When I came of age, back in pre-history, we sure were handed a messed up world.
It was 1980 and all the science fiction authors were predicting nuclear holocaust if we didn’t disarm and submit to the Russians immediately. This was rather president Carter’s position, I gather, but he softened it somewhat for public consumption.
Being a cold-warrior was a bad thing, in my day. You see, we came just after the boomers.
Now we’re being aggregated to the boomers which is loony because in 1968, that iconic year, I was learning to write. Also, btw, the boom had stopped by my time, and classrooms were half full. Part of what made the boomer generation transformational was no what they were or believed or that a larger number of them were assholes (this is not true. Same proportion were assholes) but that they came of age at a time when people EARNESTLY believed every generation would be bigger than the previous one. Read some Heinlein books of the fifties, to get that sense. So “the youth” was outrageously catered to, instead of being, as always in the past, kept in its place. Which meant that some of the stupid notions every generation has were enshrined and propagandized AT the boomers by people who wanted to sound “young and hip” and be on the winning side. The prototypical boomer is a media creation.
But we weren’t even that. When I was coming of age, we were called all the things the millenials are now (which is why I have great sympathy with them) including slackers, care for nobody, egotists. The twist is that we were also supposedly greedy. HOW we were supposed to be greedy when we were most of us out of work is a mystery, but it was the fact we walked out of the sit-ins, cut our hair, and tried to find jobs (which by and large were taken by boomers. Not their fault. They were a massive bulge in the population snake.)
So. When we came of age, we expected to be obliterated by a bomb any minute. When I told my brother that Portugal, so small, so insignificant, was likely to escape, he reminded me that contaminated sea coasts would kill us. (I think he was wrong.)
We were, metaphorically speaking, waiting for the hammer to fall. Those of us who were politically aware knew that the Soviet Union was a mess internally, but we expected it, externally, to project power and have a grip — perhaps the winning grip — on world politics for the rest of our lives.
Pre-Reagan endless unemployment seemed the future. ALL the future. As well as ever increasing misery because there just wasn’t enough for all those people being born. We were going to be increasingly shouting “Make room, make room” just to be able to have a square of ground to sleep on.
Those of us slowly coming to Mr. Heinlein’s view that the founding fathers had a point and that government should be by and for the people were faced with pundits and smart people utterly convinced — even when they opposed it — that history’s arrow pointed the other way.
At best we were all going to to live in a gray world, controlled by bureaucrats. At worst, we were going to be atoms. Add to that that we didn’t have jobs (when I was in my twenties and trying to break in, my husband was working 16 to 18 hour days, and sometimes we came to the end of the month wondering how to eat) and there didn’t seem to be much future for us.
The liberty minded among us who aspired to a life in the arts felt like free-marketeers in the soviet union. If we wanted to survive, we were going to to have to keep quiet the rest of our lives. The consensus reality was that “mixed” economy, with a heavy dose of planning was the way to go.
Other great ideas of the late seventies though the people here will have to correct me if they were only pervasive in Europe: Price controls. Yes, even in nominally free countries, it was considered sane for the government to tell you how much a bread roll should cost. Salary controls. Yes, even in nominally free countries, it seemed sane for the government to tell you how much your employer should pay you. Oil was going to end. Tomorrow, if not the day after. But we couldn’t have nuclear. So add a third way of dying: freezing, ofstarvation, in the dark.
Yesterday we got someone very young in the comments (well, I HOPE he was very young) telling us that Trump is the result of his and his like “rage” at the world they’ve inherited, and how we, older people, haven’t done anything to make it the utopia they deserve.
IF I were a little more mendacious, I’d answer with: Well, we collapsed the soviet union for you; planned economies are no longer automatically considered better; you have the internet; things — including overseas travel — are exponentially cheaper and you are, ultimately, much richer than I was at your age, even at the same economic level. You’re welcome.
The temptation is great, but I’m not that mendacious. I keep my lies to fiction, where they belong. None of those things were my doing. I was, as most people were, trying to establish myself in my career, make a living, raise children.
I wasn’t even a public voice for good. Oh, sure, I worked for Reagan’s campaign, which was probably illegal. I worked on various elections since. I write books. But there wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do to hand my kids utopia on a plate. If I could I would have, but see, the other side gets a say.
I remember — barely, I know, being ancient — being young, and thinking it was all some vast conspiracy AGAINST ME PERSONALLY. All those rich people, all those fat cats, and yep, all those boomers, were hiding the stash. And then I’d stop myself and think about it soberly in the same way I controlled paranoia for years. When I entered a room and thought everyone there hated me, I went to “Oh, no. Most of them don’t even know me.”
In the same way the young people who feel betrayed by conservatives and libertarians past need to take a deep breath. Kid, we didn’t even know you. We were just people doing the best we could, with no visibility into the future, same as you are. And no one handed us a perfect world. And we won’t hand one to their children. And they won’t hand one to THEIR children, world without end.
Each generation has to fight for its freedom against those who want power, even those who THINK they want it for ‘your own good.’. There will always be those, no matter how many times we discredit them, no matter how many graves we fill. They just come back under new names.
Would anyone believe that with the wall done and the cold war over, our kids would believe communism was “fair” and national socialism the new hotness? No? I wouldn’t either.
But if you look at it logically, we were soft when communism fell: partly because they had infiltrated our universities and partly because the generation then in control, my grandparents’ generation, had seen that after WWII when you destroyed nations you had to rebuild them, and had come to have doubts about it.
So they were soft, the universities remained infested, and now we’re here, fighting the grandchildren of red-diaper babies, and battling the idea of a closed pie and tribal racialism, and hierarchies of victimhood anew.
Take heart though. Everything we’re battling is sort of a scaled down version of the past. Even Putin’s bluster has only a minuscule bite compared to what the USSR could have pulled.
Part of the fun in this is that my generation can’t take credit, but we really can’t take the blame. Most of us who have a voice have had it too short a time; those of us aspiring to command positions (not me) are still too young. Our parents’ generation and the boomers are in control now. Will be in control for — given improved longevity — another twenty years.
Which brings us to the young: Bide your time. You’re sort of like the heir to the throne chomping at the bit to get it, because you have all these neat ideas.
I remember being like that.
If all of us over 30 disappeared tomorrow in a puff of smoke, you’d find out how disastrous your ideas are. You’d find it out face first into reality. And the dead would fill graves without end.
So be glad you won’t have that kind of control. Work on being yourself, on establishing your career, on having and raising kids. Somewhere along the line your theories will fail and you won’t even notice. And when you get where I am, not quite yet with any power, mind, you’ll realize that the best you can hope is that you can do your poor best to hand your kids a SLIGHTLY better world.
Rage has no place in this process. Very satisfying, no doubt. Cathartic. BUT every time that kind of rage has been unleashed into the world things went badly: French Revolution; Russian Revolution most revolutions in South America and Africa, the abattoir-wars of the 20th century.
You can’t sweep away the past by wishing it. Cultures and structures have persistence, as the various people trying to replace facebook or twitter have found. And those are recent structures. And you can’t create utopia, because the other side always gets a vote. And sometimes (when the other side aren’t dyed in the wool communists at least) it’s even a good thing, because it might point out your blind spots.
The crown will come to you in time. And you’ll find out how little you can actually do, with all your power.
Until then bide your time and try to study the history of politics and yeah, the history of… history. Read some biographies, too, to understand what the assumptions are, and how they have changed.
I will grant you that if we’d known what the future held we could have done much better for you. We didn’t. No one does. All we can do is do the best we can with the assumptions of our time.
Remember that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of haste. It is also a tragedy of youth. The two often go together. And if given their head, it all ends in a suicide pact.
So, go wisely and slow, they stumble fast.
The world is not a conspiracy against you. We don’t even know you! And you’re not the great transformational figure you think you are. Which is great, because those come with a butcher’s bill.
Say thank you to my grandparent’s generation for defeating the soviet union, and give my generation some elbow room, once we have any power, to get you space colonies.
And don’t expect utopia. It was never in the cards.