A Perennial Grievance
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.
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