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.

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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?

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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