This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Young people as scapegoats

Before we move into the real heart of our argument, I wish to mention the problem of scapegoating. “We the people” tend to use the president as a scapegoat for our national failings. Sometimes I wonder if that is not the president’s main function. It turns out, however, that the president isn’t the only one who gets this treatment. It seems that public disdain aimed at an individual or group, disdain that allows us to avoid blaming ourselves for anything, is sort of an institution for us. Young people, for example, have it far worse than the president.

On one Election Day not too long ago, I walked into a public restroom. Atop the toilet was a roll of toilet paper with the current president’s picture printed on each square. The roll was about half empty. While this sort of thing didn’t strike me as odd, or even surprising, it did seem to be an accurate representation, in very concise form, of the general state of politics in America. “Toilet humor” is the level at which our public discourse now takes place. What made it even more interesting was the timing. I knew that in a matter of hours there would be a new face in the White House, and that the company that produced this roll of toilet paper would have to retool their machines. But they would continue to sell their product.

The reason I point this out is to identify what offends us, as Americans, and what does not. That is to say, I don’t think very many people would be surprised or outraged to see the Obama toilet paper. In America, it’s okay to pretend to defecate on the face of the President.

Want to know what’s not okay? In the days following the election, news outlets were running a story about how some teachers had cancelled classes so that their students could have time to adjust to a Trump presidency. Various pundits immediately responded with contempt, and their listeners, as listeners do, followed suit. The students were being “a bunch of crybabies.” Kids these days, right? They need to buck up and learn to accept when they don’t get their way.

The takeaway? Contempt of neighbor is acceptable. The toilet paper was an expression of disdain. Calling kids crybabies is an expression of contempt. But despair at the outcome of an election? In other words, a hint of contempt for the system itself? Not acceptable—ever.

If the first commandment of American life is that you can think whatever you want about the people within the system, the second commandment is that you may never question the system itself. Those who refuse to accept the outcome of a vote are implying that they don’t trust the system. This is not acceptable to the guardians of public opinion, even if everything else, no matter how vulgar, is just fine.

Here’s the thing though:

Any person not moved almost to tears at the depravity of our leadership has something wrong with them. It might be naivety, cynicism, or ignorance, but it’s something. Even if you think “the other guy” would have been worse, it should still strike you as objectively terrible–embarrassing on a national level–that your guy was the preferable alternative. But the talking heads on television, whose primary function seems to be to guard the status quo, have a capacity for moral indignation that has been turned inside out. For them, it’s not the system that has a problem. The system can never have a problem. It’s the young people complaining about it who have the problem. The young people are the problem.

For the angry old zealots, maturity means accepting the status quo, no matter how stupid it is, and being grateful for whatever comes. Patriotism means casting your servile vote, no matter who for or what for, and embracing the outcome with a stiff upper lip. Any attempt to question this and you are quickly informed that the only thing wrong with this country is you.

It is perhaps a law of social life (it has been happening for millennia) that people over develop an irresistible urge to blame all social problems on the younger generation. Maybe it’s human nature. It seems to have always been that way. They act as if young people, who basically just got here, could have somehow created the problems they were clearly born into. It’s like walking into a room where a murder has just been committed, and then having all the people standing over the body point their bloody fingers at you and yell: “He did it!” It’s kind of baffling, and it would be funny if it wasn’t such an affront to justice and right reason.

And this isn’t just about politics. Kids are blamed for all sorts of stuff. To take one example, kids get a lot of flak for being glued to their phones non-stop. But the only reason today’s 50-year-olds aren’t glued to phones is because they are glued to their televisions instead. The only reason they can pretend to have a moral high ground is because, when they were teenagers, smartphones didn’t exist. Judging from the way the older generation worships the television, there is not a doubt in my mind that if they’d had smartphones, they’d have been glued to them.

The point is not that we shouldn’t care about this stuff. I don’t like it any more than anyone else when I look at a school lunch table and see five kids staring at five phones. But guess what? It’s not their problem. Its ‘our’ problem. It didn’t start with them. It started way before them. They are just following in their parents footsteps. Do kids need to learn discipline with respect to technology? No. We need to learn discipline with respect to technology.

Until the older generations can take their share of responsibility for our social problems, they shouldn’t be surprised if no one takes their condemnations seriously. This happens in every area of life, but it goes double for politics.

I am lucky enough to know a Vietnam veteran. A man who chooses not to flatter himself by using young people for a scapegoat. I mentioned some of these things to him a while back. This was his response:

“What is really necessary for a reform? For my generation to die. The ideals my cohort held are not the kind that sustain themselves and will likely be forgotten. Apres moi, le printemps.”

That’s a pretty strong statement, and while it wouldn’t have been right for it to come out of my mouth, I’m comfortable sharing it without further comment, especially considering who it came from.

At any rate, I bring this up for two reasons. First, young people are less likely to vote than their elders. Rather than interpreting this as a moral failing, maybe their elders should ask themselves if there might be a valid reason for this behavior. Second, it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes the only ones who can save us from ourselves are those who stand outside of our own narrow point of view. It does little good playing the generational blame-game, but at the same time, the generation who developed the problem is not going to solve it. Fresh eyes are necessary.

It’s going to be the same when I get my gray hair. My generation will have its own illusions, and the best hope of salvation from those illusions will be the bright-eyed youths. I only hope I have the wisdom to be open to what they have to say.

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