Johnny America


A Peren­ni­al Grievance


Illustration of older people dancing

This youth is rot­ten from the bot­tom of their heart. The young are ma­li­cious and lazy. They will nev­er be as youth was be­fore. Today’s youth will nev­er be able to main­tain our cul­ture.

                          — Writ­ten on a Baby­lon­ian clay pot, cir­ca 1000 B.C.E.

Silk, di­a­mond rings, Brooks Broth­ers, an­ti-Semi­tism, the fer­men­ta­tion of grain— so many things nev­er go out of fash­ion, in­clud­ing carp­ing about the next gen­er­a­tion. The old and young have their re­spec­tive jokes and tech­nolo­gies, bumper-stick­ers and games, greet­ings, songs, in­sults, hair­dos, drugs. The young are sure the old have botched things; the old think the kids will botch things worse. Peo­ple no longer able to ig­nore their mor­tal­i­ty will some­times mix age up with wis­dom and re­sent the im­pa­tient young with their il­lu­sions of in­vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and long shelf-life. It’s scarce­ly sur­pris­ing if, in re­turn, the young re­gard their for­bears as stuffy, an­ti­quat­ed stum­bling-blocks. For­get­ful ones too. They grin as they ask, “Se­nior moment?” 

First the young were cher­ished, next reared, fi­nal­ly despised. 

First the young looked up to, next re­lied on, fi­nal­ly despised. 

Not in­evitably, not in­vari­ably, yet not infrequently.

 — I’d hoped you’d be like us, but bet­ter. Hah.

 — Your dancing’s just embarrassing.

 — Show some respect.

 — Show me some­thing to respect.

 — Un­der my roof.

 — Liv­ing my life.

 — Fed you three times a day.

 — Hon­est­ly, the food wasn’t that good.

The old fa­vor the Gold­en Age The­o­ry, the Age of Gold be­ing when they were about twenty.

The young pre­fer the Pro­gres­sive the­o­ry, see them­selves as the pin­na­cle of history’s lin­ear, forty-five-de­gree ascent.

There are those who fan­cy them­selves age­less, nei­ther young nor old. They speak of spi­rals, gyres, cy­cles and say if you live long enough you’re bound to see every­thing twice. They’re the type to nod sage­ly and ob­serve, Every­thing changes yet noth­ing moves.

 — Your foul-mouthed hip-hop­ping and in­sid­i­ous so­cial networks.

 — Your washed-up, re­dun­dant, help­less, ob­so­lete technophobia.

 — Your texting.

 — Your sitcoms.

 — Don’t for­get you’re my dependent.

 — Re­al­ly? And who set up your router, email, ther­mo­stat, lap­top, smart TV?

 — Your so-called friends.

 — Your so-called liberalism.

I’m quick to de­fend the charm­ing chil­dren, the bril­liant ado­les­cents, the sullen and lazy every bit as much as the wit­ty and sharp. I up­hold them against my co­evals, against the El­ders of Baby­lon. I de­fend them against the crotch­ety grand­dads of Athens, like this one writ­ing around 400 B.C.E:

Youth to­day love lux­u­ry. They have bad man­ners, con­tempt for au­thor­i­ty, no re­spect for old­er peo­ple and talk non­sense when they should work. They con­tra­dict their par­ents, talk too much in com­pa­ny, guz­zle their food, lay their legs on the ta­ble and tyr­an­nize their elders.

That would be the gen­er­a­tion of Xenophon and Plato.

Filed under Commentary on January 21st, 2022

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Hazi Smith wrote:

Bra­vo to this one!

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