A few days ago a post at Intangible Soul provoked a thought. It has been growing like an intellectual tumor in the back of my mind since then. I excised it today. Bear with me.
We linked to the IS post here. Trying to explain the low rent, two hot dogs for fifty cents, Mississippi county fair carnival* that is the #Occupy[yournamehere] protests and the concordant combinations of arrested development and adolescent behavior of the “demonstrators”, IS posted this:
What’s wrong with our youth?
It’s pretty easy to state. Explaining WHY they are the way they are is slightly more complicated.
- They are stupid.
- They are self-entitled.
- They are overly self-aggrandizing.
- They are arrogant and disrespectful.
- They are coddled.
- They are lazy.
What’s the main source of all of the above? Their parents. Parents aren’t the only reason our youth are so screwed up, but this is where it all starts.
I’ve been giving this fair consideration and looking at this in light of my own kids. For the record, I have three, one graduated law school and works for the US Bobsled Federation in Lake Placid, my oldest son is a talented graphic designer finishing his training (he worked a couple of years as a bobsled pilot at the Utah Olympic Park) and our baby boy is training to be a simulation/game designer. My two sons are in a grueling academic program at Full Sail University in Orlando – one that combines the academics and the pressures of delivering projects in the real world. They are 26, 24 and 21 – in a way, they are “children of privilege” in that they had the advantage of everything that two successful parents could give them (for the record, we are far from wealthy, neither of us came from money – we do meet Obama’s definition of “rich” but anybody with a job meets that these days).
In essence, my children are very similar in age and grew up in the same culture that the #O[ynh] crowd did.
Why aren’t they sleeping on the ground and smelling up a local park?
My belief is that IS is correct as far as it goes. It occurs to me that the greater reason is not that parents have vested this social, political and economic ignorance alone – the greater crime is the creation of a fantasy world that has created an overwhelming sense of security via entitlement. Looking at what I have seen in my career, I can see where:
- We have created the image of easy success that can be achieved in a defined, formulaic manner. Go to college, get a degree, you will get a job and be successful. In doing so, creating the “higher education bubble” that Professor Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has been talking about since 2008 (go to Insty and type in “higher education bubble” in the search bar and marvel at the wisdom of his warnings).
- In our wish to “give our kids better than we had”, we have insulated them from the hard work that many successful people experienced in their youth. Most kids today don’t have any idea how to work or what is expected of them when they get a job. They think they have “rights” – that they get to choose what they do in an entry level position…wrong.
- We have created a culture of rapid satisfaction of every want and desire, a culture where the delivery of an X-Box game only requires a credit card number, high speed internet and about 25 seconds. No real effort involved.
- We have only evangelized about the “upside” without discussing that a system in equilibrium always includes a “downside”. We have taught a generation that credit was always easy, everyone should go to college, college is a guarantee to a high paying job, any degree makes anyone qualified for anything and careers always have an upward track.
- We have built a culture of ease where leisure is not a reward for hard work; rather, it is a primary objective. My father and grandfather taught me that rest was a reward and we don’t rest until the job is done. Leisure was planned around work; today it seems to be the other way around.
- We built this culture on leverage – on debt. Rewards today for payment tomorrow. Just like the leisure example above, we sought pleasure before pain. The whole existence of the “Wimpy” economy (“I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.”) was built on a Ponzi-like belief that we would always have economic growth, we would always have jobs, that a house was always going to appreciate and we would be OK as long as we could meet the minimum credit card payments. Hell, Clinton’s “dot com” boom was built on nothing but paper. When companies were invested in because of their “burn rate” (how fast they were spending capital), you should get quickly acquainted with the name Charles Ponzi.
This culture has promoted arrested development, that is why there are so many unserious adults, more of which are in the academic and public sector because the business and commercial world has a way of culling out the poseurs where the others do not – in fact, in the academic and public sector world, junk science, silly theories and frivolous “scholarship” are actually celebrated.
I believe that my kids aren’t part of the “99%ers” because we taught them the opposite of the points above.
- College does not guarantee success, hard work does. Choose your education so that it is transportable (you can perform the work anywhere because you may have to go to the opportunities), that it is needed in the economic system and work hard to get the grades. In an economy filled with degrees, employers can be highly selective.
- What we have was earned in the culmination of 30 years of hard work, it wasn’t ours right out of college. We did it by setting our own standards of work. When less was demanded, we did more – when more was demanded, we were ready. Follow that lesson and you will have learned how to work. Sometimes you have to do things just because they need doing. Remember that your boss may not always be right, but he is always your boss. Work is not a democracy. Want the right to choose – become the boss.
- Instant delivery of “stuff” creates opportunities to do more, not less. Use every minute as if it were your last.
- Expect the best but plan for the worst. Set your plan to take advantage of the good times but make sure that you can manage during the worst. Know how to plant a garden, butcher a hog, milk a cow, hunt for food and make a trade. Sounds very “survivalist” but these are skills that would be valued in a non-technology driven society and each teaches skills that are applicable to modern life.
- Hands and mind to task and finish every one strong – then rest. Leisure is a reward for hard work, not a lifelong pursuit.
- There is “good” debt and “bad” debt. Only take on debt that 1) you can support without compromising your financial well being and 2) has a positive return on investment. Never take on debt for “fun”. “Fun” should be a cash only business.
We also have to live what we teach. I know that my children have witnessed my career struggles. There was a period back in the late ‘90’s when I was “right-sized” out of a major corporation at a VP level. We didn’t hide the situation from them and I hope that when they think back on those difficult times that they remember that I never stopped fighting to succeed.
I’m so proud of the serious adults that my kids have become. I’m sure that they didn’t appreciate the lessons that we tried to teach them at the time but they “get it” now. My sons are focused on success. They are politically moderate with libertarian leanings. My daughter is already successful and a conservative like her mom and dad; she was president of the Federalist Society at the S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah.
I have little doubt that they will make significant contributions to society.
I realize that IS posited all these issues but the meta theme around this has become a larger societal and cultural construct. It is parents, businesses, religion, academia and government, they all are responsible. It has metastasized into a “gestalt” (to borrow a phrase from our good Professor, David Karpf, who generously took the time to debate here).
The weight of a culture is difficult for parents to overcome. It did start with the parents but it will only change through the children. I pray that this recession/depression is a strong enough wake-up call for all us and our children won’t have to survive the end of America as predicted by Pat Buchanan’s new book and the anarchy that will follow.
I know many kids like mine, I’m sure you do, too. They may well be yours. There is hope that they can turn this around and overcome the “arrested development” society that has been created around them. We owe it to them to look these unserious and frivolous cultural forces in the face and, pardon my French, call bullshit on these childish and idiotic forces in America, no matter what political party, university or organization they come from. We do owe them at least that much.
Hopefully, we can make a down payment on that debt in November of 2012.
* It is OK, I’m from a rural Mississippi county, so this is a comment based on experience.