Saturday, August 7, 2010

It is All Our Faults...The Weakest Generation

My father was born a scant few years before the Great Depression.

That is to say, he grew up and became conscious of life during the great suffering, lack and loss of the Great Depression. Upon graduating High School in 1942, he went right down to his local Draft Board and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He spent the next eight years there, serving in WW II and the start of the Korean War.

He came home and worked briefly in a bank, where he met my Mom, then promptly took the entrance exam for the Fire Department in New York City and began that career with unbounded gratitude – for the City that raised him, for a job that gave him an opportunity to “go as far as his ambition and test-taking abilities would opportunity his own father never had.

My father rose up steadily through virtually all the ranks in the FDNY and even as a Chief, even as the Asst. Borough Commander of Manhattan, whenever someone would ask him what he did, he’d simply answer, “I’m a fireman.”

My Dad worked in very busy firehouses through “the riot years” (1966 -1979), often referred to as New York City’s “Firestorm,” a time when fully ONE-THIRD (1/3) of New York City’s housing stock burned to the ground. He’d received numerous citations, NONE of which ever adorned his Class-A (dress) uniform. My father was a man of impeccable humility, it was his primary and most cherished virtue.

I give that brief background to explain why as I grew up I felt an increasingly and perplexing (unexplainable?) difference between my father and I.

Sure, he could do more things, he was more "handy," more self-reliant, but he was “an adult,” and I was at first...“just a kid,” and later on, “part of a generation that simply didn’t need that kind of self-reliance.”

But that difference didn’t diminish as I grew up, it only became more and more obvious and it wasn’t merely a matter of him “knowing different” things, it was an attitude, it was an essence.

He had a deeply ingrained humility, and that held despite his having accomplished many of the things he had, I had none.

He had gratitude and felt he owed the City of New York for providing the career that helped him provide his and his family’s sustenance – like many of my generation, I felt none of that...if anything, I felt the City owed me something. And like many others in my generation, I never even thought to ask, “For WHAT?!”

He expected little from others and laughed to himself when others didn’t live up to his own standards, or when such folks thought that THEY were somehow “getting over.” I, on the other hand, like most “liberal do-gooders,” very much expected others to live up to my own arbitrary and capricious standards (ones I rarely lived up to myself) or they were immediately labeled “bad people.”

But it wasn’t merely that I was a young idealistic, “do-gooding” Liberal (that’s exactly what I was back then), it was more, far more than that.

When Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, he told, in my view, an important PART of the story, but his focus seems both too short and it leaves out the primary reason why that generation, in my view at least was instead, “The LAST Great Generation.”

I am convinced that virtually EVERY generation previous would’ve risen to the same occasion, some perhaps even more fiercely. See, my mother’s father (my maternal grandfather) was, if anything, even more self-reliant than my Dad.

Affluence is a cancer...a soft, doughy nugget that grows and expands, ultimately infecting and corrupting everything around it. It BECOMES the essence of the one who holds it.

The soft, affluent man can’t imagine hardship any more. He can’t even imagine harming another, or why someone else would want to deliberately harm though he’d forgotten the very way of the world.

Because of the enormous amount of accrued affluence created by earlier generations, we are a weaker generation than our father’s was, just as they were a weaker generation than the one that came before...and so on.

That is the entropy of affluence.

The horror of confronting our own inner weakness directly is so great that we find many looking for others to blame for the problems we’ve all helped to create.

Indeed it’s all too often too tempting to resist envisioning some omnipotent “THEM,” controlling everything and victimizing all of “US.”

Sadly, I don’t believe that to be the case.

I firmly believe that if we were to find that curtain to look behind that would reveal this “THEM”....behind that curtain would lie a giant mirror, for it US...ALL of us, who are at fault.

It is WE (that is, US) who are the reason politicians lie - we virtually demand that they do. No one wants to hear the truth, that we’re spending too much and unsustainably on programs that we were never able to afford. Sure, not all of us, but certainly MOST of us, as every election pretty much makes clear. We constantly demand more stuff at no cost to us. We take issue with each other’s “boondoggles” – farmers revile inner city welfare cheats, urbanites revile government subsidized farmers, workers revile “corporate welfare” recipients and private sector workers revile fattened government workers. We ALL demand OUR “free stuff” and begrudge others theirs.

The pigs are US, not the weak-willed, sniveling politicians who’ll do anything just to remain in office...not the greedy self-centered businessmen, stocks and bond traders or commodities speculators, we are, for the most part just as self-centered and greedy as any of “THEM.”

It’s hard to blame ourselves, but to move forward I think we all (or at least most of us) have to come to do just that -  accept our own culpability for everything that befalls us.

So what’s the answer?

The answer, plain and simple is to refocus ourselves on what this nation’s Founders were focused on – the INDIVIDUAL. We need to STOP blaming others and look at ourselves. We need to first perfect ourselves before offering any assistance or advice to anyone else. Too often we are tempted to look OUTSIDE ourselves and seek to improve, perfect and control others. That’s a wrong turn;

The first law of a self-responsible worldview is FIRST, PERFECT YOURSELF.

The 2nd law is PERFECT YOURSELF...and the 3rd law is PERFECT YOURSELF.

How do we perfect ourselves?

Dedicate ourselves to learning more and making ourselves more valuable in today’s economy.

Work on improving ourselves WITHOUT worrying, or even much caring about “what the other guy does.” Focus relentlessly on improving our own personal productivity, without regard for what others may do...or fail to do.

Accept that we can’t control, let alone improve others, we can only control and improve least that’s a start.


paul mitchell said...

Someone idolizes his dad!

Great post, dude. Amazing.

namaste said...

sometimes i get tired of all the news reporting on the blogs. but every now and then i get a gift. a post which reveals the writer's vulnerable side, reminding his reader, he is no different than the next man. and he cares about our collective plight enough to show his heart.

thanks, joe. this is the best post i've read in a long time

JMK said...

Hi Paul....and I do, but I also admire that generation and the ones that came before.

Subsequently, we've become weakened by the affluence accrued by the sweat of previous generations.

Now, as things are getting harder and the economy looks increasingly grimmer, we're seeking "others" to blame for OUR mess.

We have yet to pay the ultimate price for the impracticality of political correctness and hyper-tolerance....although jihadist Islam looks to be ready to inflict a terrible price for that....and we have yet to suffer the chaos that our economic profligacy will inevitably bring on....but we will.

I know many of us haven't supported most of the contemporary American agenda, but collectively enough of us have, that we've wound up with the out-of-control government that we've collectively voted for.

Ultimately, I believe we'll all have to eventually focus inward on improving ourselves individually if we're going to find a way out of this....and back to our Founding principles.

JMK said...

Hi Maria.....I hope you're feeling better! You're one of those I truly admire. You're well grounded and focused on appreciating remain in my thought and in my prayers, as well.

I've read a lot lately about who's to blame for our predicament - "greedy businessmen," or "an out-of-touch political class," but ultimately it's ALL of us...we've all embraced this hedonistic, epicurean, "me-first" culture and to all our detriment.

Skunkfeathers said...

Paul said you wrote an awesome post; of course, most of yours are, anyway. But this one is huge.

And so dead on RIGHT.

I am part of one of those soft generations. I graduated a month after Saigon fell. I chose college and an easier life, rather than service to the nation (in a service that would reach its nadir of morale in the Carter years, and may achieve again under Barry). My work ethic was not sterling in my youth; and for some of that time, I looked for others to blame for my own failings (aka, the liberal victimization philosophy).

As for politics...we the voters, get exactly what we tolerate. And we have tolerated way too much dishonesty, chicanery and fraud. Voter anger may be enough to send a message in '10; but that voter anger will have to sustain through several election cycles, before some of the Washington elite MIGHT get the message we have been loathe to send for much too long.

Simply put, a brilliant post. And unrefutable, though I know libtards who would try. And fail. Because that is what they do.

JMK said...

"I am part of one of those soft generations. I graduated a month after Saigon fell. I chose college and an easier life..." (SF)

Yes, me as well.....I'm as guilty of all these flaws as anyone. Too many of us seem to think that because we were misled and mis-educated that that relieves us of our responsibilities...IT DOES NOT.

We are accountable to the generations that come after us just as surely as those who came before did their best for us.

In fact, we owe a far greater debt than most others....we were literally saved from fascist enslavement (REAL fascist enslavement...not the pseudo-fascist fears of the loopey Left) by the generation before us.

We now OWE those who come after us a return to America's Constitutional principles and the decency that naturally devolves from a truly free and unfettered economy.

"As for politics...we the voters, get exactly what we tolerate." (SF)

Again, you're 100% right!

We've tolerated too much "intervention" in the name of "false help" (and said little or nothing, despite knowing most of the “help“ was false).....and we're just starting to pay the ponderous price for that.

You're also right that the 2010 Elections are just a starting point...there are so many hard choices ahead, in many ways, I fear that we haven't (at least the bulk of us) suffered enough.

We still want "magical" solutions, that don't require much work or sacrifice....those don't exist, so many of us still want to be lied to.

I've been afraid that "we haven't seen anything close to the worst of this yet," for over 2 years....and I still feel that way today...and I am afraid for the future.

Skunkfeathers said...

I fear you're right about the worst is yet to come, since Barry and his minions will maintain control for at least two more years; a generations' worth of damage can be done.

Roadhouse said...

I've said for years that we are our own worst enemies. Your post reminds me of a scene in "Full Metal Jacket" where Drill Sgt. Hartman dumps Private Pyle's foot locker out while screaming about how if it weren't for stupid people like him, there wouldn't be any thievery in the world.

My generation and the one following had better get our collective acts together or life WILL deal us a hand that few will be able to survive.

As usual, a very timely and well written piece.

Lisa, An American Mom said...

I'm a little late to the game here but just wanted to say this is an excellent, excellent post. I so agree with you. I worry about this for my own self (worry that I am so self-absorbed and spoiled and I don't even know it) and for my sons who will have also a very "soft" upbringing, just by virtue of where we live and the lifestyle we are fortunate enough to have. Thanks for giving me some things to think about.

JMK said...

Hey SF! Sorry I didn't get back earlier.....80 hours over the last five days plus another 16 hours of commuting has made for a long week.

I DO think "the worst is yet to come." They're trying to spread out the ponderous cost of the mortgage meltdown and the subequent global credit crisis over as long a period as possible, but their policies are heading us in the wrong direction at just a faster rate!

Maybe we'll have to hit bottom before we can regain some self respect....or at least some respect for FREEDOM.

JMK said...

Roady you're absolutely right! Affluence has proven to be a bigger problem than any external hardship we've faced.

JMK said...

Lisa, I really appreciate your comments. We all have to be concerned about the degree of our own self-absorption.

Humility isa veritable relic now-a-days. In the not too distant past people wouldn't "talk themselves up," for fear of being seen as boorish and without breeding, but now-a-days, even talentless hacks (ESPECIALLY many talentless hacks) talk themselves up and boast about their talentless, rudderless and useless a result, we all live within a cauldron of self-absorption.

I fear it will take a real calamity, perhaps a 2nd Great Depression, or yet another mass extermination to wake many of us up....UNFORTUNATELY therre are some among us who don't seem capable of waking up UNTIL the wolf is literally at their own front door.

The one saving grace is the fact that Margaret Thatcher often made, that "LIFE itself is conservative," meaning that the laws of economics and nature itself favor discipline, thrift, self-reliance and all the principles Conservatism espouses, while it is hardest on profligacy, sloth, impulsivity, immediate self-gratification, etc.

Life's lessons are often painful for those who can't learn from the mistakes of others.

We ALL have to be concerned about what's coming down the you're not alone.

THANKYOU for reading and for posting such a thought-provoking comment.

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