Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Saucy savagery

Kids these days, ya know what I mean?

Wiser heads than mine have commented on the laziness, disrespectfulness, and general dissipation of  youth.  Here's a sampler:
  • Parents themselves were often the cause of many difficulties.  They frequently failed in their obvious duty to teach self-control and discipline to their own children.
  • We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.
  • The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.  Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.  They no longer rise when elders enter the room.  They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
  • Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day.  Increasing urban life with its temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations, and passive stimuli just when an active life is most needed, early emancipation and a lessening sense for both duty and discipline, the haste to know and do all befitting man's estate before its time, the mad rush for sudden wealth and the reckless fashions set by its gilded youth--all these lack some of the regulatives they still have in older lands with more conservative conditions.
  • Youth were never more saucy -- never more savagely saucy -- as now...  the ancient are scorned, the honourable are condemned, and the magistrate is not dreaded.
  • Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'.  We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.
  • [Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances…  They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.
Of course, I haven't told you where these quotes come from. In order:
  • from an editorial in the Leeds Mercury, 1938
  • from an editorial in the Hull Daily Mail, 1925
  • Kenneth John Freeman, Cambridge University, 1907
  • Granville Stanley Hall, The Psychology of Adolescence, 1904
  • Thomas Barnes, The Wise Man's Forecast Against the Evil Time, 1624
  • Horace, Odes, Book III, 20 B.C.E.
  • Aristotle, 4th century B.C.E.
So yeah.  Adults saying "kids these days" has a long, inglorious history.  (Nota bene: the third quote, from Kenneth Freeman, has often been misattributed to Socrates, but it seems pretty unequivocal that Freeman was the originator.)

Jan Miense Molenaar, Children Making Music (ca. 1630) [Image is in the Public Domain]

I can say from my admitted sample-size-of-one that "kids these days" are pretty much the same as they were when I first started teaching 32 long years ago.  There are kind ones and bullies, intelligent and not-so-much, hard-working and not-so-much, readers and non-readers, honest and dishonest.  Yes, a lot of the context has changed; just the access to, and sophistication of, technology has solved a whole host of problems and created a whole host of other ones, but isn't that always the way?  In my far-off and misspent youth, adults railed against rock music and long hair in much the same way that they do today about cellphones and social media, and with about as much justification.  Yes, there are kids who misuse social media and have their noses in their SmartPhones 24/7, but the vast majority handle themselves around these devices just fine -- same as most of my generation didn't turn out to be drug-abusing, illiterate, disrespectful dropouts.

This comes up because of a study that was published in Science Advances this week, by John Protzko and Jonathan Schooler, called "Kids These Days: Why the Youth of Today Seem Lacking."  And its unfortunate conclusion -- unfortunate for us adults, that is -- is that the sense of today's young people being irresponsible, disrespectful, and lazy is mostly because we don't remember how irresponsible, disrespectful, and lazy we were when we were teenagers.  And before you say, "Wait a moment, I was a respectful and hard-working teenager" -- okay, maybe.  But so are many of today's teenagers.  If you want me to buy that we're in a downward spiral, you'll have to convince me that more teenagers back then were hard-working and responsible, and that I simply don't believe.

And neither do Protzko and Schooler.

So the whole thing hinges more on idealization of the past, and our own poor memories, than on anything real.  I also suspect that a good many of the older adults who roll their eyes about "kids these days" don't have any actual substantive contact with young people, and are getting their impressions of teenagers from the media -- which certainly doesn't have a vested interest in portraying anyone as ordinary, honest, and law-abiding.

Oh, and another thing.  What really gets my blood boiling is the adults who on the one hand snarl about how complacent and selfish young people are -- and then when young people rise up and try to change things, such as Greta Thunberg and the activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they say, "Wait, not like that."  What, you only accept youth activism if it supports the status quo?

All well and good for kids to have opinions, until they start contradicting the opinions of adults, seems like.

Anyhow, I'm an optimist about today's youth.  I saw way too many positive things in my years as a high school teacher to feel like this is going to be the generation that trashes everything through irresponsibility and disrespect for tradition.  And if after reading this, you're still in any doubt about that, I want you to think back on your own teenage years, and ask yourself honestly if you were as squeaky-clean as you'd like people to believe.

Or were you -- like the youth in Aristotle's day -- guilty of thinking you knew everything, and being quite sure about it?


This week's Skeptophilia book-of-the-week is from an author who has been a polarizing figure for quite some time; the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has long been an unapologetic critic of religion, and in fact some years ago wrote a book called The God Delusion that caused thermonuclear-level rage amongst the Religious Right.

But the fact remains that he is a passionate, lucid, and articulate exponent of the theory of evolution, independent of any of his other views.  This week's book recommendation is his wonderful The Greatest Show on Earth, which lays out the evidence for biological evolution in a methodical fashion, in terminology accessible to a layperson, in such a way that I can't conceive how you'd argue against it.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum of attitudes toward evolution (and whatever else you might think of Dawkins), you should read this book.  It's brilliant -- and there's something eye-opening on every page.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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