Interview With Mike Males (May 2004)
Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director of the National Youth Rights Association
Its May 4, 2004 at 10:23 PM Eastern time in Sacramento sitting down with Mike Males, author of Scapegoat Generation and Framing Youth and many other good books and articles. For those who may be unfamiliar with your work could you just introduce what your books are about and what kind of work you’ve done?
Mike Males, Sociologist, Author of Framing Youth and Scapegoat Generation
Well, Scapegoat Generation came out in 1996 and Framing Youth in 1999 and those books are basically talking about the same topics though different periods in time. They dispute the myths that are surrounding youths in our culture: the idea that young people are somehow uniquely or unprecedentedly violent or drug abusing or causing problems in society or criminal or mean or that sort of thing. So basically the books dispute a lot of the common myths about young people and actually argue that adults are causing many more of our problems and that’s the reason they are blaming youth.
It’s a rather uncommon perspective that you don’t hear all that often. What gave you the inspiration, I suppose, to write these books?
They really are more anti-adult than they are affirming youth. I’ve always had a problem with adults. Becoming one didn’t improve that problem by the way. I’ve always felt that in the United States in particular we use adulthood as kind of an arbitrary level of status that’s achieved simply by becoming a certain age regardless of whether you act any more maturely or responsibly. And as a result, because you can achieve adulthood effortlessly and adult status simply by having a certain birthday, we don’t really have to demonstrate responsible behavior and American adults don’t. It creates a great deal of problems in terms of child raising, how do you raise children if you are no more mature than they are? What are children supposed to grow up to be?
We’ve very resentful in the United States, as adults, of children acting like adults. We’re very angry about it, we pass all kinds of laws and all kinds of disapprovals, and drag little kids on talk shows and have audiences and talk show hosts and parents scream at them because they did something that was construed as being adult, and reserved for adults. It creates a difficult situation, and I think the manifestation of that to me has always been that adults are very unreliable as a group – certainly as individuals, they can be lovely people, or they can be terrible people – but as a group adults in the United States are not role models for kids, their values are not ones we should hope kids emulate. I think this has always been something I’ve felt is true, now other people don’t seem to feel its true.
Somehow or another I’ve come to this realization at a young age, that you pretty much have to go by your own light. If you happen to be wrong, of course you are going to have a terrible life. I’ve always felt that adults were arbitrary, that they were very much prejudiced against younger people, that they were prone to hallucinate a lot of dangers that weren’t there in younger people. And at the same time don’t behave all that well themselves, and I guess the combination of things has made me think that younger people in particular have to come up with new ways of doing things.
I know that is very difficult. How do you both grow up and formulate ideas that are contrary to those that seem to be the most valued and also have produced the most success in your society. Being aggressive, greedy, willing to walk over people, willing even to break laws in order to achieve financial success is very typically rewarded. So that some times the Presidents we have and the people we have in power are some of the worst behaved people in our society – and certainly the people who achieve great wealth. This just seems like a terrible thing to me and I guess it’s puzzling it doesn’t to more people.
Do you feel that a critique on the institution of adulthood is a necessary and inherent component of the youth rights movement?
I think it’s critical. Absolutely critical. I think that’s a good way to put it – the institution of adulthood. In the United States, and again I think its different in other cultures, I don’t think this is necessarily an inherent quality of adulthood although Margaret Mead has an excellent book, “Culture and Commitment” discussing how adults in our cultures have terrific problems with social change.
The adult who grows up realizing that their model will not be the model their kids follow, that the sacred ancestor is no longer the model for society, that its really the child that is really determining what society will be like in the future because children are more adapted and grow up with the most recent changes that society has gone through.
It’s very difficult for adults in any culture. But in the United States we’ve created, as you put it, an institution of adulthood that in many ways encompasses the worst of our culture. And I don’t think everything about the United States is bad, I think its admirable that we are one of the few wealthy cultures in the world to permit a diverse, or racially diverse citizenship, you can talk about all the discriminations and racism and so forth, but most Western countries don’t permit diversity in their citizenship. You can’t become a Japanese citizen very easily or a French citizen.
So I think that’s admirable about the United States, but I think we’ve totally defaulted on what that meant. It meant we were going to have to try and create a diverse culture as well. Not just a diverse citizenry, but a diverse culture. And adults have proven incapable of doing that. We still hang on to these age old prejudices. The institution of adulthood in the United States, in many respects, has clung to this individualistic standard of advancing oneself even at the expense of society – especially at the expense of society. Of granting privileges that are based on economic success so that a person who is wealthy, and successful and powerful can behave in much more deplorable ways. Any kind of immorality we condemn in poor people and especially in younger people is acceptable if you are a president, if you are a mayor, if you’re like Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, or Bill Clinton. Its almost required, and you treat it with some measure of sympathy and are exempt from punishment for it.
So in many ways I think one of the big achievements of the youth rights movement would be to set down these practical qualities that American adults have as an institution, not always as individuals, some individuals of course are the exceptions, but as an institution what does adulthood mean in the United States? And is that the sort of thing we want to see youth grow into? Do we want this culture to go on this way?
Adulthood in the United States is very much an institution of exclusion. First of all you are excluded from it until you reach an arbitrary age. There is nothing you can do in terms of mature behavior, responsibility or anything if you are 20 years old that gives you the right to drink alcoholic beverages. Can’t do it. No court can let you do it – nothing. Doesn’t matter how responsible you are, but if you are one day over 21 then you can get shit-faced and it’s fine. And that often is exactly what happens.
So it’s first of all very exclusionary on the basis of age, but it’s also exclusionary in a lot of other ways as well. We do not accept, as adults, cultural diversity. We do accept to some extent, people of the same class, so that in California we are experiencing the powerful splitting apart of the state along class, which means largely race, and generation lines, which means age. Class and generation equal race and age. So we have gated communities, the idea of excluding yourself, walling yourself off from the rest of society with security guards in a condominium or a housing development with walls around it. Exclusive kinds of financing of school systems so that you can have your own neighborhood school that you are allowed to spend a great deal more money on to give your particular class of people a greater advantage over others, even if they happen to be more talented than you are. All of that is very bad for society.
What we really want is a frozen world that preserves privilege, as adults have it. Is that the kind of society that young people want to see? And what happens by the way? Are they going to arrive at this particular time of adulthood and see that all the things that they had hoped for, even if they were going to be just as selfish, and individualistic, and exclusionary, and in a sense ruthless in the pursuit of wealth and power that the institution of adulthood is right now. Are they actually going to be able to achieve that with what’s left after Baby Boomers are done with it? My answer is no. Baby Boomers are not going to leave behind much of a society, with the kind of attitudes we have.
Is this characteristic of adults a universal trait of adults, going back for several generations of American history, or is it particular to Baby Boomers and will the current generation of youth have a propensity to adopt those same values and characteristics or would they move to counter-balance or counter-act the excesses and the immorality and the problems they saw in their Boomer parents?
I think it’s a particular problem of the post-1970 era that we are talking about here. American adults have always been known as being irresponsible, but as long as we were a frontier culture there were outlets for the most anti-social people to achieve outside of society. Now those outlets are gone, and I think the irresponsibility, the individualism, the anti-societal behaviors of American adults that were acceptable in a frontier culture have now become not only liabilities, but threats to the existence of this country as a cohesive society in any sense of the word.
I think that this is really a problem that has occurred in the last 30 years for several reasons. If you could see this on actual charts of the split between old and young in wealth, or all manner of well being have escalated as the racial diversity of the country has increased and as anti-discrimination laws have increasingly said that you may not arbitrarily discriminate on the grounds of race and gender. So we’re really just left with generational discrimination, that’s the one kind of discrimination that’s permitted, is discrimination that’s based on age and generation.
So we can do all kinds of things to younger people and future generations that we couldn’t do – it would be absolute violations of civil rights – it would be hate crimes – if we tried to do it on the basis of race or gender. So I think the attack on younger people has intensified as the number of other groups available for attacks has diminished. So that white people could not force black people to pay off our debts. We might be able to devise some schemes to do that through various subterfuges, but we really couldn’t do that through law. We couldn’t just pass a law saying all white people’s taxes will be reduced and all black people’s taxes will be increased to make up for it. But we can do it through generational things by passing a bond issue that says the present generation’s taxes will be reduced but future generation’s taxes will go up. We can say you as a young person have to pay 15% of your wages in payroll to Social Security for older people; older people don’t have to pay a dime for your schools if we decide not to vote for it. We can conduct the most grotesque generational discrimination imaginable and we have discovered in the last 30 years that we not only can do that but we are willing to do that.
I don’t think that was true in the past. Certainly not in California where we had some of the most generously funded schools and public services up until about 1970. And everything has gone downhill to the point where we are now forcing younger generations to subsidize older generations.
If youth are really replacing that need to find a scapegoat, and since other minorities have gotten their rights and gotten the respect and protections they should have, who will replace youth if youth are finally given their rights. Or will the natural tendency of American adults to find a scapegoat, will that finally disappear or will they find someone else to dump on?
Youth are primarily the scapegoat of liberals in this society, liberals and left-wingers and centrists. Primarily because conservatives have a couple of hot-button scapegoats they prefer, gays and immigrants for example. And they still attach considerable discriminatory attitudes toward poor people and minorities. So I don’t want to imply for a second that those kinds of discriminations don’t exist, they tend to be more the purview of conservatives in this country.
What is so discouraging working in this is the extent to which liberals also need scapegoats. Centrists, liberals and left-wingers also need scapegoats. And because their constituencies largely involve minorities, gays, immigrants and so forth that are oppressed by conservatives, their particular group which they target is youth. So you see more negative, and in many ways more sweeping and dangerous proposals coming out of liberal groups than out of conservative ones.
Conservatives will propose some awful things regarding young people, that is one of their scapegoats, it’s not their most important one, but it is one of them. They take a very punishing attitude that we need to execute people, we need to imprison people, and we need to do all kinds of harsher policing. What has made youth such a difficult constituency in terms of rights is that liberals join conservatives, they don’t fight them. They may propose flatly different solutions, but they agree on the basic assumption that young people need to be policed more, controlled more, restricted more, and moralized against more. The only acceptable behavior for a person under 21 is no drinking ever, whatsoever. Left-wingers say that, right-wingers say that, centrists say that. Same thing with sex. Abstinence is the only acceptable solution. Liberals will say “but they are doing it anyway, so we have to educate them.” Fine, it’s better than what conservatives say, but its still the same attitude.
Its bi-partisan bigotry, bi-partisan betrayal.
Yea, it’s across the spectrum. We’ve actually done surveys showing this that your political beliefs do not predict your attitude toward youth. It’s pretty much hostile across the spectrum. So the question is: do young people want to perpetuate this?
Even when it comes to be their advantage, it is not a successful system, it does not produce better behavior. It does produce certain concrete advantages for adults. I can go out and walk around without any curfew. I can get quite drunk and walk around in most areas. I have a lot of privileges because I am over whatever age you need to be over to do these things. And if I had some more power I could act even more outrageously and get away with it. Simply because I’m an adult.
Do younger people want to continue a system where they get these privileges when they get older at the expense of both younger people who have to try and figure out “what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to act like adults? No they punish me for that. Am I supposed to not act like adults?” What sense does that make? How are you supposed to grow up not acting like the adults around you? I think they have to understand the impossible task this thrusts on young people to have a society like that.
Second of all the fact that it doesn’t work. We have terrible social problems in this country, centered in adults, that we are unable to address or confront, because the idea of adult privilege is so strong here. Do young people want a society like that?
I don’t know, I think it’s a problem we face that we have this aging out phenomena where as soon as they get to that threshold they see all the goodies and power on the other side and are so allured by it that they throw off everything, their whole prior life, all the discrimination and repression and oppression they’ve felt, and they drive it out of their minds in order to embrace more fully the privileged life ahead of them in adulthood.
How do you think to make that switch that people will have a more all-encompassing view? Its actually something another author, Sven Bonnichsen, calls “age-dualism” where people view themselves, their life under the age of 18, as actually a separate human being as someone over 18 “oh well I’ve done that, but I was a stupid little kid, but now I’m a new person who is a mature and responsible adult who deserves all these privileges.” How is that overcome?
It’s the age-old thing; can you get people to act in ways that are beneficial to their society but not necessarily for their own immediate self-interest? I don’t think it does adults a lot of good, when you get right down to it, for maturity to mean the right to act immaturely, the privilege to act immaturely. We have grotesque problems with drug abuse among middle age adults in this culture that I’ve talked about quite a bit. Very high rates of fatal drug overdoses and crime that result from drugs among middleagers. This shouldn’t really be happening to people in their 40’s and 50’s. You should really have enough perspective on life to avoid some of the bigger mistakes like property crime or drug overdose. I think adulthood should mean something.
So I think this is not a good system for adults. It’s the same sort of thing that feminists argue, that male privilege is not a good system for men. “You like the heart attacks? You like the stress?” I don’t think it’s good for adults to have this system. We have a tremendously high gun death rate among grown-ups in this culture. We have a very high HIV rate, that’s rising fastest among middleagers, again a group that should by all rights at least have experience, if not maturity, at least the experience to know how to avoid HIV or drunk driving by the time we’re 40. It’s absolutely appalling to me that a 40-year-old is twice as likely to kill someone in a drunk driving accident as a 17-year-old.
So this is not a good system for adults. It’s costing us an awful lot of money to imprison people over 30. We have 200,000 people over 30 arrested for felonies in California last year. Triple the number of 30 years ago. This is our fastest growing prison population – drug abusing population – its costing billions of dollars to keep them behind bars. So I would argue that youth have a very strong larger long-term societal interest in saying, “We don’t want to perpetuate this kind of culture, even though it’ll temporarily benefit us. We can go and get wasted on our 21st birthday and it’ll be a totally different thing than if we got wasted on our 18th birthday, or our 16th birthday. Where if we were caught we’d be kicked out of school and there’d be a big article in the paper about what terrible people we were and our whole generation.” Society would line up to kick your ass. The school would do it, the treatment center would do it, the police would do it, etc. Your parents would have to otherwise they’d be hauled out for contributing.
I think younger people have to do something American adults have been crappy at, which is saying, “my immediate self-interest is not the most important thing – societies’ is. And that will also turn out to be my long term best interest.” Society has terrible problems and you don’t see them nearly to this extent in society where more maturity is expected of adults. More real maturity.
One example is we’re going to testify tomorrow on this voting age bill, to lower the voting age. One of my arguments I’m weighing whether to make is that we have suffered as a society for having a handy youth scapegoat that anytime a social problem came along, whether its drugs or crime or violence or guns or obesity, we can immediately blame it on young people, and that’s exactly what institutions do. When Oakland, California’s homicide rate went up in 2002, groups from right to left from the cops to the news media to community groups to black ministers, everyone, blamed it on youth violence. It was not youth violence.
Through the time they were holding all these forums and screaming about “youth violence, youth violence” only one youth had been arrested; out of 100 murders in Oakland, only one youth had been arrested. And I got the Oakland police reports and was able to demonstrate that we actually had a more serious problem. We had returning parolees who were in their 20’s and 30’s who were coming back from prison, usually for drug offenses, that were now shooting the drug dealers who had taken their place. That’s what caused Oakland’s homicide increase, also Los Angeles’ and other cities.
Criminal justice groups should have been right on top of that, because it needed an immediate response. Massive failure of the prison system to rehabilitate. We had turned drug dealers into murderers. All kinds of implications come out of that, but because we had this handy scapegoat – youth violence. And I can’t describe to you how unanimous that opinion was, it was completely wrong. We didn’t have to deal with the real problem.
Same thing with the middle age drug problem, we can go on blaming drugs on youth and hallucinating all kinds of crisis. As long as we have this scapegoat we will not deal with our societies’ problems. I don’t know how to say this to this committee tomorrow, that 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote will, to the extent that they use it in an organized fashion, to the extent to which they use it to support things like schools, to not having bonded debt shoved off on your generation because our generation doesn’t want to pay bills, they will prevent themselves from being a scapegoat. Not only is it good for them, its good for society.
We have a terrible budget situation in California because we can shove debt onto future generations, day-to-day debt, state government debt, general fund debt onto future generations. If we were not able to do that, because 16 and 17 year olds might vote us out of office, that would benefit not only them, but the state of California. I don’t know how to make this argument with the committee, I’m afraid of losing one of the three votes we already have to get the bill out of committee. Because its to the temporary benefit of adults to have youth scapegoats, we don’t have to deal with our outrageous obesity rate among middle-agers because we can just blame it on kids eating too many snacks at school and demand that our school board take the soft-drink machine out of the school. Solve practically nothing, because Baby Boomers were a skinny generation that got fat when we got older, we can totally misdiagnose the problem, and proclaim a popular, though useless, solution. Have some programs and interest groups and institutions make some money off of it, maybe a few politicians will get elected off of these stern youth crackdowns. And yet our society continues to bumble on as one of the highest risk in the world. Now do young people want that to continue? That’s my question. If not then a critical analysis of the institution of adulthood – sounds a little sociological, but we can just say tearing adulthood apart is really important. Cause that’s the model for you to grow up into and it’s not working.
When you were growing up what models of adults did you look to? How did the adults in your life impact your life? How did they treat you? How did they respect you or disrespect you, control you, or give you freedom, and what role models were there for you to grow into, either positive of negative?
Well in the 50’s and 60’s, youth had a lot more freedom, even the younger kids and so in elementary school in Oklahoma City I don’t remember ever having a curfew, it certainly wasn’t dark. We were out an awful lot at night, played a lot of games at night. I don’t remember a lot of supervision; there was very little policing at all. So I think that growing up was much freer.
I don’t want to exaggerate it, because I think young people today can get away with an awful lot, I just think it takes a little more work and finesse today. And also the consequences are a lot worse if you get caught. The worst thing the cop might do if they caught you when you were 7 years old and you were out at midnight is they’d take you back home. Now I think there is arrest and proceedings that are involved with it. The period was not any safer then. Its not like we are responding to some kind of crisis or danger. The media tries to make us think that we’re in dire danger the minute we step out our front door, and damn lucky to be alive even if we stay indoors.
I don’t think it was a whole lot safer back then. You can certainly find plenty of homicides, we had a major drug abuse crisis in Oklahoma City in the 1950’s that was in the press then, but no one remembers it now. We had teenagers shoot the head of the state legislature’s chief investigator. Shot and killed him in front of a police station in 1953. So you can find all kinds of dangers in that period when you look back at it.
I think it was true that we pretty much regulated ourselves, and I think younger people today do too, but they aren’t credited with it. They aren’t seen as capable of it. So, I wasn’t about to go run in front of a car, it hurt to get hit by a car. I wasn’t going to go up to the barking, growling dog. Horror comics were the thing that worried people back then, these comics that depicted these very gruesome killings and science fiction monsters and things like that. Night of the Dead, and Tales of the Crypt – that’s what people were worried was corrupting us. I wasn’t going to read a horror comic and go slice someone up anymore than a kid today is going to play a violent video game and go shoot somebody. Kids as a rule, 99% of them are very self-regulating. I think it was recognized that if you did something bad as an individual you got in trouble.
Now having said that the school system was a nightmare. We were not expelled or suspended for the kind of things kids are today, but we were still treated very arbitrarily en masse and some of the teachers in Oklahoma at the time were psychopaths. They were paid very little – qualifications were awful. I think a lot of my anti-adult attitude, or ‘confirmed sighting’ of immature adulthood or violent adulthood came from my treatment in the school system. My parents weren’t the source of it. I began to realize you can’t have a lot of confidence in grown-ups, I thought you were supposed to. There are a lot of grown-ups who absolutely hate kids and take stuff out on them, and do terrible things. This happened repeatedly in the school system, and once you got a reputation it followed you forever. I got expelled from second grade. So I think that’s where a lot of this particular experience growing up.
You asked for role models, I think my parents were pretty good role models. As you get older you begin to see defects in your parents, and ways you don’t want to turn out. That’s actually very hopeful. For some reason we see that as a threat. We have all kinds of things now, “parents talk to your kids”, “make them toe the line”, “make them act like you” which is basically the message. No kids should not. It would be much healthier to say, “Everyone makes mistakes with their lives, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Make an original set of mistakes, that’s your job as a kid.”
Gosh, role models, there are always certain action heroes on television. I don’t think any of that has changed all that much. But I think we also recognize the same thing younger people do today is they are idealized. Its funny how younger voters in California saw the difference between Arnold Schwarzenegger the action hero, a body-builder reading a script, and being Governor. They were the least likely to vote for him. In fact 18-24 year olds voted against Schwarzenegger. Older people were the ones who seemed to have trouble separating Arnie the dynamic hero who saves society in celluloid film from the hero who will save California as Governor. It was middle-agers who voted for him. So I think one of the best skills of younger people to have is compartmentalizing what it is you admire. You admire the fictional, created character, you don’t think they are that way necessarily in real life.
Of course John Wayne was a perfect example. John Wayne was nothing in real life like he was on the screen. I like Rod Sterling quite a bit. I think now that you mention role models. He was a writer, he was quite radical. I understand he was an obnoxious human being, *laughs*, I didn’t know that till later. But I admired his writing, his anti-war stances, his imagination in the realm of science fiction, his commentary on the Twilight Zone, some of the early ones.
You had mentioned that there is that allure of adulthood and that tendency to shed your prior self and embrace the power of adulthood, how did you escape that and how did you retain all the positive outlook and the honest look at adults and youth from your time growing up till now.
Well honest is my interpretation of it, *chuckles* I think its honest, both from my personal standpoint and what you can show with statistics. Adults here are in a great deal of trouble. The institution of adulthood especially is in a great deal of trouble. And I don’t really think it is going to persist, because one more generation like Baby Boomers and you aren’t going to have anything you can call an American society left.
I liked myself as a teenager. I wouldn’t today have done any less drinking or avoided drug use, what are you supposed to avoid as a teenager? – I was disappointed I didn’t do more *laughs*.
You’re supposed to avoid leaving your room.
I really think this is what it’s coming down to now, and you can’t have a video game or television set in your room. Yea, if you look at a society that really believes in curfews and absolutely no entertainment involving alcohol being a place that teenagers can go. And of course alcohol is what finances most of the entertainment in this country. All the places you can’t go as a youth, then pretty much what society is saying is we want you to stay home but while you are at home we want you strictly supervised because the first thing you’ll do is look for pornography on the Internet. I’ve heard groups say this, the first thing they’ll do is look for pornography, or violence, or something that will corrupt them, and then they’ll turn into dangerous creatures. So I suppose you’re supposed to sit in your room with nothing. Certainly not a phone cause you might pick up the telephone and call a peer, which would cause even more problems.
I don’t know, my regret as a teenager is I didn’t do more disapproved of things. I don’t know, I don’t see separation; I’m pretty much the same as I was at 16. I hope that over time you would learn more effective ways to do whatever. I’m not sure that I have. I think I was better at 16 at it than I am now.
How did you survive without making that switch that most people in your generation did from the more accepted, enlightened viewpoint from the 60’s to a more repressive viewpoint now. How did you not make that switch?
Well individually I’m not successful, I have a PhD which almost anyone can get if you are privileged enough to have the time and so-forth, but I’ve never made any money, so I’m not successful. I don’t have any power. I can’t imagine running for office, or rising up through a corporation or being a self-made person or any of those routes to power so I’m fairly unsuccessful. So the answer to the first question is: I’m not.
Well I meant successful as in successful in not becoming a hypocritical adult.
Well that’s one way. I don’t know if I’m not a hypocritical adult, but if I’m not, its because for some reason I retain those memories that I think are fairly accurate of being younger if not being on the one hand a living hell that people seem to assume it is, and on the other hand not being a paradise because it occurred in a previous time we now idealize and sanitize. I remember girl fights in our high school and I remember a gang rape by the tennis team, and I remember considerable amount of alcohol abuse. I don’t have this idealized conception of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Nor do I see as much menace in kids growing up today, because I work with kids. I don’t think their lives are significantly more menacing even though they are regarded as much more menacing.
I don’t know why, I’ve always been puzzled that Baby Boomers have found it so easy to make this transition from hippie to yuppie. Which to me is embracing a totally different style. And so you read a book like Bobo’s paradise which I recommend to anyone who wants to know just how frightening this generation is because it’s by one of its fans. What Baby Boomer’s like to do is we’ll benignly admit we’re kind of anachronistic. We dress silly and we listen to silly music. It’s kind of dumb for a 49 year old to be listening to old heavy metal. And it’s going to be kind of silly to be sitting around nursing homes listening to the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, its going to look funny. We’re willing to admit humorous kinds of anachronisms but Baby Boomers are really self-worshiping.
This book is how Baby Boomers have made the transition from being silly hippies, who had many legitimate criticisms of society in the 1960’s counterculture and anti-war and civil rights movements, but we’ve really matured now and we’ve learned how to earn this great wealth to become wealthy. We set up what this author calls, latte towns, where we can live sumptuous lifestyles but still preserve all of our 60’s ideals. How do we preserve them? Well we buy a t-shirt that says “Save the Redwoods” or “Save the Whales”. We don’t actually save the whales, but we buy a t-shirt. We’ll put on our SUV an environmental sticker of some kind. He actually believes this phony symbolism. He calls a lot of what we do the “third way” which to me is what we used to call the “sell out”.
Bill Clinton being the articulator of the third way. Which is basically as far as I can tell selling out to conservative ideals while calling yourself a liberal or a Democrat. All of these are supposed to be part of the genius that Baby Boomers brought along. Of course he ignores all the problems with record levels of crime and drug abuse and imprisonment that Baby Boomers suffer which by the way the younger generation will get to pay for. The reason your school is being shut is because we are locking up so many people over the age of 30 because we have drug abuse problems and commit serious crimes.
I’ve always found it very difficult to understand how most people seem comfortable with going back on everything we did back in the 60’s. I only have one or two explanations for this. One is that there were a lot more Dan Quayle type of Baby Boomers, a lot more conservatives that because of the tenor of the times were not very vocal, and all we’re seeing now is that particular brand of Baby Boomer has become more in power than they were then. That’s part of it.
But I think the other part of it is I’ve seen a lot of 60’s radicals who’ve turned into very conservative, repressive, Puritanical, 90’s people. In fact almost all I know would vehemently disapprove of drug use by a teenager, marijuana smoking by a teenager even if they did it when they were 15 or 16 in the 60’s and 70’s, and even if they use heroin and pills today, vehemently oppose drug use to the point of wanting to punish them, supporting school drug tests. A lot of the marijuana legalization groups would take a more punishing stance toward teenage marijuana use than even the Drug War.
So you see the Marijuana Policy Project for example supporting an initiative in Nevada that would continue to allow Nevada to imprison teenagers for up to 5 years and fine them at $4,000 dollars and saddle them with a permanent felony record for using even one joint. Legalize marijuana for adults but severely punish teenagers and that’s remarkable when you consider the Drug Czar only wants mandatory treatment for teenagers who use marijuana. Which is bad enough, why if you just smoke a joint do you need to go to treatment, but that’s a lot more benign than 5 years in prison. Really it’s the mentality of the aging hippie that seems most anti-youth. George Bush doesn’t care about kids. Almost none of their policy involves youth. He proposed school drug testing, well so did Bill Clinton. What else has this administration done? He doesn’t care about them.
Yea, it’s off his radar.
Yea, he’s got other enemies. He’s got Saddam, he’s got gays. George Bush doesn’t have need of scapegoating youth because he has other scapegoats. Scapegoating youth is very much a liberal Baby Boomer manifestation. Oh by the way, there are some groups; the ACLU has continued to go to bat for youth rights. On the other hand, other groups like Amnesty International, the Sentencing Project, drug reform groups, a whole slew of liberal groups are absolutely despicable in terms of their generic bigoted attacks.
Amnesty International’s position is we shouldn’t have the juvenile death penalty, and they’re right, we shouldn’t have the death penalty period. Because youth are so cognitively impaired they can’t even begin to understand their actions. They will equate youth with the mentally retarded and cognitively impaired when there is absolutely no basis for making that kind of statement, because it’s good for their immediate political argument. Well fine, so they succeed in getting rid of the juvenile death penalty, which would be a good thing, the impact on all other aspects of youth’s lives would be devastating, and they don’t care.
I’ve been in plenty of correspondence with criminal justice groups trying to preserve the juvenile court, trying to achieve liberal reforms by arguing that youth are really pathetically impaired creatures that have to be led around by the hand all the time and therefore you can’t hold them responsible for their actions. I don’t think they are incapable of understanding the damage they are doing to larger youth rights, they just don’t care. They don’t care. They want to win their immediate battle.
What do you think of winning the immediate and long-term battles for youth. What do you think of the youth rights movement and its promises and pitfalls?
Well in the United States if you don’t have some kind of organized power you’re treated as contemptible. You’re treated as weak. We have no respect for weak in this country. It’s perfectly legitimate to beat up on weak people. That’s why I think this campaign against school bullying is so hypocritical. We don’t complain about larger bullying in society. Adult society is very much into bullying. Choosing scapegoats, blaming them, punishing them, while allowing privileged people to do the same or worse things without punishment. So yea, bullying in high school is just practice for that.
I think organizing for youth rights is the only way. I could talk statistics till I’m blue in the face; I can talk logic and win every argument and every debate about particular issues. A lot of legislators and people in power are not going to pay any attention unless they think 16 and 17-year-olds and 18 to 24-year-olds might actually harm them by having enough power to uphold their rights. This is a contract-based society. If you have the power to affect things then you will have rights and you will have respect. If 16 and 17-year-olds start voting then eventually 16 and 17-year-olds will have the right to drink and do other things. That’s not something I’m going to say to this committee tomorrow but basically it won’t be because they act any better – they could act worse. But if you have power then you will have rights. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to get power in this society, so they are constantly available to be scapegoats until they organize and figure out a way to do it. With youth its harder because as soon as you figure out a way to do it you’re no longer a youth.
How does the theory put forward by Margaret Mead in “Culture and Commitment” play into getting that power when she supposes that coming into the modern age in recent decades society is progressing at such a rate that the culture comes from the youth to the adults and the technology and the future comes from the youth to the adults. How will that give youth the power necessary to take back the rights they need?
Mead is actually one of my older life role models, because she was tremendously optimistic about adults, she was actually an optimist. Her point in “Culture and Commitment” as you already explained is that in societies that humans lived in for 99.9% of our existence, life was pretty static. Adults could predict how the culture was going to be, what the skills the kids needed that the kids were going to turn out more or less like the adults. The ancestor was really the model for all of them and society would replicate that. And that’s no longer true in societies of rapid social change, much of what the ancestors know is completely irrelevant, much of what the grandparents know is completely irrelevant, and half or two-thirds of what the parents know is irrelevant.
Kids are really growing up as the models of the new society. That’s going to be really rough on adults, and she acknowledged that and went through all the litanies we see today, that adults do, this harkening back to this supposedly wonderful past, which is sanitized in our minds, its legendary, it never existed. And this great fear and hostility toward younger people and this tendency to see teenagers, as she puts it, as an invading army, that’s really assaulting all of our values, and all the things we hold sacred. When really all they are doing is representing the society to come, in the future. Which could be good or bad, but in any sense is largely neutral, its what they make of it, what we make of it. And so her book is very cogent in its arguments about what the problem is, the new problem confronting humanity. How do you prepare kids, how do adults then prepare kids for a society that’s going to be very different from the one adults grew up in.
She was very optimistic, she thought adults had the capacities to do that. That by virtue of being grown up we have the experience, there’s certainly nothing wrong with our mental capacity to absorb the fact that kids of the future are going to be very different from those of the past, and she argued we have to get over the idea of teaching kids what to think because that’s appropriate to older societies – static societies, but how to think. And what kind of questions do they need to ask, what kinds of flexibilities do they need. Especially since kids themselves – see this is our revenge – their kids will be very different from them. So adults don’t have to be so upset and angry about this, social change is probably a good thing, and certainly can be made into a good thing. She was very optimistic about this.
I’m not very optimistic because I don’t believe, especially in this most progressive state, and I mean this as in the pace of social change in California where we have seen dramatic increases in racial diversity so that California is now the first major industrial entity to have no racial or ethnic majority. I mean this is a place where you have major representations of the populations of all five major continents. And has really been a scene of innovation and a great deal of social responsibility in the past in terms of seeing that government will provide for education. Seeing that totally disintegrate over the last 30 years as adults here seem unable to handle the pace of both social change and demographic change. So that Mead’s flaw was in not realizing how self-destructive we would be and self-destructive our institutions, our major, most responsible institutions would be who have done nothing but fan fear and to try to profit from adult’s fear and anger and resentment over this social change and this demographic change and to try and make it appear that youth are menacing, and anything about the future has got to be worse than the past. Every new development has these seeds of horror and destruction in them, from the Internet, which was one dark forest out there of terrible threats and dangers. Kids themselves are a menace. It’s just disgusting.
I really admire Mead for not predicting that. First of all what good would it have done? She would have been right, but it’s a terrible outlook. So I was really glad she held adults up to a higher standard – “sure we can do this, adults of the past didn’t exactly have an easy time either maybe they had that particular predictable aspect of their culture that it wasn’t changing within their generation and becoming unrecognizable but they had a lot of other difficulties that they had to overcome – ice ages and stuff like that. But we can overcome this challenge.” Her book is very short, very optimistic, and says we can raise unknown children for an unknown world. But we haven’t done that. We’ve gone the opposite direction, we almost seem to be, here in California electorally trying to force the state into a 1950’s mold that never existed, and wouldn’t want to go back to even if we could.
First of all I don’t know why Republicans are pushing it because it was a time of much higher taxes than we have now, and much greater state spending for things like education and social services – all the things they refuse to spend money on now. So I think basically what this recalcitrant, this retro movement is now is trying to forcibly restore this presumed stable past in which the adults knowledge had some meaning. Dominant meaning. “Parents, talk to your kids about violence, or drugs, or stuff like that” what this means is: “Force them into your mold. Your knowledge is completely appropriate for them.” And its not. And that’s one of the difficulties; if current adult values were transmitted to the kids it would be a disaster.
By the way I don’t think the term “kids” is insulting, I hope nobody takes it that way. Because I don’t think it’s an insult to refer to someone as younger, though we do consider it that way. No woman wants to be called a girl; no man wants to be called a boy, etc. But to me those are not insulting terms. I hope that no one takes them that way when I use them.
I don’t know how younger people can come to the conclusion that they want culture to change and make the change. It’s almost asking too much. Even in a culture of rapid social change for younger people to make that kind of dual assumption at the same time they are growing up. So again its something I need to do much more listening about, I don’t have the answer.
Finally, to wrap up, I just want to ask about the phenomena of the Baby Boomers and how they have completely repressed and turned on their kids. Perhaps moving beyond just the generation but also how when you have generational warfare that it doesn’t just stop as adults vs. youth it translates after those youth grow up and they stick their parents in a home and never see them again. And the retribution of the generation war as it comes full circle and the people who were once putting down on one side are now on the receiving end. How do people in that position that can call a truce in the generation war, choose not to even though they hold the cards and ultimately suffer the price as well.
First, I think that Baby Boomers are the rottenest generation in the history of the world. There may have been rottener generations, but I’m not aware of them. And also have no excuse for being rotten. We’re wealthy, we’re privileged, we’re pampered, as a generation, we were subsidized more than practically any generation by government, by our parents and grandparents. We came along at a time when there was still opportunities for cheap housing, graduate from school with little or no debt, get into business and become wealthy. On the backs of previous generations who have supported us very much and we have turned around and basically said we want to cut our taxes, we want as much money as we can get, we want to screw over our kids and now we are to the point of shoveling our debt onto them. All within a generation.
We have gone from old supporting the young to the young being forced to support the old. Cutting out school opportunities, raising tuitions, closing schools – what does it take to shock people? We actually have schools shutting down in California – I don’t know what the situation is in the East but we have schools closing. We have sports programs that are being cut out. We had a group of students hike from Oakland to Sacramento to protest the shutting down of their school’s art program, band and everything else because they had no money. The governor wouldn’t even meet with them.
It’s very shocking to me the extent of baby boomer’s greed and self-centeredness. And also our belief in our actions to isolate ourselves from the problems this creates. Not just gated communities and condominiums but this obsession with policing and security and building more prisons and things like that. If there’s a problem with what we’re doing we’ll just get more police. It’s loony. That’s self-destructive and it’s certainly destructive to society. We have no excuse for this. We know better. This is a generation with an awareness of issues like civil rights of the need for more equality in society, the limits of prisons and policing and war as solutions to problems. And yet we perpetrate them as much as our parent’s generation, in fact even more so. Certainly we would deserve that kind of “Wild in the Streets” solution where the younger generation gets fed up with our behaviors, takes over as in that movie which was made in 1968; they succeed in getting the vote for 15-18 year olds.
I thought it was 14.
Well they started out with 14, but had to compromise with 15. So anyway, they succeeded in getting the vote, and succeeded in getting an 18-year-old president. A lot of this was also by pouring acid in DC’s water supply so the Senate gives them all the power, sitting around laughing. And they wind up putting all the people over 30 or 35 in concentration camps where they are fed acid all the time to keep them happy.
Well, I could think of a worse thing to do to Baby Boomers maybe that would actually make a lot of them happy. I don’t think the younger generation is in the mood to retaliate, I haven’t seen that particular attitude. “You cut our schools; we’re going to cut your social security. We’re going to take action to get you back.” I think younger people are still under this delusion that older people naturally support them. That there’s just this natural social order to things, and older people will act in their best interests. One of the reasons younger people don’t vote very much. I’m hoping they are getting over that delusion. I hope they are getting enough shocks to their system and realizing it hasn’t always been this way. That’s another disadvantage of being young that you don’t realize it wasn’t always this way. Older people haven’t always acted like this. It wasn’t normal to have grown ups behaving in this kind of selfish and detached manner; disregarding the interests of younger people. So while Baby Boomers would deserve a lot of retaliation I don’t see that mood now.
I do see that happening however if Baby Boomers – we’re just beginning to take power, that’s the scariest thing – Clinton was the first Baby Boom president, an absolutely horrible president. Bush is even worse, the second Baby Boom president. We’re going to see 3 or 4 or 5 more. As well as congresses and government and churches and politics and everything dominated by Baby Boomers. It’s just beginning. If we don’t get a grip on ourselves it’s only going to get worse. If Baby Boomers act so outrageously, and I know think we are very much capable of this, by taxing 40% of the income of younger people to pay for Social Security because we haven’t saved a whole lot of money. When we retire, we’re going to have some shocks to our sumptuous lifestyle that most of us have gotten used to – not me *laughs*. I mean as a generation, again I’m talking generational terms, not every one of us.
I think we are perfectly capable of that, we think that more prisons and police are going to solve the problem, we’re going to continue to elect politicians because our electoral power will continue to be here for the next probably 20 years, so we will have the power to electorally arrange things in our favor at every stage of society. If we continue to do that, especially at the pace we’re doing it now, I’m not sure what younger generations are going to do. I can’t even predict. Prediction sounds silly, is it going a revolution, are they just going to take it and sink into apathy – I don’t see that happening. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be a very bad situation for the next 10-15 years, and maybe after that.
As far as who can call a truce for this, well the people in power are responsible. Right now that’s not happening; I don’t see any signs that’s going to happen. I don’t see any indications that this idea you can’t just keep cutting services, cutting education, raising tuitions, no new taxes for wealthier and older people, that we can indulge any kind of lifestyle we want. That we can vote in any kind of politicians that we want that will protect us. I don’t see that attitude diminishing at this point. Or the consequences of it being recognized.
I think an organized movement of younger people, and its beginning to come as people I think in their 20’s as well, could if they take on generational issues and stop getting diverted into other issues, as an issue of principal importance can make an impact. It’s difficult to do for younger people, but I think if they do we’re going to see the one thing that would get Baby Boomer’s attention that is the idea that there are organized groups younger than them that are not going to continue to support the kind of selfishness and the society that Boomer’s want to create. And let me repeat, is not a successful society.
We can’t pay to imprison as many people as we are. We also can’t pay to have 45-year-old drug addicts continue to commit endless series of crimes. I’ve debated police and prosecutors; this is a very hard population to deal with. They are more skilled at crime, they are severely addicted, they have to commit endless series of property crimes and sometimes to violent crimes to attain money for drugs and it’s a horrendous burden for society. The only thing to do is eventually to lock them up or try to treat them, both of which are very expensive. This is not a successful society, and it’s not viable. I can think of 500 different ways that its not. So younger people want to change that, and if so, they need to organize.
Well thank you very much.