Back in the early 90s (and isn’t that frightening?) I was doing something like blogging in Groton, Connecticut, for Town Hall on CompuServe–pre-Web days. One of the topics of the day was Generation X. People like Rush Limbaugh and others got a kick out of making fun of Xers. They were slackers who wanted to make $45.00 an hour flipping burgers. Or, better, they wanted to graduate from college and step into an eighty grand a year job with a company car. They didn’t want to pay their dues.
I lost all of my old columns, but I wrote one that defended the generation. I was at the end of a nine-year hitch in submarines. Every day, I saw a new class of officers or enlisted guys come through Squadron Two on their way to the USS Pittsburgh or USS Dallas. While some of the older guys shook their heads mockingly at the “soft, stupid” kids who couldn’t hold a candle their generation, I saw something different but not dramatic. I saw a mix of people who looked a lot like the mix of guys I went through sub school with. My guess both groups were a lot like the mix who went through sub school with Pug Henry’s son in “The Winds of War.”
While there were slackers in the GenXers, there were slackers in the 1942 classes, too. Just ask my dad. In World War II as today, twenty percent of the people did eighty percent of the work. That’s just the way it is.
By 1999, those “slackers” became known as the dotcom billionaires. As some in older generations complained about them, Generation X provided the energy and enthusiasm for the technology revolution that drove the economy from 1994 to 1999. One might blame them for the bubble, but the old, rich guys greedy to make paper profits off the kids' hard work were the ones over-valuing bad ideas. Can you really blame the 23-year-old Ivy Leaguer with the bad idea for going public and squandering $300 million that some wealthy old guys gave him? I can’t. Old guys with lots of money are supposed to show wisdom. They’re supposed to protect the economy and the free market from bad ideas written on good, Ivy League paper.
Now, Generation X is in that netherworld of their 30s. They don’t yet control the media–they’re too young. They no longer attract the attention of business or news or television because they’re too old. They’re in the same boat I was when I observed them in 1993: they’re poised to take over the world.
There’s a new generation out there. They’re in high school or college. They read; they blog. They watch television. They pay a lot of attention to those of us from previous generations: boomers, Xers, and whatever it was that followed. Their generation hasn’t been named, so far as I know. Perhaps the Hip-Hop generation would fit. (You figure out why.)
If you’re my age or a little older or a little younger, avoid the temptation to complain about these kids. As a lot, they’re no better or worse than our generations. Like our classes, 20 percent do 80 percent of the good, and 5 percent to 95 percent of the bad. They look up to us (God knows why) and expect something that many prior generations didn’t give succeeding generations: a little respect. It' funny, isn’t it? In 1997 people were handing their retirement funds over to kids they called slackers, hoping the kids would turn $100,000 into a $100,000,000. But the investors and lenders didn’t respect the kids. You wonder where the bubble came from? (It’s hard to cheat an honest man.)
When I stroll through my blogroll, I see links to blogs like Right in Texas and the Political Teen. I’m so proud of these kids. They write and think beyond their years. But not really. They just think beyond my years when I was seventeen and sneaking beer out of my dads stash in the basement. They share their ambitions with us. With luck, we will follow their lives on line as they graduate from college, begin law school or medical school, or simply get a job. We’ll read about them meeting someone special and falling in love. Like Tiger Woods, they’ll disappear for a time while love and family takes the lion’s share of their time and energy.
I never thought about the generation I belonged in. I was almost too young to be a boomer and too old for Generation X. I am far from the best representative of my class, but I’m far from the bottom, too. Still, I had plenty of older folks telling me that anyone my age was self-serving punk who’d never amount to squat. “You kids have it too easy,” they said.
And they were right. We did. Compared to almost any other people in any other country at any given time, though, every generation of Americans had it too easy. Alexis de Tocqueville noticed it at the beginning of the 19th century. That’s why America is what it is: we’ve got it easy, and we work our butts off to keep it that way.
These kids today understand that. They want the torch, but they want to be ready for it. They want to make America and the world better, just as we did, just as my mom and dad and aunts and uncles did.
The kids are alright. Teach them well, and they’ll make the world a better place to live.
Why don’t you kids mosey on over to the Beltway Traffic Jam