Society has changed, but into what?

This message came from Wes, our guru:

>I once heard someone say “People really are basically good. It’s society
>that makes them bad.” I thought, “Hmmm, people are good but society is
>bad. And what is society? People, right?”

The loop from humans to society and back, this is what we have been
discussing off and on on this List for over a decade. Do societies change?
Of course they do. Do humans change from generation to generation? Most of
us would say evolution takes longer than a few generations, so it must be
society that makes for changes. But how basic are those changes? Are
students really less polite than they were 30 years ago? I know Southern
kids certainly sound more polite than Western kids, but then maybe it’s the

So how do we sort out what is our own personal impression, affected by our
personal experiences and current mood, from any real change? What I see is a
great determination to see the current crop of kids as somehow deficient
and, by comparison, a previous generation as not so deficient. Is this
accurate? If so, what makes the difference?

I am always taken aback at people who decry the slovenliness, the laziness,
the dishonesty, the craven worship of celebrity, the poor taste of the
current crop and then send them off to defend our country and fiercely
attack anyone who questions sending them in harm’s way as “not supporting
the troops.” Why would you want to support a bunch of lazy, no account,
worthless tramps that, according to some, infest our schools nowadays, just
because they are fighting and dying for us in a pointless war?

Maybe someone on this List can explain this to me. If you want to bash ’kids
these days’, fine, but be consistent. Hire Swedish kids to go fight for us.
They have high test scores. How about those Japanese kids? Wow! Total
discipline. unquestioning obedience, and a love of
combat; why not send Japanese kids to fight our wars? Makes sense to me.

My point is that I have yet to read anyone describing in any detail except
perhaps Alexander some of the grossities that occurred 30, 40, 50, 60 years
ago. I was there. I can tell you about them. Stop saying such-and-such never
used to occur when you don’t know. Read a book. It’s amazing what you can
learn. At no point in human history have we lacked for callous people,
blood-thirsty people, stupid people, uneducated people, crude people, nasty
people, impolite people, chauvinistic people once we got nation states,
bigoted people, and on and on. That somehow we have a crop never seen
before, cruder, less polite, of lower IQ, less caring, and so forth, might
be true, but two conditions must be met:

First, you have to account for the hundreds of students I’ve dealt with over
the past couple of decades who do not fit this description – and keep in
mind, I have been reading these diatribes since I joined mailing lists, 1995
being the first one – and….

Second, you have to provide at least a vague explanation as to why this is
happening now. Let me help you with this latter.

We might account for changes in human relations in some way such as the

People have always lived in small face-to-face groups and children have
learned within the family, working along side their parents. In the last 200
years or so, work has been removed from the home, people have moved into
cities, and children have recently been taught in age grades where they
cannot learn from older children, let along adults. They are put into the
hands of so-called professionals whose job it is to produce proper workers
and soldiers.

The cities produce anomie, a sense of being anonymous and therefore not
accountable. Religion loses its hold as do family ties. The removal of the
workplace to somewhere outside the home produces a whole new set of
important relationships, deprived of the accountability of family and

But this explanation runs into the problem that those people raised in this atmosphere are the very ones held up as models, those who fought in WW I, WW II, and so on, i.e. people raised in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th.

How about lead poisoning? Lots of lead and other toxins can produce lowered IQ. But then what is IQ? What’s measured by an IQ test? I know, I’m bordering on heresy here, but let’s take this farther. If it is an environmental factor, doesn’t this just strengthen the arguments of the tree-huggers? Most people who condemn the current generation also condemn liberal notions like protecting the environment, so that argument will have unintended consequences.

Seriously, society has changed. What I do not understand is this notion that the changes have all been for the worse and if we could go back to the 50s, things would be so much better. That is total nonsense, a product of nostalgia, old age, and selective memory.

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