Friday, August 17, 2007

i don’t know why i am so shocked

Had some problems with PayPal, which doesn’t seem to be nearly as secure as its customer service people want us to believe. But that’s not what shocked me. It’s just two days before we leave for Michigan—two days! But time flying by isn’t what shocked me.

Nope, what shocked me was a conversation with an 18-year-old girl. Funny how I assumed her generation just had pretty much the same morals and ethics as mine (I know, I’m on the cusp of old fartdom). All the articles I’d read about how somehow it’s ok for kids to cheat in school today because if they don’t, they might not get ahead coupled with attitudes toward music and movie piracy didn’t really clue me in that there’s been a sea change in, what to call it ... the morality of the generation coming into adulthood during the last 10 or 12 years or so and now compared with the morality of my generation (let alone my parents’ generation).

I’m not so much talking about morality of things like sex—Americans are entirely too stupid about sex, I think—although little girls dressing like two-bit Lolitas and wearing scraps of clothing as they trudge through snowbanks bothers me. (I like to think we weren’t so senseless, my generation—then I think about my micro-mini Nehru dress, elephant bottoms, and the platform shoes I fell off of and sprained my ankle ... )

It’s more about the morals and courtesies that keep society functioning. The 18-year-old told me her friends (not her, oh no ... ) regularly steal things such as eye liner from Sephora—you know, the $70 stuff. Nothing wrong with that, says she, though she wouldn’t admit that she also does it (if she does), correctly reading the shock and dismay on our faces. The reason there’s nothing wrong with it? Well, she said, the stuff is too expensive to begin with. And if the company’s security measures suck, tough for them. Oh, and they’re big corporations, so they don’t need all that money, they have enough. It’s not even a game or klepto stuff—it’s a norm: there’s nothing wrong with stealing, even if it’s something you don’t even remotely need. Stanley mentioned that it’s the leap made from stealing music on the internet.

After listening to us try to convince her otherwise, she gave an example of how unjust our society is, a hypothetical. A rich guy is driving down the street in his expensive car. A not-rich woman is behind him in, presumably, her shitbox car. She looks down to adjust her iPod and plows into the rear end of the rich guy’s car. She ends up never getting ahead in life because she has to spend the next ten or twenty years of her life paying for the damage she caused to the rich guy’s car. So that, 18YOG says, is unjust. I didn’t even ask what a poor person is doing with an iPod. It was pointed out to her that driving without insurance is illegal—and of course it’s fair—the hypothetical woman caused the problem so it’s up to her to rectify what she did, first by driving without insurance and then driving carelessly. We tried to point out to 18YOG that society has this set of rules, for the most part codified, that make it possible for a society to function ...

She was having none of it. The woman was “poor” and therefore should be exempt for having to pay the consequences for her bad behavior. I asked 18YOG, who recently received a gorgeous Mac laptop as a graduation present, if it’s ok that someone steals her Mac and suffers no consequences because that person is poor? Well no, because she’s not a corporation, but an individual. Or something like that.

I don’t know. What I keep seeing is an overwhelming focus on self. Lip service only to the poor and those in need, for the most part (that, in all honesty, I think is the nature of “teendom”—which seems to last about 20 years in this country). A huge sense of entitlement—entitlement to respect and attention that hasn’t been earned. No ability to just shut up and listen (at least us old farts knew when to just shut up, for the most part, especially when we were trying to get something, like the keys to the car.) Like we have to tell them that their painting is great when it’s not, or the song sounds great when it doesn’t—politeness doesn’t work any more, you must praise no matter what the product is. And a disquieting lack of passion—few voters, few marchers, few environmentalists—it’s all too hard and might, just might, be a little uncomfortable. Mouth, but no follow-through—look at voter turnout on colleges campuses, especially in Ohio, where it would’ve made a difference.

Yes, I’m generalizing. And yes, I’m talking about middle class and plus kids (our future leaders?) since I don’t know poor kids any more since I stopped teaching.

What’s it going to be like in 10 or 15 years when their morals are the rules of the road?

I do know I will never, ever open a retail store—not unless I sell stuff for gummers that won’t even remotely interest the gimmenow generation (like books?) I did suggest to 18YOG that maybe she should take an ethics class or intro to philosophy during her first semester instead of beginning German. Yeah right.

posted by lee on 08/17/07 at 12:17 AM

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