Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rule #164: Generation Gap Kids

I don't want to hear any more about how good things used to be. 

If there's one thing you can count on when someone is found allegedly murdered in south Louisiana, aside from calls to grab torches and pull a Braveheart on the first person ever rumored as a suspect, it's that someone will reminisce about a time "when you didn't have to lock your doors." It happened on my Facebook feed this morning, after a news report confirmed that a dead man found in New Iberia was a doctor who had gone missing.

Personally, I've always been one to lock my doors. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't. It's not that I live in fear, because I don't. It simply makes sense to me that, if I am not in a position to protect my property, I secure it. Even in an ideal world, I don't see the virtue in going to bed at night with the front door unlocked. (Once, early in my Springfield days, I accidentally left my keys in the front door overnight, and didn't notice until 4 p.m. the next day. No one tried to take advantage of this situation, but I felt more stupid than safe once I discovered it.) 

Furthermore, even if these old days were as good as wistful people say, something clearly happened to bring them to a crashing halt. My guess is, some unscrupulous folks realized that they were living in a wonderful age where everyone left their doors unlocked, and acted accordingly. Or, more plausibly, people are selectively remembering life in their bucolic corner of a world where theft, murder and hardship have always existed.

In any case, people are very nostalgic for the past, or at least the parts they recall most fondly. As my last few posts have shown, I can be that way as well. I realize now that my parents and grandparents never had a lot of money, but scraped and sacrificed in a way to where I always felt loved, protected and enriched. And I was always told that, with my own determination, education and smart choices, I could get ahead and do even better later in life. I still believe that. But these days, things are a lot harder for even the best among us.

For me, the sticking point comes when older people tell me how much better the standard of living was when they were my age. How much farther their dollar went. How it was easier to get (and keep) a job. How America wasn't held hostage to the whims of giant corporations. How people actually felt like they had some power as citizens.

It wouldn't bother me if all of that was simply more nostalgia. But a lot of it is absolutely correct.

I recently (and inadvertently) got into a Facebook debate over owning a home versus having an apartment. I posted how my hot-water heater had broken, and that I had to call on the maintenance men to fix it, and they did within the hour. That is my favorite thing about having an apartment. Had I been a homeowner, I would have either had to fix it myself (Hah!) or spend an exorbitant amount of money on (and wait for) a professional to come in. It was an argument of convenience versus hassle, not economic at all.

However, it led to one of my Facebook friends making her case for home ownership (equity). And, in response, several other friends made their case about how someone struggling financially and moving around for jobs would be better off renting. Strikingly, the debate fell entirely on generational lines — the older generations argued for buying a home, while the 20- and 30-somethings considered that excessive in their (and my) cases. All of our politics are pretty much the same, so I think economic reality was the perspective driving the discussion.

I use home ownership as an example because that became the postwar staple for prosperity in the late 1940s and '50s. I wouldn't mind having one of my own someday when I'm ready to tackle the responsibilities and challenges. It's just a question of when, or if. And if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I won't worry about what others think.

I'm 30 years old, born in the election year that spawned Ronald Reagan. That was an era of sea change, often described as the "go-go" or "yuppie" 1980s. Trickle-down/supply-side economics. The evisceration of unions. Deregulation. The widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. Wall Street dominance over Main Street. Into the 1990s and today, that segued into several wars, several market crashes and recessions, free trade and a profit-driven media that lends legitimacy to ignorant pundits and fear-mongering messages. All of these things combined to make life pretty miserable for a lot of people. And I get the feeling I barely know the half of it.

So for those of you out there who have a few decades of life experience on me, please spare me the smug stories. And please cut out the cracks about our generation being screwed. We know who screwed it up and who is still aggressively doing so with their go-go greed. And for the more compassionate among you, understand that things aren't as easy for us as they were for you. It has less to do with our work ethic or morals than it does external factors. I imagine you didn't have the same challenges as your forebears either.

I just hope that all of us struggling through these tough times come through them with a greater understanding of the things that really matter in life, and a greater appreciation for conserving and protecting the irreplaceable things that we're lucky to have. And that greed never again overrides compassion. I think that, in spite of everything, we're gradually heading in the right direction, and could even come out of this stronger. Different, but better.

My grandparents were very frugal, citing their childhood challenges during the Great Depression. I didn't understand at the time. I do now, to a large degree. I think all of us can. Or, at least, should.

OK, on to happier things.

1 comment:

rhonda said...

you're wrong. you're SO wrong. the old days were so much better. it is my humble opinion that women voting, black people being allowed to be people, and the pasteurization process have fucked. up. EVERYTHING. it's why god hates us. and don't even get me started on that fucking cotton gin.