Saturday, July 4, 2009

Anger Nation

I'm at the age when I'm allowed to -- expected to! -- comfortably, if non-creatively, start complaining about and ragging on "the youth of today" -- and generally, I don't have too many complaints, because there's nothing more humbling than comparing the youth of today to the youth of 40+ years ago when I was a youth. We were, in the aggregate, just as clueless, depressed, neurotic, addicted, impulsive, infantile, superficial, and morally challenged as today's cohort... and, to make it all the more squalid, we were expected to, a good deal of the time, pretend that we weren't. At least two-facedness and hypocrisy are not besetting sins of today's generation -- they see no reason whatsoever to hide their apathy, contrariness, and lustfulness. So in that, there is hope. On the other hand, no one in my generation insisted on having major portions of their body tattooed, pierced, or altered in some other way... and as to hair and clothing, it was a tame affair compared to what I see daily on the streets of my humble borough.

But there is one quality which I believe I can safely say characterizes today's youth -- by which I mean, roughly, the 16-25 age group, more than any other... and which my generation did not suffer from nearly as much... and that is anger -- pure, primitive, unfocused anger. They walk angry... talk angry... look angry... their art is angry, as is their music... all of their activities, even those classed as "recreational", have anger as a substrate. And this is not the focused anger of times past, AKA "indignation", which my generation was steeped in, thanks mostly to the Vietnam war and the draft. If you asked these kids what they're always so mad about -- what drives them to perpetual, hyperactive stomping, arm waving, shouting, and cursing, not to mention a thousand forms of self-destructiveness, I'm sure not one in a thousand would have an answer. Or if they did, it would be something singularly unedifying, such as: "Because, like, life sucks, man!"

Now this would be a bit easier to comprehend if, say, it were focused on something... if any of them could identify the source of their discontent. And count on it, it has nothing to do with the economy, or the job market, or schools, or the availability (or lack thereof) of drugs, alcohol, and pizza -- they were every bit as angry when the Dow stood at 14,000, and the schools have certainly gotten no worse recently (how could they?). This free-floating anger has, apparently, replaced "free-floating anxiety", which was the curse of the 1950s (although there were plenty of things that could have contributed to that as well -- like the nuclear arms race, to name one).

"Purposeful" anger, of course, is a perfectly natural thing, and is related to the traditional trilogy of "fright, flight, or fight". Something threatens, or stands in the path between you and what you want... the result is anger, then action, and -- ideally -- some resolution. Either you win, or you lose and depart the field of battle, at which point continued anger becomes maladaptive. But can it be said, of today's "yute", that there is some obvious thing standing between them and something they want, or are aware of wanting? Most of the time it seems like their impulsiveness is amply rewarded, and thus it persists... or it is severely punished and they become candidates for the Darwin Award (typically given posthumously). Are they, perhaps, defending something they cherish -- like family, homeland, property... money? Not very likely. Most of them come from the typical lower-middle or lower class, deracinated, barely-a-remaining-trace-of-ethnicity background that they have been relegated to by events over the past few generations... for the "assimilation" their forebears aspired to has turned to ashes, and they were born into a non-culture with non-traditions and non-values -- a ghost culture, where some of the forms survive but the substance has been drained away as by a huge parasite (not far from the actual case, in fact).

But here's what I say. Their anger is, in fact, a response to frustration and deprivation -- of being denied their birthright. They are culturally deracinated, it is true... but that sort of thing can be survived and compensated for. What they have been deprived of is, if anything, even more central to the core of self-respect that every human being should have, namely the freedom to take real chances... to take risks, to expose oneself to danger... not necessarily for a well-defined "goal", but perhaps only to prove oneself to oneself -- a need that, despite the best efforts of our social engineers, still exists within the human psyche. There was a time, not all that long ago in our history, when a young person could simply venture out -- hit the road, wander, do a "walkabout", without being "picked up" by the police for vagrancy. They could try their hand at various jobs, or non-jobs... hitchhike... ride the rails... join the crew of a freighter, or a lumber gang... they could be physical adventurers, or spiritual seekers, or a combination of the two. But what they face now is, rather, a world where everything "important" -- everything essential for survival -- is basically taken care of; there are few if any real risks left, and it does take the edge off being young, adventuresome, and daring when you know that the Nanny State is ever watchful, and eager for the chance to sweep you up in its smothering arms at the slightest provocation. And of course the state exacts a steep price for this perpetual, cradle-to-grave-including-youth "protection", namely that most, if not all, of the old opportunities for real risk and adventure are now extinct, or forbidden... or regulated so stringently that they might as well be.

What is my evidence for all this? -- since, as I've said, it is the rare young person who can, or will, stand up and say that the state has become a "smother mother" and they can't stand it... they can't breathe. They by and large lack the insight that I can at least credit some of my generation with. So the evidence is not in their own testimony but in various "signs and wonders". One clue is the epidemic of self-mutilation that one witnesses everywhere, and I am not talking about the "symbolic wounds", a la Bruno Bettelheim, which are an integral part of many cultural traditions; these are "wounds of rebellion", which are taken on in spite of the "establishment" or the mainstream, and which identify the bearer -- for life, in many cases -- as a cultural and metaphysical "refusenik". Beyond this, they represent one area -- perhaps the only one -- where the individual can still exert some control over his existence. If everything else is "taken care of", and "insured", and therefore stultifying, I can at least make alterations on my own body, since that is (so far -- but just wait) sacrosanct. So the process is at once symbolic and also literal -- it's a less-drastic counterpart to anorexia, which can be interpreted as the person's saying, "this I can do" (if nothing else) -- this is one area where I'm still the boss, and there's nothing you can do about it -- I can defy your standards for what is good and proper, and do it right in your face.

But of course, body alteration, while significant, is seldom enough -- how many of these pierced and tattooed "goths" walk around with cheery expressions on their faces, all ready to sign up for the next business course at the local community college and move up to higher pay? Don't make me laugh. So a "statement" is, after all, only a statement, and not a solution -- but it does put the Regime on notice that its propaganda/brainwashing machine has not reached everyone... that, down in the dark crevices of society there lurk some creatures who are not like all the rest... and that, as far as it goes, is a good thing. And this is not to say that today's rebels (without a cause, unlike in my day) are never manipulated by the system... far from it. There is a place in the social ecology for the naysayer, as long as he says "nay" to the right things, and not to the wrong things. But again, it's better than an entire society made up of Stepford Wives and their male equivalents... or the people in "The Truman Show" who were hired to make the main character believe he was living a real life, when actually he wasn't.

I should also mention, as another piece of evidence, the increasing popularity of what I call "make-believe risk" -- "extreme sports"... ever-more-intense amusement park rides (that, while generally non-fatal, do threaten their customers with g forces and soft tissue damage)... "survivor" and "reality" shows... a thousand different opportunities for either a direct or vicarious "risk experience" without any real or likely negative consequences. What is this, after all, but a way to compensate for the lack of real risk in our lives? If we can convince even a part of our brain that it's in peril, that will satisfy, at least for a while, that primitive, cave-man urge to take on _real_ risk, which is, of course, one facet of our zest for not only survival but dominance over our environment (another very "incorrect" idea these days). In fact, I daresay that about the only time you'll see one of these local "goths" smile is when they're on the Brain Smasher, or whatever the latest insane "ride" is at the nearest Six Flags.

So do I blame the restless (hyperactive, more like) youth for their anger? Not at all; it is perfectly understandable. But it is an "unintended consequence" of our growing totalitarianism -- tyranny of the "soft" sort. One can almost hear the older generation lamenting, "After all we did for you..." or, even (a la post-9-11), "Why do they hate us?" Things were supposed to be calm, and serene, by now -- all of the social problems were supposed to be fixed, and health problems well along toward solution. The world (or at least this country) should all be just like Marco Island... and it could be, except for all of these angry young people and "minorities". Don't they appreciate all the "opportunities" we've given them? You know, like the opportunity to choose a "career" in a "high-tech field" and buy a "condo" by the time they're 30? What could possibly be more desirable than that... after all, isn't that what our immigrant forebears came over here for -- the opportunity to zone out on cultural anaesthesia, American-style? Well, that is unlikely, and if our immigrant forebears could have looked 100 years into the future they might have turned around in mid-ocean and headed back to Germany, Poland, Russia, etc. Cultural cohesion and continuity... an identity not only with the land but with the group or community... these are things that have been almost completely annihilated in the New World, and not so much by geography, climate, or economics as by cultural genocide -- the intentional deracination of large portions of the populace in the name of "assimilation" and "unity" -- which means, on the Regime's terms and no other. People who cannot identify themselves as members of anything important or real become weak... they have little or no resistance to the predations of social or economic aggressors. The first thing any totalitarian regime does is go out and smash ethnic, cultural, and religious institutions to bits -- while substituting Potemkin-style impostors in their place. So true ethnicity is turned into Epcot... and true ethnic and racial pride is turned into "diversity", which "celebrates" some people at the dire expense of others. Nothing threatens the Regime more than genuine pride and loyalty to something other then itself -- and the natural subjects of this traditional feeling are family, group, tribe, village, church... not "nation" or even "country" -- and sure as hell not "political party" or any particular form of government. As as to "globalism", "one world-ism", and international business and finance... these inspire loyalty to the extent they put money in someone's pocket; otherwise they are soul-killing and to be shunned.

In any given society -- historically or in the present day -- the youth are the "coal mine canaries" -- the barometers of how good (or bad) things really are, and the direction in which things are going. And yes, there will always be a bit of "rebellion"... but the extent to which this is inevitable has, in my opinion, been grossly exaggerated, primarily, I imagine, to provide a cover story for why the young are _so_ angry so much of the time. No one wants to ask why, any more than anyone wanted a real answer to the question, after 9-11, "Why do they hate us?" Real answers are the forbidden fruit of the Regime... they are available only to the privileged few, and the rest are expected to live contentedly in benighted ignorance. And that is good enough for most people most of the time... but the young have a funny tendency to see through it once in a while, and attempt to break out. But of course they can't, so they get angry... and you get what I've just described -- an Anger Nation, led by the young and the powerless, and the Lotus-eating, Soporific Society inhabited by the rest of us.

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