Thursday, April 22, 2010

Angry Rejection of the Slightest Hint of Decline

I've been hanging around in the blogosphere for seven or eight years now. And I'm often gently bemused at how certain topics generate, with wearisome predictability, a great deal of heat and very little light. Case in point: voice the slightest hint that today's young people are in any way going downhill compared to past generations, and you will unleash a storm of vitriol in response.

"How dare you say that today's young people have declined in such and such way, compared to the baby boomers, or compared to the generation that fought World War II?!!!" Angry, vituperative, often unreasoning rejection of the slightest hint of decline; and often from people who are not themselves young. How dare you?!

Or if it's not unreasoning rejection, the line of reasoning follows a wearisomely predictable path: "Haven't people always thought that the younger generation in their time was going downhill compared to previous generations?" This is often accompanied with a nod of the head to ancient Greek allegations that Socrates was corrupting the youth of his day. Implication: A stopped clock can never be right, not even once in all of human history.

But why not? And why say it's a stopped clock? Suppose -- for the sake of the argument just suppose -- that in certain ways the young people of Socrates' day actually were going downhill compared to their elders, and/or that the young people of today actually are going downhill compared to their parents or grandparents. Then won't such angry rejection blind us, and indeed systemically blind us, to certain realities of decline in the world around us? Once you rule hints of decline categorically out of bounds, haven't you donned a set of horse blinders which will unconditionally blind you to certain possible realities?

I mean suppose, just suppose, that today's young people actually are in some specifiable way going downhill? Or suppose these things go in cycles, with occasional phases of decline? Then will you not be wrong, and indeed incorrigibly wrong, if the first and only way you know how to respond is with angry and vitriolic rejection of the slightest hint of decline?

Lest the reader misunderstand, I don't actually think today's young people are going downhill at all. I'm playing the devil's advocate, for the sake of the argument. Indeed I take quite a positive view overall of the youth and young adults of today: I think in many ways their outlook, their temperament, their frame of mind represents an improvement over my generation, back in the days when I was that age.

But I'm just wondering, why does this topic always elicit such an angry and vehement response, and in such wearisomely predictable terms? After all, it's not at all impossible that, in a certain place and time, the argument might be substantially correct.

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