yet.

That wasn’t always the case. When Moore was a kid, most comic book artists were barely beyond being kids themselves. Back then, it was a young field, in more ways than one. Comic books were only coming into significant popularity the decade before Moore was born.

It was that popularity that got parents and authority figures so worried. The kind of complaints Moore makes now are reminiscent of the complaints back then. These juvenile entertainments were making their way into mainstream influence. With the rise of youth culture, it was as if the entire society was turning juvenile. It was the rise of youths as a major market force. The Comics Code Authority was established the year after Moore was born. Because of this, the 1960s saw the rise of underground culture, including new comic books avoiding censorship.

Another angle to consider is to the earlier context of comic book violence, including sexual violence. The early critics were particularly irate by the violence-and-sex-obsessed nature of the medium, and their criticisms certainly weren’t based on feminism. It is interesting that even, though Moore complained about people holding onto the established comic book superheroes, he defends his own use of that old school comic book sexual violence. Why does he criticize others for the former while defending the latter against the critics who he sees as attacking him? It is strange how strong an argument he makes for his right, almost moral obligation as he states it, to portray sexual violence. He apparently is quite attached to it.

Those are just some semi-random thoughts. My main interest was how generational experience might have shaped some of Moore’s opinions. He was a Boomer, the early popular comic book artists were GIs and Silents, and in recent decades new generations of comic book fans have become artists in their own right. A lot has changed over that time. Moore seems to have an uncertain relationship to that change, embracing it in some ways and demanding even greater change, while in other ways still being stuck in an old mentality.

Rates of Young Sluts

There is nothing that gets the political right as excited as the sexual activity of the youth. They stay up late at night obsessing over all the teenagers having sex and worrying about how it is destroying our country. It’s almost as bad as Islamic terrorists or Obama, same difference.

I came across A few graphs about teen pregnancy and sex by Ampersand, over at the ALAS! A BLOG. This particular graph caught my attention:

age-of-having-sex-graph

I was born in 1975, the great and wondrous GenX. My generation, of course, was the most slutty as teenagers. I didn’t personally contribute to most of those numbers, but it is nice to know that my peers were getting it on at such inspiring rates. At age 14, one in ten of my cohorts had or at least claimed to have had sex.

Since that low point in American sexual depravity, the average age of early sexuality has been going up and up. It’s just like the violent crime rate, that also grew with my generation and then reversed course. It probably is another side effect of all that lead pollution that fucked with the young tender brains of my generation.

Anyway, it turns out kids these days aren’t so slutty. That is interesting as the kids these days are largely the children of those earlier slutty GenXers. But just going by the graph, leaving out the even lower teen sex rate of GenZ, there isn’t a massive difference between the teen sex rates of Millennials and that of Boomers and Silents. My parents were born in the 1940s, when even at that time at least half of my parents’ peers were having sex at some point during their teenage years.

My parents would be shocked by such data. They would deny having done any premarital hanky panky, and I have no reason to doubt it. But Jeez! their generation wasn’t all that different in rates of youthful sluttiness. The youngest generation right now isn’t particularly slutty or not necessarily any more slutty than those old people were at the same age.

Not only are the young’uns having less sex (with lower rates of pregnancies, abortions, and STDs), but also partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Kids are becoming boring prudes.

Republicans, Who They Are and Where They Are Heading

I love looking at demographic and polling data. It can bring up insights that one would otherwise not have considered. Public Policy Polling put out a release that broke down Republican opinion. I highly recommend looking at the data for yourself.

Some reporting on it has focused on the gender divide. Republican men are more motivated by fiscal issues. And Republican women are more motivated by social issues. That leads to the odd results of Republican women being stronger supporters of Christian theocracy in America, despite the obvious fact that would harm women the most. Fortunately, female Republicans are a smaller proportion of the GOP.

One sad part of the data is the age component. Younger Republicans aren’t becoming more liberal. What the data doesn’t show is that the younger cohort in general is becoming more liberal, and they are also less supportive of the Republican Party. What is happening is that the few young folk left remaining in the Republican Party are the most extreme elements. Basically, there are almost no moderate young Republicans left. Moderate Republicans have been disappearing for a long time, but we are about ready to declare them finally extinct.

Considering this, I wonder what the Republican Party will look like 10 to 20 years from now. They are at a crises point. The party has been mostly some combination of older people, whites, and men. Obviously, it can’t stay that way. As the few remaining young reactionaries push the party even further toward radical right-wing politics, a choice will have to be made. If they continue down that path, they will become obsolete.

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

I just watched this video and recommend it.

Stephen Ilardi made two very important points.

First, depression is a disease of civilization. He spoke of research done on a hunter-gatherer tribal people. What the researcher found was that depression was almost non-existent among them. They lived a hard life and often hard deaths, but they weren’t clinically depressed. Nor did they have many of the other diseases of civilization, all of which are related to inflammation in the body.

He points out that studies have shown that depression is related to inflammation in the brain, at least partly caused by an unhealthy ration between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3 fats. Combined with the stresses and social isolation of modern society, clinical depression has become a massive problem.

Second, clinical depression is a growing problem. Each generation has higher rates of depression than the generation before. It correctly can be called an epidemic at this point and it increases as people age. The younger generations will as they age, if the pattern holds, have 50% or more experiencing clinical depression.

This gets at an issue I continually return to. Everything is getting worse for the young generation such as poverty, economic inequality, unemployment and homelessness. My generation is the first generation do worse than their parents in the 20th century. My generation as children had poverty rates not seen since the Great Depression and had the worst child suicide rates since such things were recorded. How bad does society have to get before even children become so desperate and hopeless that they kill themselves?

Most people in the older generations never personally experienced these kinds of conditions. Because of this, they have no tangible understanding, no sympathy. They can’t see how this is a systemic problem throughout society, a problem transcending individuals and even generations.

I’ve previously discussed this a bit in terms of capitalist realism (see here and here), but I’ve never gone into much detail about this before. The analysis behind the concept of capitalist realism is based on the collective inability to imagine alternatives and hence collective inability to perceive the problems of the present system. The individual is the product and the scapegoat of capitalist realism.

* * * *

I decided to look more closely at the increasing rate of suicide.

There definitely is something going on in society. It’s hard to make a simple assessment, but obviously particular demographics are hit really hard, specifically the youth demographic (also particular states and white men). A lot of it seems to do with the economy such as with peaks during industrialization and the Great Depression and then a slow rise during the era of globalization.  Overall national suicide rates go up and down. It is only with particular demographics that you see long-term trends.

http://www.haciendapub.com/medicalsentinel/homicide-and-suicide-america-1900-1998

http://www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html

U.S. Suicide Rates, 1950–2003
(per 100,000 population)

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003
All ages, age adjusted 13.2 13.2 13.2 13.2 12.5 11.8 10.4 10.7 10.9 10.8
5–14 years 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.8 0.9 0.7 0.7 0.6 0.6
15–24 years 4.5 5.2 8.8 12.3 13.2 13.0 10.2 9.9 9.9 9.7
15–19 years 2.7 3.6 5.9 8.5 11.1 10.3 8.0 7.9 7.4 7.3
20–24 years 6.2 7.1 12.2 16.1 15.1 15.8 12.5 12.0 12.4 12.1
25–44 years 11.6 12.2 15.4 15.6 15.2 15.1 13.4 13.8 14.0 13.8
25–34 years 9.1 10.0 14.1 16.0 15.2 15.0 12.0 12.8 12.6 12.7
35–44 years 14.3 14.2 16.9 15.4 15.3 15.1 14.5 14.7 15.3 14.9
45–64 years 23.5 22.0 20.6 15.9 15.3 13.9 13.5 14.4 14.9 15.0
45–54 years 20.9 20.7 20.0 15.9 14.8 14.4 14.4 15.2 15.7 15.9
55–64 years 26.8 23.7 21.4 15.9 16.0 13.2 12.1 13.1 13.6 13.8
65 years and over 30.0 24.5 20.8 17.6 20.5 17.9 15.2 15.3 15.6 14.6
65–74 years 29.6 23.0 20.8 16.9 17.9 15.7 12.5 13.3 13.5 12.7
75–84 years 31.1 27.9 21.2 19.1 24.9 20.6 17.6 17.4 17.7 16.4
85 years and over 28.8 26.0 19.0 19.2 22.2 21.3 19.6 17.5 18.0 16.9
Male, all ages 21.2 20.0 19.8 19.9 21.5 20.3 17.7 18.2 18.4 18.0
Female, all ages 5.6 5.6 7.4 5.7 4.8 4.3 4.0 4.0 4.2 4.2

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/05/chart-americas-rising-suicide-problem.html

http://news.msn.com/science-technology/us-suicide-rate-for-middle-aged-rose-28-percent-in-past-decade

Suicide rate: Chart.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/chart-what-killed-us-then-and-now/258872/

historicaldeaths-615.jpg

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113316/suicide-rates-rise-us-because-economy-not-culture

http://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

http://grerp.blogspot.com/2010/12/thoughts-on-fourth-turning-part-2.html

http://2020plus.net/Editorial-323-Mal-Fletcher-Middle-Age-Suicides-Does-X-Mark-The-Spot.aspx

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14191&page=0

http://www.richardeckersley.com.au/attachments/YMHPbook_chapter_1.pdf

Generations at the Age of Twelve

Let me continue with my thoughts about generational change and conflict which was itself a continuation of my thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. This is one of those topics that gets caught in my craw.

I had two basic thoughts in response to what I’ve already written.

First, I was considering what it is that form’s a generation’s worldview. It is a confluence of events. There are cycles that seem to endlessly repeat (or, if not precise cycles, history does rhyme to an impressive degree). Still, no generation is ever the same as what came before. There is a unique moment in time, an era of childhood, a beginning point that forever shapes the collective mindset of an entire generation (at least within a single country and, increasingly so, within the larger world during this new era of globalized mass media).

Second, I was considering the present older generation and why it is so easy to see them as stalling progress. The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between a stalemate and outright dysfunction. As a society, we can’t seem to resolve the simplest of issues, much less move forward in a productive fashion. This becomes increasingly relevant as my generation and the next takes on the reigns of power.

The first thought leads into the second.

So, about the first thought.

As I explained with the KKK post, it isn’t as if the members of the KKK (the ‘Klansmen’) were evil incarnate. Most of them were normal people doing normal things. The Second KKK in the 1920s was mostly a civic organization. Yes, it was a racist civic organization, but so were many others. Back then, especially among older whites, you would have been outside the norm to not have been racist.

Klansmen probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as racists. Most people don’t define themselves in terms of negatives. Racism was just the cultural background they were born into. It was the world of their childhood.

Childhood is that time of key formative experiences. It creates what we consider normal and acceptable. It is what we look back upon often with fondness and sometimes with righteousness. Even if our childhoods were bad, it is easy for people to not understand why younger generations should have easier childhoods that will make them soft and weak. Whatever the case, we don’t tend to be very objective and neutral about our childhoods.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

“a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury’s childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. [ . . . ] The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.”

Bradbury would only have been 8 years old in 1928, but the fictionalized boy was 12. That is a mythical number of a complete cycle such as 12 months. In the child’s world, life revolves around summer. The end of summer in the novel is symbolic of the end of childhood with the last moment of childhood at age twelve. That last moment of childhood is the end of one period of life and the beginning of another, the ending of elementary school and the halfway point of primary education, halfway point on the way to full adulthood.

Many stories focus on this magical time of life, this point of transition. Stand by Me begins with the voiceover, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” Like Dandelion Wine, this is a story about the ending of childhood and the emergence of adult awareness which is most poignantly made known through death. 12 and Holding is yet another story about the dual themes of age 12 and death.

Maybe one can tell a lot about an individual or a generation in considering what the world was like when they were twelve.

For example, Reagan was twelve in 1923. That is that same quiet period as the setting of Dandelion Wine. It was the 1920s, a carefree time following the end of WWI and before the beginning of the Great Depression. I’m sure Bradbury used 1928 as signifying that innocent moment prior to 1929. The whole country was innocent. WWI would have seemed like an anomaly and anyway it was a war far away that never had much directly to do with the United States, especially for a child who would have had no memory of it at all. WWII and the Cold War were a long way off in the future.

Both Reagan and Bradbury remember childhoods during the 1920s in small towns in Illinois. Reagan considered that to be a formative period of his life. His home at age twelve supposedly is the only house he mentions in any of his books. The 1920s was a time of peace and optimism. Magnified by the memories of a pleasant childhood, Reagan carried that sensibility into his adulthood. And it was that sunny optimism that made him so popular.

Reagan spent his childhood going to school. Many of the Lost Generation, instead of schooling, spent their childhoods working whatever jobs they could find. Unlike Reagan and his cohort, the Lost Generation had less of a childhood to reminisce about. Spending age twelve in a factory or a mine would give you a different worldview for the rest of your life. The Lost Generation was unique in this way. Even the generation before them didn’t have this experience for, in their childhoods, they didn’t know mass urbanization and mass industrialization. So, neither the generation before nor the generation following could understand what the Lost Generation had lived.

Similarly, although to less extremes, Generation X had a relatively difficult childhood and young adulthood.

At age 12, the Cold War was still going on and the oppressive Cold War culture (e.g., comic book codes). As I’ve often pointed out, GenXers childhood was unique in many ways. We were the most aborted generation ever and so a small generation between two large generations. In childhood going on into young adulthood, my generation experienced high rates of poverty, child abuse, homicide, suicide and unemployment. When we were young, society stopped being oriented toward and accommodating of children. Restaurants became less welcoming of young families and less tolerant of the antics of children. Very little entertainment was made for kids and plenty of entertainment was made about evil and possessed children, rebellious and violent teens, and nihilistic and self-destructive young adults.

When most Americans were experiencing economic good times, there were two specific demographics that were hit hard in the last decades of the 20th century: GenXers and blacks. Both demographics experienced high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. If you were a GenX black, it would have felt like the whole world was against you for everyone would have seen you as nothing but a gangsta and a drug dealer. The GenX black was the ultimate scapegoat of our society.

At age 12, GenXers saw a cynical age of greed, oppression and ignorance. That is what many in my generation came to expect as normal, just the way the world is. As a small generation, it didn’t feel like there was much we could do about it. Many of my generation embraced this worldview and so we became the generation with the highest support of Reagan. Cynical realpolitik and Wall Street greed seemed to be the name of the game. We put a very different spin on Reagan’s optimism, though, for we were better able to see through it. Optimism simply meant survival of the fittest and fuck the downtrodden. A not very nice ideal, but nice ideals were for wimpy flower children of the ’60s. That is what we learned from Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

That is the sad result of my generation. We played the game that was presented us, but not all of us wanted to play that game. The only other choice was to drop out entirely or at least psychologically. The advantage my generation has had is that many of us always knew it was bullshit. We never swallowed the lies to as great an extent as the older generation. Reagan actually believed what he said, an actor who became the role he played: first a cowboy, then a corporate spokesperson, and then a politician. His optimism was self-delusion. My generation at least had the sense to realize that there were alternative viewpoints.

Still, it will require a more demanding vision of the generation following mine to have a chance in hell of challenging the 20th century status quo that now bleeds into this new century.  GenXers are too mired in the Boomer worldview that has dominated our entire lives, especially for older GenXers. We are more a generation of doomsaying prophets than inspiring visionaries. The main thing my generation can do is to starkly portray and grimly explain the reasons we got here. I’m part of a generation of clowns for only clowns can speak the truth, not that speaking the truth is a requirement of being a clown.

In my second to last post (of which this post is a continuation), I somewhat simplistically implied that it was Boomers were mucking up the work. To be fair, as explained above, older GenXers are also to blame. Some would even see older GenXers as part of the older generation now ruling politics, rather than as being of the same generation as younger GenXers:

“If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early 40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.”

That fits some of my experience. All of history is continuous. Disruptions are perceived which depends on the experience of those perceiving. If generations exist, it is because they share a common perception of historical events. Simply sharing the same historical period would not be enough.

However you dice the generations, the older demographic dominating politics has been creating dysfunction. I think we can all agree on that much.

So, why are the older folk mucking up the works?

It’s not just that there was a baby boom. No doubt we are experiencing the slow digestion of the elephant in the python, but there is more to it. An elephant, of course, is a difficult thing for a python to digest. More importantly, why does the elephant keep struggling so much in the process? The elephant in question obviously doesn’t want to be digested and is far from giving up the ghost.

This older generation isn’t simply in the way of progress. More specifically, this older generation is resisting progress and reacting to it, fighting it tooth and nail. They’d rather shut down the government than have an honest discussion about our collective problems. It isn’t even as if they are genuinely against government as government grew bigger under their watch than ever before.

There is a lot going on with that generation. They were a more monocultural and whiter demographic. As I’ve pointed out before, they were born at the lowest point of immigration in the 20th century and I’m not sure when it had last been that low. The conflict they grew up with wasn’t between natives and immigrants but between American whites and American blacks, especially between whites from the Northern states and blacks from the Southern states. Still, even between whites and blacks, there was a sense that the country was progressing to some extent, even though less quickly for blacks.

This generation couldn’t understand what followed nor sympathize with those who were negatively impacted. This is why many older blacks also came to support tough on crime laws and the War on Drugs, despite the fact that blacks were being harmed by it and black communities were being destroyed because of it. These older people remembered a world that no longer was and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t remain that way. They had to blame someone. The young were one useful target, young blacks being one of the best targets of all. This is why someone like Bill Cosby can say idiotic things about poor black people.

It’s also a class thing. The economic divide didn’t just grow between whites and blacks. It also grew within the races. The middle and upper class blacks found themselves disconnected from the experience of most blacks. You would think not being accepted into mainstream white society would make older and well off blacks sympathetic to the plight of young blacks, but apparently that often isn’t the case. The power of a generational worldview can be even greater than the solidarity of race, especially for blacks who never were the exemplaries of solidarity as were the Germans, Irish and Italians.

The younger generation in general and minorities in particular, who have been hit hardest by mass incarceration, don’t receive much sympathy. Their lives have been destroyed. In response, their families and communities offer them nothing but shame. The Civil Rights movement was never good about helping the worst off among blacks.

As mass incarceration continues, a new generation is growing up either incarcerated or with the fear of incarceration. Even if not incarceration, society is offering them little to hope for. GenXers were at that magical age of twelve when all this began. Millennials at age twelve saw it continuing. Now a new generation will be coming to that age in a few years and likely it isn’t going to end anytime soon. The event of 9/11 was simply used as justification for more of the same and worse still. We will have several generations who knew nothing but a police state ever increasing in its oppression.

When will a new generation come along who will be able to fondly remember the age of 12 as a time of peace and optimism?