A recent exchange with a neighbor on the subject of the younger generation reminded me of some thoughts I had on the subject of a previous generation a number of years ago. It brings to mind an old observation. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I have my own personal theory about people. It’s based on detailed observation and analysis of my own life and of literally hundreds of people I have known through the years. The more people I come to know, the more certain I am of its accuracy. In fact, it’s practically a law. An interesting thing about my theory, I believe, is that it was conceived, developed and formalized without a single dollar of government money being wasted on it. No grants. No loans. When was the last time you heard of anything like that happening? Anyway, here’s how it goes. Somewhere along the line, all of us are born. And, for the most part, we generally start out fairly bright. I heard someone say, once, that each of us is born a learning machine, but that we have developed an educational system which conspires to break us of that instinct. So far, I have seen nothing to refute this view. Then comes puberty. And this event lies at the heart of my theory.
Most people seem to view puberty as mainly physical changes brought about by all sorts of hormones being produced in the body of the victim. But, the biggest change by far is mental, not physical, because the onset of puberty turns every teenager into a moron. Now, I think that anyone who has raised a teenager or who will give honest recall to their own teen years will agree. Teenagers are so inconsiderate, selfish and stupid you want to choke their brains out. The great irony is that just as their IQ’s are plummeting toward the center of the earth, they suddenly begin to believe that they know everything. I’m reminded of a cartoon I saw in a magazine many years ago. It showed two men commiserating over drinks in a bar, one saying to the other, “I’ve lived through a depression, two wars, two bad marriages and a divorce. Now my son tells me I don’t know anything about life.” A typical conversation with a teenager will quickly provide supporting evidence for my theory.
“Where are you going?”
“What are you going to do?”
“When will you be back?”
“In a while.”
“There’s a blizzard outside, don’t forget your hat, coat and gloves. And your boots, too.”
“Mumble mumble.” Slam.
Not all responses from a teenager consist of three words or less, of course; only half. The other half of teen responses begin either “I didn’t know…” or “I didn’t think…”.
“I didn’t think that I had to turn in that assignment because the page with the questions is missing in my book.”
“I didn’t know the car wouldn’t run right without any oil in it.”
Or, in more modern fashion, “Like, I didn’t think you would mind if I borrowed the car, ’cause I didn’t know you needed it for work”.
Who, other than a teenager would tell their “sweetheart” how much they love them on the telephone and then spend twenty minutes in an eventually heated argument over who was going to hang-up first?
Now, this portion of my theory is quite easy to prove.
THEOREM 1.1 At what age do people generally begin doing
injest any number of harmful drugs,
drive while under the influence,
disregard valuable advice of elders,
regard learning as a waste of time?
RES IPSA LOQUITUR
Maybe you’re sitting there thinking that you were never like that. Your weren’t a moron when you were a teenager. Well, I’ll take care of you later. For the moment, let me continue with my theory. Somewhere around the thirtieth to thirty-fifth birthday, we begin to realize just how stupid we really are. Of course, that time frame covers only a certain large percentage of individuals. It’s a lot like seventeen year cicadas (or locusts). Every seventeen years some percentage of the little guys pop out and make a nuisance of themselves for a couple of weeks in the summer. The percentage is probably pretty high, like maybe 95 to 98 percent. But, it’s not 100 percent as many PBS nature shows would lead you to believe. A small percentage appear at the sixteenth or eighteenth year, and an even smaller percentage at the fifteenth or nineteenth year. The penalty they pay for their poor timing is that it’s almost impossible to find a date for the Prom. A “bell curve” for cicadas would look like a sharp spike. As to human stupidity, I haven’t yet quantified the actual numbers, but you can be sure that the bugs are more punctual. Our percentages are spread over a much greater time span and a graph representation would be a very gently sloped “mound”. A close friend of mine has four daughters whose bout with stupidity passed so quickly I never noticed it at all. On the other hand, there are many, like those mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, who have never and will never realize how stupid they are. These are, at once, the extremes and the exceptions that prove the rule.
Now, I used the term IQ earlier to make a point. This problem, however, really should not be confused with any clinical measure of basic intelligence. I know of teenagers who get very good grades, do wonderfully on IQ tests and who, when asked to clear the dishes from the table, will leave the cups, saucers and silverware right where they are. Also, I don’t want to run afoul of the clinical term “moron”. There are unfortunate individuals who are born mentally handicapped and who are not responsible for their level of disability. I have no desire to insult these poor people by comparing them to teenagers. I’ve decided to call this condition Post Puberty Stupidity Syndrome, or “PPSS”. I hope this abbreviation isn’t already being used for something else.
Traditional Chinese culture, it seems apparent to me, is the only one to deal with this problem in an effective and straightforward manner. I’ve done a lot of research in this area, too. I’ve seen every Charlie Chan movie ever made. The reverence accorded to the elderly in Chinese society is often noted, but the reasons for it are ignored. Any true fan of Charlie Chan can tell you why. They tell their children how wonderful and smart they are until they’re about ten. Then they start easing back on the compliments and try to be more or less tolerant of them until puberty strikes. That’s when they start to unload on the kids. Usually they use earthy little proverbs to make it obvious what a blithering idiot their offspring is. Like, “Number one son like balloon; full of hot air and drifting whichever way wind blow.” This approach seems to be quite effective in reducing the crippling effects of PPSS and establishing the proper relationship between teenagers and humankind.
I was an early bloomer. Somewhere around my mid-twenties, I started to look back at my life and wonder how I had managed to survive those years and why any semi-normal human being would do such stupid, stupid things. Recognition, you see, is the first step to recovery from PPSS. Unfortunately, it’s also the easiest step. The difficult part comes when you try to stop doing all those stupid things. Now seventy, I feel like I’m making good progress.
I’m not certain as to exactly which factors play a role in recovery from PPSS. I think that heredity is one of the more important ones. My friend with the four daughters was a very early bloomer and so was his wife. I’m also pretty sure adversity is one of the important factors. I’ve seen a lot of evidence that people who lived through the Depression or who fought in war were early bloomers. While I have been quite fortunate to have been spared either of those situations, I am well acquainted with adversity. As a matter of fact, the Depression and war are probably the only events that could be considered worse than the one I experienced a number of years ago. It was the most humiliating, degrading and embarrassing violation of human dignity imaginable. But that’s a subject for a different time.