Why the Boomers seem to have gotten more conservative

December 28, 2009

aging hippie

Like you, I love a good generation gap story.

So I enjoyed Kai Wright’s big, bold piece in The Root today about how the Baby Boomers started idealistic, sold out, and destroyed Earth and how it’s now up to their children (like Wright and me) to fix it.

But the problem with this fun, familiar let’s-psychoanalyze-a-generation-as-if-it-were-some-dude-from-Milwaukee sort of narrative is that a generation isn’t a single person. It’s many people, some of whom capture the public imagination one year and others the next.

So let me float Mike’s Theory of Generational Aging to explain Wright’s underlying observation: that Boomers seem more conservative now than they used to.

Here it is: People with revolutionary impulses tend to become prominent when they’re young, radical and energetic. People with institutionalist impulses tend to become prominent when they’re old, well-informed and well-connected. Thus every generation appears to grow much more conservative as it ages.

In other words, it’s always the old to lead us to the war. It’s always the young to fall.

– posted by Mike

(photo by DavidDennisPhotos.com under a Creative Commons license)


Landscapes shaping people

July 27, 2009

I just started reading River Town, by Peter Hessler, and thought this passage right at the beginning was interesting.

I often heard remarks like this, [that all the women of Fuling had a reputation for being beautiful due to being from an area with both water and mountains, or that people there had bad tempers because it was hot and there were mountains,] and they suggested that the Chinese saw their landscapes differently than outsiders did. I looked at the terraced hills and noticed how the people had changed the earth, taming it into dizzying staircases of rice paddies; but the Chinese looked at the people and saw how they had been shaped by the land.

-Hessler, 6

This reminded me of conversations I’ve had at various points with people from the Midwest. I am from the East Coast (or the Southeast, if you are one of those people who strangely thinks the East Coast only extends as far south as DC, or possibly Virginia,) specifically the piedmont area of North Carolina, and I am very used to being surrounded by hills and trees. In the days when I was frequently having to drive home from Iowa or Michigan during school breaks, I had a definite sense that “home” did not start until I entered the Appalachians and was surrounded by forests again. By contrast, several friends who grew up in the plains stated that they would find it a little scary not to be able to see for miles around. Hills and too many trees would give them claustrophobia. Whereas I found the first description of the plains in the Little House on the Prairie books terrifying and never really understood why they moved out of the Big Woods.

Read the rest of this entry »


The coming revolution over anti-aging research

December 14, 2008

On Bloggingheads’ Science Saturday, Methuselah Foundation chairman Aubrey de Gray argues that eternal life is within reach and attacks those who think it’d be a bad idea.

But here’s something he and interviewer Eliezer Yudkowsky don’t address: on the day eternal life becomes available, it might be a bad idea for everybody over a certain age. Those people would be locked into life at their current age indefinitely, while the rest of the world — their future friends, enemies, bosses and lovers — would become an ever-swelling group of 24-year-olds.

How would society react to this approaching possibility?

Read the rest of this entry »


American Ghost Morality Tales

October 27, 2008

This may not be a ghost story, but it’s a scary one we used to tell around the campfire, the flashlight held up under our chin so our faces took that eerie, scary red glow. For those who don’t know, Shawno is a town in Northeastern Wisconsin, not too far from where I grew up, but far enough away to run out of gas and get lost…

Read the rest of this entry »


Before And After – Some Norwegian Ghosts

October 26, 2008

In keeping with Dana’s idea about posting a ghost story a day, here are two Norwegian stories – you’ll see that the first one isn’t precisely a ghost story in the classic sense of the word, but there’s a definite creepy otherworldliness to it. Both of them are folk stories which were collected about two hundred years, but are probably much older than that. They come originally from Scandinavian Folktales, translated by Jacqueline Simpson, but I’m retelling from memory as I haven’t got the book by me.

Read the rest of this entry »


David Foster Wallace on suicide and the moral life

September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace’s postmodernism was always about morality.

Whatever anybody said, all the Great Big American Novelists of our lifetimes have shared that itch. But for Wallace it must have been a fever. Morality was never below the surface of his art — even though the art was usually so dazzling that some people couldn’t see anything else.

To cheer me up after his wretched, untimely death, here is some advice he gave about literal and figurative suicide, from his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon.

The full speech doesn’t betray Wallace’s trademark floridity, the habit that’s going to be talked up in all this morning’s papers. Instead, it’s flat almost to the point of crassness. It’s a slap in the jaw. It’s worth a full read.

Read the rest of this entry »


You Can Wear It Again, Part 2: Cover Her Face

August 21, 2008

It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed – the two bridesmaids were duly inferior – her father gave her away – her mother stood with salts in her hand, expecting to be agitated – her aunt tried to cry – and the service was impressively read by Dr. Grant.

– Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Trying to trace the history of bridesmaids and the beginning of their existence is about as easy as tracing any other wedding tradition; between frustratingly unsourced statements and a tendency towards misty assertions like “For thousands of years, brides have …” when what’s really meant is “Every wedding I’ve heard of had this” it’s hard to say anything with complete confidence that it can’t be contradicted. The same is true of wedding veils; people obviously wore them, and still wear them, but there are gaps in the history which can’t be easily filled in. Interestingly, one of the few things about which we can be fairly certain is this: bridesmaids and bridal veils were originally intended to serve the same function, which was to protect the bride above all else.

Read the rest of this entry »


You Can Wear It Again: Wedding Clothes Past And Present

August 13, 2008

Wedding season has been going on for some time, but enough of it remains that hotels are still being booked to capacity and people are sweating in unfamiliar airports in order to spend a weekend witnessing one of the oldest continuous rituals in existence. Like most other long-lasting rituals, it seems at first glance unlikely that many of our ancestors would recognize our version of it, and one of the major reasons for that – though far from the only one – is the change in dress involved. The North American standard today is what a place like Indiebride would refer to as a cookie-cutter wedding; poofy white dress, tuxes, champagne, rented ballroom, embarrassing DJ who plays YMCA, even more embarrassing bouquet toss and garter removal. It’s true that there are a lot of them out there – one summer I spent as a caterer’s minion involved serving about three weddings per weekend, and most of them blended together pretty fast because so little about the basic template changed. However, enough people go non-cookie cutter to support a pretty large alternative industry (not to mention a lot of websites), and a common theme here is that the Big White Wedding isn’t even that traditional – the white wedding only started with Queen Victoria. Another criticism frequently leveled at the white dress is that it’s supposed to be an advertisement of the wearer’s virginity.

Read the rest of this entry »


Untimely Ripped

July 3, 2008

If you’ve had a child in the last ten years or so – or rather, if you’ve seriously contemplated having a child for more than about fifteen minutes of your life – there’s one fact you’ve probably heard: Caesarean rates in the first world, especially in the US, are too high. Every few months brings along another article likeĀ this one, deploring the Caesarean rate and explaining (1) why it’s so high and (2) what doctors and patients should be doing to solve it, and aren’t. In many circles, unmedicated natural childbirth is held to be the best possible birthing experience — “our birthright” according to one midwife — and women who end up having a Caesarean for causes which aren’t immediately and obviously life-threatening for the baby (for instance, prolapsed cord) quite often feel that they’ve somehow been denied a good birth, or that they have let themselves or the baby down. On Plans, we were discussing how “birth is not a competition”, but human nature is such that some people will inevitably regard it as one; to have had an unmedicated birth somehow gives you a head start in the Good Parenting Stakes, and to have had a Caesarean shows lamentable weakness.

Read the rest of this entry »


Cell Phone Dependency

May 6, 2008

An interesting and frightening thing happened this weekend. My brother lost his cell phone. Or rather, my brother lost his cell phone, failed to show up at two or three places he said he was going to be, and no one heard from him for nearly three days.

As it turns out, it had fallen out of his pocket in someone else’s car and then had the battery die, so the other person was driving it around for a couple of days all unsuspecting. And he didn’t show up at his previously scheduled events because the Clinton campaign* called the restaurant where he works at the last minute to schedule a huge dinner, which he then got roped into working even though he was supposed to be off that day, and he couldn’t tell anyone because he didn’t have his phone.

But the whole thing was kind of scary, because it made me realize I have no other way to reach him. I sort of kind of have an email address for him, but I’m never sure if it’s the address he’s still using any more, because he’s not much of an emailer. (At least, not to his geeky sister.) Since he works at a restaurant, he doesn’t really have a “work phone,” (though my parents did go to the restaurant and leave him a physical note-style message when they got a call from the person who did have the phone.) I don’t know the phone numbers of any of his friends. Conversely, I suspect he doesn’t know my phone number without looking it up in his own phone. Hence, the loss of his cell phone pretty much meant that my brother fell off the face of the earth.

Read the rest of this entry »