Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Talking About My Generation

Okay, so I've had this debate kicking around in my head for a while about politics; young people -- people approx. my age who could vote if they wanted to -- are ignorant of just about every major political issue there is. For many people their ignorance is a point of pride. When I've asked these people why they have no opinion, there response is usually along the lines of disgust for dishonesty of politicians. However, there have always been dishonest politicians, but somehow previous generations managed to motivate themselves to vote. I have a number of theories on this but none of them are entirely satisfying.

1) There is a common belief among the older generations that somewhere between the time when the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles and the JFK assassination America went horribly wrong and ever since then we have been in decline. Just about everything went into decline from morals to education. As a consequence, America has produced the lazy, ignorant "generation X." My first problem with this theory is that is easily feeds nostalgia for the "good-old days", whenever they might have been. No epoch in history was without its flaws and every nostalgic look at the past elides certain inequities and flaws.

Furthermore, tying all our generation's shortcomings to a general decline in American civilization is really a slack diagnosis that neither determines the source of the disease nor precisely describes the symptom, if in fact it does exist. I do not believe in this chimerical time in the past when everyone respected their elders, did their homework, and believed in the value of hard work. (By the way, it takes a damn lot of egocentricism for Tom Brokaw to call his book "The Greatest Generation". How about the generation that fought the War for Independance, and wrote the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independance? At least they would get my vote for greatest American generation, and perhaps a whole different generation for greatest generation ever. But I digress.)

2) The next theory has something to do with a surfeit of information about politics. Back in the soi-disant "good-old days", many political decisions were made behind closed doors. It has been a recent development that the general public has been allowed to see how many of the political decisions have been made. The advent of the 24 hour cable news channel makes it near impossible to escape news coverage. Having had our fill of politics, we want no more.

The biggest problem I have with this theory, is that I also think their is a surfeit of information about celebrities, but I seem to be one of the few people to be sickened by it. 24 hour cable channels like E! have done little to dampen people's appetites for news of celebrity weddings etc. Also, before someone can have a surfeit of politics, they would have to have had a taste for it before they overindulged.

3) Or maybe we just live in an increasingly specialized world. These days in order to do well at something, one has to put energy in to one specialty and try to excell. There is just too much information out there for someone to know everything about everything. In order to just compete in the job market or in our social circles, we have to know a lot about a small field of knowledge instead of a little about every field.

I'm sympathetic to this view, but it still doesn't explain why some people take PRIDE in their ignorance about politics. I mean, I realize that I don't really have time to learn ancient greek or become a master pianist, but I don't shout about it with pride at parties either. Given the choice, I would rather know these things than not.

This isn't really a comprehensive explanation of my theories on the subject, but this isn't a dissertation either. I would love to hear other people's theories too. Perhaps I will write more later.