Blaming the Young

Surprise, surprise. There’s a new book out called Generation Me that Simon & Schuster is giving the big push. Expect to hear lots of blather on radio and tv about what narcissistic losers the current generation of young people are. I’ve been teaching college English since 1969, so I meet a sample of college students every year. Except that women and minority students now take themselves more seriously than they did then, I don’t see a big difference.

The young are a convenient whipping boy or girl for whatever’s wrong with the world. The Virginia legislature recently banned cell phone use for drivers under 18. This is their way of not dealing with the fact that anyone driving with a cell phone is a bad idea. When I go about my pedestrian business and almost get run down in cross walks on a daily basis by people driving SUVs, clueless in Cell Phone Land, the drivers usually aren’t under 18. Cars kill more people than guns, year in, year out: 40,000+ in the US just like clockwork. Public hue and cry? Only about young drivers, especially young drunk drivers. Maybe a transportation system that puts everyone using it at the mercy of the competence of every other user is an inherently dumb (often lethal) system? When we boomers are all half-blind with the reaction time of drugged sloths, are we still going to blame the young for danger on the road?

It seems the only way the young can catch a break is by dying in Iraq. How narcissistic of them—sent there by leaders who seem to live in their own little world, racking up debt for those worthless young people to pay.

As she points out, the author of Generation Me is part of the generation she’s critiquing. Born in 1971, she has a Ph.D. in psychology and a weighty list of impressive publications. I’m sure it’s a good book, but I can’t help noticing that the self-esteem talk she criticizes seems to have worked out okay for her. The first issue of Ms. came out in 1970. I remember it. It was a big damn deal. My bright women students back then rarely dreamed of getting a doctorate. Many planned to find a husband in college before they graduated. (I kid you not). Things changed. If that means we now have a generation scoring higher on a narcissism scale because they believe they can be anything they want to be, I think the species is all the better for it.

All generations of young people are inexperienced and inadequately prepared to deal with life’s vicissitudes. I take that to be the young mammalian condition. So they figure it out, like every other generation. Books like Generation Me are part of that process I suppose. Let’s hope the young do a better job with the world than the mess we’re handing them.

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