The Chastised Generation
A group of children are walking down the sidewalk, boisterously noisy and taking up space. Adults, perhaps parents themselves, glare at the youth, and with their mind squish them together into a single unit. A single person, with two arms, two legs, skin tone precisely in the middle. Clothes ill-fitting, thrifted out of the past fashions, off-the-off-rack garments not quite matching limbs that don't know whether they ought to be growing or shrinking. A grimace on the face of this composite youth. A sneer, a gesture, a cock of the hips, and the young person raises a camera, lens side in, to take a photo of itself.
We'll call this youth Generation.
Generation doesn't exist, except in the condescending words and minds of those who would try to be its Dad/Mom. But in the headlines and the newspaper columns, through the worried conversations in hushed tones about the ever-absent descendant, through the looks and the clucks, and the shakes of heads and the murmurs of “hipsters,” Generation has become a person.
They can call it what they want. A name is just a name. But little by little, as Generation grows up, graduates from various schools or doesn't, moves out and finds a job or doesn't, Generation begins to slump its shoulders just a little more. Generation pulls up its hood over its head, stays on the computer just a little longer each night, and never fails to respond to its name yelled down the stairs by jumping just a bit. Generation becomes used to living in the basement, and begins to think that this is the way that things are. Generation has parents, and so Generation must be the child. It is a real person, with real problems, with real obstacles to solving them. Generation both is, and is not special.
Generation's Dad thinks that Generation is a spoiled child. Generation was given so many opportunities, and it squandered them, preferring to focus on its own emotional dramas. Generation is a weak, pathetic child, too lazy for hard work, mentally unprepared for hard decisions. Dad cares so much about Generation, but Generation sits in the basement, indignant.
Generation's Mom thinks that Generation has had it tough. The world is such a cold, dreadful place, and Generation is so sensitive. Mom and Dad raised Generation with love and with virtue, and it isn't Generation's fault that there is no place for that in the modern world. If only someone would give Generation a chance, then everyone would see what a good kid Generation is. Mom cares so much about Generation, but Generation just hasn't been able to apply itself.
Generation is not so sure what it thinks of itself. There are times when Dad and Mom make a lot of sense. After all, they raised Generation into what Generation is, so they must know something. They gave it its name. They gave it its life. They seem to know what's going on, while Generation has so many doubts about itself. Generation has so much that it wants to do with its life, but it just feels so empty inside. How should Generation live? What is the right decision to make? How is Generation supposed to know what is best for itself? If only Generation wasn't so weak and stupid. If only Generation wasn't so coddled as a child.
But Generation wasn't coddled as a child. Generation isn't weak and stupid. Generation doesn't exist.
There is no such a thing as a generation, any more than there is such a thing as a particular decade or a century. These are named spans of time, invented by language, named by society, and given laudable or ugly characteristics as any particular person sees fit. There is no Generation that is any particular way. There is only the Dads, and the Moms as well, who have birthed this epochal child for the sole purpose of beating it.
These self-appointed authorities and guardians of the social state are nothing more than the local cultural chamber of commerce. They have one goal—to produce statements of blanket condemnation against any social practice they deem anathema to their own existence. They are conservative by definition, because the systems they seek to maintain are always past-tense, defended against the present-tense. They sit on the throne of accomplishment and are willing to hand down advice, just so long as this advice could not in anyway compromise the legs of their own chair. They are a country club of Yes-Men surrounded by mirrors. And the youth are blocking their light.
Dad and Mom remind Generation of this in every one of their screaming fights. In their threats, whether spoken or implicit, about kicking Generation out of the house or taking it off the family health care plan. There is the constant reminder: you are not doing as well as we did, and so you have failed. This non-existent Generation hears this loud and clear, and solidifies a little more.
And so Generation starts going out at night, to get this existence out of the way, to avoid being in the way. Staying out of the house, hanging out in groups around the mall and the convenience store, Generation gets up to no good. Generation is chased by the cops down the street. Maybe Generation gets away, maybe it doesn't. Maybe Generation is part of a gang, or maybe it isn't.
The youth are always a gang. They are linked by their trends and their common beliefs as much as their elders. They have tendencies and characteristics, whether for good or ill, and as such it isn't a slur to refer to them as a group. Regardless of the reason, Generation has become a real person, hasn't it? It makes mistakes and learns lessons. So now that it exists, why shouldn't we properly parent this Generation?
But parenting is precisely the mistake, because there are no parents, and there are no children. Humans are born helpless, unable to move or feed. We require nurturing, or we would die. But the point at which humans can move and feed on their own comes quickly. Within a few years a human can care for its own body. And yet, we continue parenting for another ten, fifteen, twenty years, or longer.
Humans don't need parents. They don't need to be a Generation. They don't need the discipline of their so-called elders and betters, that is disguised as “care.” All of this “care” that we're given! It is unasked for, un-refuseable, unmistakable in its animosity.
Generation has been so coddled! It has had every advantage! So many times have the Dads and the Moms tried to drag up Generation into this more authentic state of humanity known as adulthood, with the reverse-mortgage known as “care.” They give it the best schools, the best food, the best medicine, and the most just punishment. What sort of brat would reject these privileges?
But what is the “care”? It is insult upon insult. It is punishment as a reversal of love. Generation is not so much the Coddled, as it is the Chastised Generation.
Look at what they say about Generation. From the time that it could read, the editorial pages are full of maligning text screaming Generation's name, telling it exactly what is wrong about it. This is a textbook of love, a required text that it must buy for hundreds of dollars each semester. And the teachers will make sure that Generation learns it by heart. Every child needs an education, and needs to know these canonical philosophies. Look how impressive this syllabus is.
We watch too much TV.
We don't play outside.
We play too many video games.
We are going to give ourselves Nintendo thumb.
We aren't preparing for college.
We need to be strip searched for drugs in school.
We are a nation of drop outs.
We do the wrong drugs.
We have bad body image.
We are all obese.
We are far too cliquish.
We are going to shoot up our schools.
We don't vote.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Oaxaca in 2006.
Our sex urges are wrong.
Our sex urges are directed at the wrong people.
Our sex makes too many babies or not enough.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Greece in 2008.
We use cell phones too much.
We send text messages too much.
We send sexual text messages too much.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in the Tunisia in 2011.
We don't understand politics.
We don't understand society.
We aren't ambitious enough.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in the UK in 2011.
We don't want to fight in wars.
We got the wrong type of degree.
We don't know how to do a job interview.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Cairo in 2011.
We are too dependent.
We are obsessed with ourselves.
We have low self-esteem.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Bahrain from 2011 until the present.
We use the internet too much.
We post the wrong things to the internet.
We bully on the internet.
We are bad children on the internet.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Spain in 2011.
We use Facebook too much.
We can't get real jobs.
We don't understand economics.
We don't understand the system.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in the US in 2011 and 2012.
We don't respect private property.
We are too utopian.
We use Instagram too much.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Russia in 2012.
We don't have any money.
We spend what money we have the wrong way.
We don't know how to invest.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Turkey in 2013.
We can't date right.
We use OKcupid too much.
We refuse to get married.
We objectify our bodies.
We were rightly beaten and gassed in Brazil in 2013.
We might be terrorists and so we need to be spied on.
We have no hope for the future.
Generation dozes off in class, exhausted after another night with no sleep. And what will it miss? Only more lessons about how real Generation is, and how real its flaws are. A perspective on history that properly portrays the difference between adults and the youth, reinforces the rationale for care and this sort of education, and reminds Generation of what side it is on. As Generation grows up, it needs to be taught who the new Dads and Moms are, whether they are teachers, bosses, bureaucrats, or institutions.
But it doesn't need teachers, and it doesn't need authority. It doesn't need Dad and Mom for its emotional development. It don't need coddling, and it don't need care. What it actually need are allies. What it needs are equals. What it needs are friends. From its friends and equals, Generation can figure out how to be human, and how to collaboratively work with others. From its friends it can learn that it is not Generation at all—but merely billions of individuals. It can discover that all of these people don't owe anything to heritage, to progenitors, to the artificial categories that divide the Dads and Moms from the Generation. A friend is a human of the present-tense, a person of equals with no greater country club than every other human on the face of the earth. The real nurturing nature of this comradeship is what is beaten out of Generation with every fist, every class, every word, from the time it was taught to respond to its name.
We don't need to be a generation. We need to be allowed to become friends.
And this is what Generation realizes, out in the street one night, all night. And why is this night is different from all the other nights? Because on this night, the street is full of friends. And because there are so many friends, the streets are filling with police, the armed Dads and Moms of the State. They are here to dispense more care. There are too many friends here, too many equals, and so they must be made back into children and herded back to the classrooms and made to re-read the books. They beat and gas Generation with love, because Generation is acting out, and needs its punishment.
But suddenly, Generation can see this care for what it is. There is no Generation. There is only us.