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A perennial saw of the conservative pundit is the decline of public morality. Indeed, it is so well-worn that the ignorant use it as evidence that, because people have always complained about “kids these days,” it must mean that we’re just fuddy-duddies who are painfully out of touch. Why, elders have always complained about their kids!
Of course, that’s not true. The idea of a “generation gap” is a relatively modern phenomenon. For most of human history, children grew up to be very much like their parents (indeed, I would argue that is still the case, just with the addition of angsty, extended adolescence tossed into the mix). Yes, humans have always recognized the folly of youth—Proverbs frequently refers to children and young people as “fools,” or taken with folly—but it wasn’t considered to be either virtuous or some massive, unbridgeable gap.
But in a world with no connection to the past, one which exists in an eternal Present, it is little wonder that we witness—even encourage!—such a separation from our ancestors. The United States particularly suffers from the pedestalization of youth: we have come to believe that youngsters possess all wisdom, being spared the corruption of Reality—of real life.
The opposite, of course, is true. Yes, there is something admirable about the energy and certitude of youthful moral righteousness, but it is often a quite short-sighted self-righteousness. That’s not the fault of young people—they are, after all, young and inexperienced—but the traditional expectation was that they would grow out of that sunny idealism as Reality and Truth taught their hard lessons. We should remain optimistic and thankful in the midst of adversity, but true foolishness comes from ignoring these hard-taught lessons.
That’s all a very long preamble to get to the thrust of this piece: we are witnessing The Great Coarsening of civil and social life, in every arena: politics, culture, art, manners, customs, etc. How often do we hear the F-word dropped casually in everyday conversation—the way Nineties Valley Girls used the word “like”? As a schoolteacher, I overhear this word frequently, as students and adults treat it as, essentially, a sentence enhancer.
Here is where the charges of fuddy-duddiness are most frequently leveled: “Oh, come now, Port, who cares about some word?” It’s not the word itself, per se—although that word is exceptionally foul—but what it represents.
Or, rather, what it’s ubiquity represents: the aforementioned Great Coarsening.