Much has been made of the left’s attempt to shut down those who disagree with them. It is widespread enough to remind us of a similar recent frightening chapter in America’s intellectual history, the McCarthyism of the 50’s. The right wing had those with leftist leanings shaking in their boots. We are not quite there yet, but perhaps not far from it . People are being asked to resign, or making pathetic apologies about their presumed crimes. I am as troubled as the next person by the possible consequences that may be ahead of us.
On the other hand, I have a new perspective that may place it in a different light, possibly a more positive way of looking at what is going on. I thought of it following an advertisement I saw on TV for Progressive Insurance. The ad shows an older self satisfied fool mentoring young adults, Then the voice of an omniscient commentator can be heard: “It takes constant practice…Progressive can’t save you from becoming your parents…”. Funny, but could what is joked about in that ad be the explanation for our current McCarthyism, nothing more complicated than the generation gap. So much of what progressives are taking seriously makes no sense at all. Yet they will not tolerate discussion. Nothing at all. They are so confident that they have righteousness on their side that in their eyes people like me are opinionated dinosaurs So, from their vantage point there isn’t a discussion worth having
I am not surprised. There was a time when tensions in my house got very uncomfortable– whenever politics became the subject. My wife implored me to cut it out. She is always worried that they might stop calling and visiting. Besides, she argued, the changes they are demanding from our country will not effect either of us. It is their world now. If they are wrong they will suffer the consequences, not us. So, for family harmony I cut it out. I was treated as if I was now behaving myself. I yelled at newscasters rather than them until that became unbearable and I stopped watching the news altogether. I agreed with my wife that it was the way to go. Now I get along with my kids much better. We mainly talk about their children, which I suppose is what should be my concern. We get constant videos and photos on our phones and it’s true. My grandchildren are glorious. But I am a stubborn old fool. I can’t help but fight back with this article (hoping they don’t read it which will start off another round)
So let’s start with their children. They are indeed wonderful, but even before Covid the time and energy my kids devoted to them amazed me. Their friends did the same thing with their children All of them were so devoted, so interested in their little ones that for awhile I questioned my own parenting efforts when they were young. Mind you I was not a slacker as a parent. I loved them and played with them when I got the chance, played ball with them, taught them how to ride a bike, and in the early computer days played Kaboom and other games with them. I didn’t do it out of duty but because I enjoyed playing with them. The 4 of them left college without debt which meant years of frugal spending on my part when it came to luxuries I might have enjoyed. Nevertheless, my efforts were minuscule compared to what tis now being done with their children. Since I was typical for my generation I am given a kind of pass for not being more of a father. I, and millions of fathers like me, didn’t know any better. On the other hand, secretly I hold the view that the enormous energy my kids are consuming trying to be great parents is robbing them of other interests. I envied their devotion enough to have second and third thoughts about my parenting, but I still can’t help thinking what they are doing is weird.
And , although I am now silenced, their political beliefs drive me wild. They are foolish beyond discussion, particularly because no discussion is allowed. I will refrain from the particulars of my political arguments and focus on the point of this article. It may seem simplistic but the essence of the problem may be found in that progressive ad. It expresses the way teenagers ordinarily think. They need to defy authority. From being children one day, clearly in need of my guidance, they become know it alls. To do so authorities are turned in to comical figures, like in the ad. They may or may not belong to groups that reinforce their beliefs like become vegetarians, or scientologist or nowadays any thing else to be found on the internet. Usually, in time, adolescents i come around. Except my children are not adolescents. My youngest is approaching forty. My oldest is going on fifty. They are still at it. It isn’t just the Progressive ad that got me going. I’ve noticed in the media an enormous number of heroes and heroines who break the rules. I mean we started it. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize. Communist heroes and heroine aboudn like Angela Davis feted on public TV. I liked Bob Dylan when he was young. But a Nobel Prize winner? People who stand up for themselves against the mainstream are today’s heroes. Except, the rebels are the mainstream. Being respectful of traditions and older values is a quality the villains often possess., people in their eyes who supported racism and thought gay people were not quite normal.The term progressive says it all. In their hearts they believe they are for progress and people like me are opposed to it.
The tip off to what is going on is that there are too many particulars about which the new generation disagrees with my generation. It is not about a specific issue or two, or three. It is an entire culture of refutation, not only about political issues but surprisingly small details. Let’s start with the expectation that I will take my shoes off at the door. My wife tells me they feel the germs being brought in could bring disease. I now wear shoes that are easily slipped on and off. But still, how did that one get started? Or diluting juice they give to their children by a half. When I was growing up juice was one of the healthy foods I was given by my parents. I don’t disagree about the sugar content, but then why do my kids add honey or maple syrup to their children’s organic yogurt? That is another one, organic. Because organic food is so costly and poorer parents can’t afford them, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually stepped up to the plate on this one “ there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”
Guess what? Beliefs about the goodness of organic foods correlates with the age group of consumers. One survey claims 18- to 34-year-olds represents about 52% of the nation’s organic buyers. In contrast, Generation X parents born between 1965 and 1980 made up about 35% of organic buyers and Baby Boomers represented 14% of organic buyers. Similar issues center on the use coconut oil which it is claimed is healthy. Analysts have been struck with the amazing ability of coconut marketers particularly because their claims are nonsense. Coconut oil is one of the most deleterious cooking oils. It increases risk for cardiovascular disease. Because of it popularity, the American Heart Association warned of its unhealthy effects. That mattered little. Consumptions went up in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The issue is even more dramatic about fats in the diet versus sugar. Younger consumers now tend to avoid any product that has added sugar (or normal amounts like fruit juice. They believe it is the chief cause of obesity as opposed to fats. Marketers have taken note. Companies are releasing products catering to that demand. These include General Mills’ Oui brand, which is launching a crème fraîche product, and Love Good Fats, which recently closed a $10.7 million funding round to expand its reach. Old-fashioned butter has also seen a surge in demand.
They may be correct that increased type 2 diabetes is related to high sugar diets, and some of that may be due to lowering fat intake as my generation tended to do. But they are claiming that sugar is far more unhealthy than saturated fats . They are wrong. It is not a trivial issue. When I was a child two of my friends’ fathers died of heart attacks in their 40’s . It was that common. With statins and lowered numbers of people smoking, and avoiding saturated fats young fathers dying of heart attacks essentially disappeared. (the down trend began before statins.) No longer–According to Ron Blankstein, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Harvard “It used to be incredibly rare to see anyone under age 40 come in with a heart attack.” Now we are seeing it more and more. How is it possible that my kids can be so far off on this one, particularly because they are so careful about eating healthy foods. From my perspective, ridiculously so. As I walk through the supermarket there are astonishing fears being propagated about nonsense. Item after item reassures buyers they don’t contain GMO, as if GMOs are poisonous. (There has never been a single instance where GMOs were harmful. Never!) Same goes for milk coming from hormone fed cows. The hormone is not in the milk. The same goes for gluten which is only significant in those who have celiac disease.
Perhaps, I’m undermining my argument by placing so much emphasis on issues as trivial as food, although two of my children have told me “you are what you eat,” and what they feed their children is chosen with enormous care. I should also admit that I love many of the foods my children now cook. And that includes my sons. The foody phenomenon has done great things for the gourmet in me. But my purpose in bringing up seemingly trivial issues such as the change in their diets, or wearing or not wearing shoes in their homes serves my main point because it puts our disagreements about politics in a perspective that may be the fundamental issue. It isn’t just politics that they won’t tolerate discussion. It is all of it. It is fruitless to argue, to disagree, to make even a peep about my shoes or their children’s juice. They have a pulled off a fait accompli. They are young. They have most of the energy. They have driven the old guys out of power at the New York Times and other institutions. There is no going back. They will prevail. If for no other reason than we will be gone before they turn old.
I suppose, as mature adults we should be thankful for small blessings. I don’t know about others from their generation , but my kids are nice and mean well. And if I am being fair my generation has reaped what we sowed. In the 60’s I had a similar contempt for my parents old fashion beliefs. At the time I was certain young people had a truer view of what the world is all about and how to change it for the better. I don’t believe that anymore. I now see it wasn’t true then and certainly isn’t true now. Still, we have gotten back what we gave.
Lance Morrow recently hit the nail on its head. America’s history can be viewed as a continuous process of reinvention. It is how we move forward. And back. Some of it is good, some bad. He worried about the bad and so do I. But I cannot ignore the goodness in my children’s heart. It is wonderful they are so focused and loving to the helpless, their own children, but also the disadvantaged of every type, the retarded, fat people, transexual people, poor blacks and Hispanics ,criminals that never had a chance, people getting screwed, or simply unable to compete.
It is nice nice nice. I understand why they are convinced they are so much nicer than those from previous generations. Not just mine, but going all the way back. But especially me and my coconspirators. I guess that is what disturbs me. Their commitment to kindness easily turns into blame, as if our struggles to stay afloat (and perhaps get to the top) were somehow at the expense of everyone else. It is true that in sports, winners make the losers losers. And undoubtedly there are cheaters, racists, body–shamers, snobs that seem to be winners. Too many complacent members of my generation deserve their contempt. But not me, and not most of us. Most of us are not angels but we are nice enough. Just like our kids.
Must there be a generation gap? I suppose so. Must there be so much resentment, the kind that leads to change for its own sake. Can’t we replace the old without smashing and obliterating the old. Which brings me to my final point. Despite their best intentions a worst case scenario is s possible. In Lord of the Flies William Golding described the dangerousness of children once authority is removed. The same thing applies to adults. The seeming privacy of the internet, the ability to avoid authority for hours on end has unleashed a new, perhaps unprecedented culture. The torrent of hate, and what used to be called perversity among the general public has escaped its usual place, locked away, beneath the rest of the mind. Freud believed a wild beast lives in us which is always there, ready to pop out. It is usually contained by our conscience, which in turn is supported by the strength of community standards. A key question is whether the internet turns all of that off. That is my greatest fear. In the age of the internet, the usual attempt to replace the old with the new now favors anarchy.