When did Americans begin to identify themselves by age?
Today’s so-called “Baby Boomers” (and generations before them) did not label their age group when they were young like the “Millennials” (born 1980-2000; Generation Y) so proudly proclaim themselves now. Many youths back in the 60s and 70s were called “Hippies” by others, but that referred to college kids wearing certain attire, their sexual conduct, and their political position (anti-Vietnam War) and did not presume to encompass the attitudes of an entire youthful population group. Millennials were preceded by "Thirteeners" (1965-1979; Generation X) and followed by the present “New Silent” or Generation Z (1995-2010), who seem to be anything but silent. Since there is this New Silent Generation, I researched the “Old” Silent one, and that refers to those born between 1925 and 1945. What they were “silent” about is debatable, but it doesn’t matter because what we need to examine are the “Perennials”: individuals of all ages who span every generation alive today.
What is a Perennial? Cicero offered a clue: "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child."
We witness interviews with “the man and woman on the street” of all ages and with college kids. The omnipresent ignorance is astounding.
American history? One high school teacher opined that the American Revolution was fought against France. The Federalist papers? “The... what?” When was The Declaration of Independence written and by whom? Shrug. Ancient history: Who was Plato? Palms up. What country did Julius Caesar rule? Small laugh. World history: When was the Russian Revolution? Silence. How about the present: Who is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? “Not sure.” Can you name any of the justices on the Supreme Court? Head shake. Who is president of the United States right now? Love him or hate him, they all know Trump. Who is Vice president? Rolling eyes.
“Perennial” as the term is used here is not a plant that re-blooms year after year but humanized to refer to the second definition of perennial as “lasting for an indefinite time.” From the 1960s on (yes, with exceptions), the primary attribute of chronologically “adult” Americans that has “lasted for an indefinite time” is lack of basic knowledge in particular and immaturity in general. Both deficiencies are increasing with every succeeding generation to the point they are now apodictically endemic. College students needing the consolation of coloring books and play dough when upset over current events or depressed over who-knows-what? “Free speech zones” to protect their fragile little “feelings”? Running away not only from reality but from words?
By and large, Americans born before WWII moved from childhood through adolescence and on to mature adulthood. The majority of them went to school and learned at least the three “Rs” — Readin’, (W)Ritin’, and (A)Rithmetic in order to prepare for a “grown-up” life that included independence from childhood home, laboring at work, raising a family, running a household, paying the bills, and enjoying a social life.
Let’s ponder the attributes of a mature American individual that make for a successfully functioning adult:
First would be the use of reason (rather than emotions) and logic to judge alternatives and make decisions as to which values one would select (not accumulate) that would serve a satisfactorily fulfilled job/professional, social, and personal life best. Then in no particular order: Understanding the concept of individual sovereignty and the self-reliant responsibility inherent in possessing it; purpose toward life-affirming laudable goals and excellence of moral character; earned self respect; realistic expectations; refinement in taste; ability to delay gratification; respect for differing opinions; civility in communication and social interaction; control of emotions; elevation of abilities; earned confidence in functionality; judgment and opinions based on hard and verifiable evidence rather than on hearsay or propaganda; advancement in complexity of thought; and basic knowledge of Western-heritage history (at least of America’s ancestral path from ancient Greek-Roman-Enlightenment ideas and recognition of the names George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other framers of the American constitution).
Let’s ponder the attributes of an immature American individual that make for a physically developed adult who in Cicero’s words remains “forever a child”:
First would be lack of reason and logic, relying on intentional or accidental input from others and/or unidentified emotions to unthinkingly acquire a value system that is not conducive to a productive and independent adult life in concert with existential reality. Then in no particular order: Here, we can simply reverse the attributes of a mature American, but certain of these need emphasis. Group identity, thought, and behavior born of insecurity and irresponsibility as an individual; mob thinking; demanding behavior that asks others to satisfy “needs”; crying when the world doesn’t turn according to personal wishes; super-sensitive to criticism; emotional, sometimes violent temper tantrums; refusal to respect or even listen to differing opinions; moral relativism without objective standards; expectation of rewards without effort; adolescent slang language and sloppy attire (note even 60+-year-olds’ vocabulary has shrunk to “like” every third word, “cool” and “awesome” as the only adjectives used, and the vulgar “it sucks” employed as a habitual negative along with wearing sagging jeans covering sagging rear ends, message tee shirts, and dirty sneakers); politically correct opinions based on fantasy, hearsay or propaganda; the inability to differentiate fact from fiction; and… lack of historical knowledge.
Granting there are still millions of Americans with rational values, respect for knowledge, and responsible behavior, an alarming and mounting number in our country have devolved from 20th century Baby Boomers into 21st century babies.
Perennials of all ages — those "forever a child" — are boring when not busticating, disgusting when not disruptive, and pathetic when not pushing inane agendas.
A mirror is always available.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation (www.art-21.org). She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "Adamas." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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