The Next Generation Is NOT Our Salvation

We’re in trouble… or maybe the die is already cast, in which case we’re beyond trouble and deep in the garbage dump.

Our young people, as was borne in upon me this past week, gather virtually all of their news from… not CNN, not Yahoo’s sidebars, not Facebook, but… Twitter.  Yeah.  Virtually everything they know about the world comes to them in bursts that cannot exceed 240 characters.

Either that, or they tune in to unfunny puppet shows staged by the Kimmel buffoon and whoever succeeded what’s-his-name’s mock newscast.  (Sorry… but I’ve never watched any such fare and don’t care enough about its purveyors to track down their handles.)  After all these years of hearing that the professoriate was responsible for radicalizing and lobotomizing our youth, I now realize (and I had long suspected as much) that it really ain’t so: students are too absorbed in their “smartphones” to be programmed by any professorial bloviation.  It is through the incoherent flickers of those devices, precisely, that they see and “learn” everything.

I had dismissed several classes of freshmen (or “beginning undergraduates”) for one class meeting so that they could go research a project, though I showed up at the usual place and time myself just in case some few should wish to discuss any issue informally.  Much to my satisfaction, two of my most thoughtful students were waiting in an otherwise empty room during two of these periods.  So I had two stimulating private conversations… whose lasting impression on me, nevertheless, was quite depressing.  Here is some of what I “learned”:

That all CEO’s everywhere have simply pocketed Trump’s tax breaks for businesses in the form of salary increases;

That private industry operates only to maximize short-term profit, whereas the public sector is staffed by people who are dedicated to helping humanity;

That the rightwing fear of gun legislation’s proving a slippery slope toward universal confiscation is mere paranoia, whereas the progression from gay marriage to man-boy and three-party marriages now evident in Germany can simply not be happening (though I’m the one who actually reads German, my sources must be wrong);

That the NRA is massively underwriting political resistance to new gun bans, whereas the talk of George Soros’s underwriting the race riots in Jefferson (for instance) is an utter canard;

That the NRA donated three million dollars to Marco Rubio last year (the leftist Guardian puts the figure at $4,950);

That the Second Amendment was intended only to put meat on the table back in frontier days;

That shooting a spray of bullets into a crowd is essentially the source of all our mass-murder incidents, and that well-aimed single shots are not a concern;

That, contradictorily, Britain’s ban of handguns has eliminated school shootings and should be emulated;

That Britain had a rash of such shootings before the ban;

That the machete attacks in Xinjiang province a few days ago which killed at least thirty and wounded over 130… wait a minute… say what?

I could go on.  These, I repeat, were two exceptionally intelligent young men.  You see what’s happened: not that some evil conspiracy has filled young skulls with mush, but that the accidental result of our massive shift to e-communication has bred a generation that hasn’t the patience to double-check dubious assertions and shows an insatiable appetite for prepackaged info-morsels, especially when these latter are soaked in a worldly cynicism sure to make their regurgitation sound “mature”.

For some reason which I’m at a loss to understand, my Facebook page has lately been bombarded with “friend requests” by Nigerians, Arabs, and residents south of our national border.  Am I becoming big in the Third World, I asked myself (skeptically but hopefully)?  Well, if Americans don’t want to listen to me, I’m only too happy to preach elsewhere.  Then this morning the truth (or part of it, at least) came crashing down on me.  Most of my requests come from young people—and most of these are trying to hook up with someone.  No, they’re not interested in my columns; they’re doing what my students do during class—looking for love and adventure.  And in that, too, they are utterly clueless.

My friends, I leave you with this cold gust of grim reality.  Any course we attempt to chart into the future must assume that the youngest generation of voters is held thrall by utter claptrap (e.g., the young libertarian enthusiasm for socialist Bernie Sanders).  If we save them, it will have to be done in spite of their best efforts to destroy us all.  We’ll have to hide the lifeboats somewhere… obviously, not on the Internet.


When Grief Veers Into Obscenity

Jonah Goldberg built up quite a deposit of good will with his classic book, Liberal Fascism.  In my estimation, his account is now overdrawn.  He and certain other editors of National Review have modeled a distinctly (and repellently) smug variety of political cultivation in recent years.  The journal’s founder, William F. Buckley, Jr., played the “snobby elitist” to the hilt, of course—but Buckley’s public persona was indeed something of an act.  Toward the end of his life, he typed up a personal response on letterhead to a rather importunate query letter of mine and signed it: not something I can imagine any of the New Guard doing.  In him, the elitism was genuine superiority diluted with noblesse oblige.  In this lot, the sporadic gestures toward popular culture (intended to stir a supercilious smile) conceal the blunt contempt characteristic of royalty gone a-slumming.

I began with these comments because I am going to unburden myself of some strong opinions about the Parkland adolescents who very overtly displayed coarse behavior for CNN’s delighted cameras.  In a piece published by Mr. Goldberg last Thursday, people like me are advised to consider themselves the lowest of the low for criticizing youths caught in the throes of grief.  Words were used in the column which William Buckley would never have touched, and which—once again—typify the new elitist’s tawdry bid for a moment of proletarian, pop-cultural “hip” (like Hillary Clinton’s “nothing-burger).

With no apologies to Mr. Goldberg, I contend that it is in extremely bad taste to carry on publicly as some of these teenagers have done.  True grieving happens most profoundly in private.  Soldiers like my father-in-law who saw real combat never want to talk about their experiences.  On the other hand, people who in fact were far from the line of fire and have little to mourn are the very ones who rush before an audience and fume volubly about the enemy’s wickedness, never breaking off a sentence or groping after a word.  I have seen the boy named Cameron on several clips now—his face and voice have indeed proved difficult to avoid lately—and a more eloquent Cicero is scarcely to be found in his peer group… but grief does not speak in torrents of rehearsed eloquence.  Neither does it spill its rancor on people far from the crime by drawing associations of a highly politicized nature.

As cameras rolled, the boy in question flung at a United States senator—Marco Rubio—the preposterous and insolent charge that Rubio’s mere face brought back images of a killer staring over the barrel of a gun.  Again, with no apologies to Mr. Goldberg, I will say that if this boy had seen the bore of a weapon waving in his face days earlier, he wouldn’t be around to see anything else.  (Or if he had indeed watched it weave right before him without firing, many victims could have wished that he had grabbed the thing and pointed it into the ground.)  Naturally, the extravagant claim made on behalf of his imagination’s vigor was pure hyperbole.

What exactly is going on inside of millennials?  What strange cogs and sprockets move their emotional responses?  Since when do you register grief by turning your back on the killer and forming a political lynch mob marching to the script of the world’s paparazzi?  Since when do you respond to a senator and one-time presidential candidate who comes to commiserate by verbally and (one might say) globally spitting in his face?  How does this help any parent bury a son or daughter?  Traumatized survivors have often tormented themselves with the question, “Why them and not me?” in the past.  No longer, apparently.  Now they hire an agent to book gigs on Oprah and Kimmel.

I’m going to say it, even though the Goldbergs of the world will think me a heartless swine for doing so: this conduct is boorishly childish to the point of obscenity.  Gun control has nothing whatever to do with my verdict.  I dare to say, rather, that some in this forthcoming generation—perhaps many—want a lesson in manners and common decency… and, obviously, they’re not going to get it from the “conservative” likes of Jonah Goldberg.  The pampering, apparently, will continue without end.

There’s nothing worthy of indulgence in a seventeen-year-old who, say, springs up at his mother’s funeral, curses the minister up and down, and screams, “Stop with all this religious crap!  If there were a God, I’d still have my mom!”  The outburst would be understandable, but it would remain unacceptable.  Hopefully, a father or near relative would order the child to quiet down and either seat himself or leave the building—and the order would be peremptory.  Not only do such displays selfishly deny to others a chance to absorb the loss; they also plunge those who author them into an unproductive state of mind that can only prolong their anguish.  Adults are supposed to recognize as much and to nip incidents like this in the bud—not to misidentify them as sacrosanct and nudge them to center-stage.

And the crucifixion choreographed by CNN was nothing like a church service for a child’s mother.  For pity’s sake… parents are trying to come to terms with knowing that their children will never graduate from high school. Perhaps birthday presents are lying hidden in closets that will now never be opened. Has any consideration at all been paid to the misery of these people? I know we’ve all pretty much lost our minds… but have we not even the faintest vestige of taste and decency left?

The Spirit and the Flesh: Adversarial Allies

If a man asks you for food, take him to a sandwich shop and sit with him to eat.  Don’t give him a wad of bills or a card to draw infinitely upon the food bank.  You do not serve the man in him with such charity—you stifle his humanity by making your sacrifice at the altar of the Stomach.  You proclaim that the end of life is to stay alive.  You heard the word “hungry”, but you did not hear the man who said he was hungry.

If a man tells you that his child is sick and needs medicine, take him and his child to a doctor, and buy what medicine is needed.  But do not give the man’s family endless draws upon your account to buy whatever medicine they may need at any time in the future.  Charity without a setting or boundaries is an unlimited worship of the god Health; and in serving that god, you declare that life is about nothing but health, always health.  If the child is cured for no other reason than to stay cured, then he might as well grow on a stem in a garden, like a vegetable.

And if a man comes to you saying that he is so tired of life that he yearns to end it, do not give him a free pass to an amusement park or introduce him to a wild leaf that sends the bored mind into ecstasy.  The god of Escape can keep bodies alive as well as food and medicine sometimes—but what lives is only a body.  Try your best, rather, to show the man what weariness of life teaches about life: that it ends in nothing if one sets one’s goals within its boundaries.

Charity is not about feeding the hungry, but about removing hunger as an obstacle to a higher mission.  Sickness is another obstacle—and the purpose of life is not to avoid being sick, any more than it is to avoid boredom.

We always teeter on the brink of getting this wrong, because lavishing people with food or medicine or amusement is a deed, a measurable behavior… but the spirit has no measure.  The spirit is a negative presence, we might say.  We cannot bestow it as we would a sandwich of a Z-pack.  We can only remove obstacles to it.  Saving a person from death only gives him the opportunity to live; we cannot know if he will use his opportunity well.  Refusing to fuel a lie only gives the truth an opportunity to prevail; we cannot know if that truth will bring most people to insight or despair.

Health, happiness, prosperity… they all end when life ends.  And if life ends tomorrow, then it might as well end today—at least if it is to hold nothing for us but animal satisfactions won from a body that declines to torture us.  But for a person who has found purpose in life, even bodily tortures—sickness, tedium, poverty—are a small price to pay if they are a means of the spirit’s reaching its end.  A father will live on one meal a day to feed his child.  An artist will take the money that might have kept wood in his fireplace if it will buy paint and canvas.

What kind of person are we producing in our world today—a plump vegetable immobilized in a garden, or a visionary who happily suffers privation for the sake of a higher end?  I think we all know.



Big Brother’s Heavy-Handed Promotion of Interracial Couples on Popular Media

You may have noticed that about fifty percent of couples in all very recent TV commercials are interracial.  No, I haven’t actually tabulated the results of a weekend survey… I have more pressing things to do.  But the percentage is well over ten percent, or even a quarter.  I’ll stick with approximately half.

That’s pretty high.  In the restaurants and grocery stores of the world where I live, one out of every two couples are not interracial.  I realize that my neck of the woods is far off the main road; I realize, even, that in places like San Francisco, acquiring a mate of another race is taken as proof of one’s moral superiority. I’ve known for some time that in cultural enclaves where no one believes in yesteryear’s God and where social transformation exerts a mystical magnetism, people seem always to be seeking ostentatious new rituals to demonstrate their spiritual purity. Sometimes other people are the victims offered on the progressivist altar—as when, say, you cozy up to someone because of her skin color without giving a second thought to her feelings.

But San Francisco is not a cross-section of American life: not just yet.  In flyover country, couples whose racial past is very visibly different compose, I would guess, well under ten percent of adult pairs.  Probably under five.

The advertising industry’s estimate of the typical, then, is so distinctly at odds with what one actually sees in most places that one must ask, Why the miscalculation?  It appears deliberate; and for that reason, it doesn’t appear a miscalculation at all, but a move calculated against coordinates other than reality’s.  What are these coordinates, and why are they being used?

Are private-sector peddlers of cars, pizzas, smartphones, and home-improvement items eager to encourage us to mate and marry outside our race?  Why would they feel called upon to fulfill that mission?  Social engineers, of course, have a very obvious interest in dissolving ties of family, community, religion, tribe—of anything that competes with Big Brother for our abject allegiance.  Those who belong to nothing will always be easy recruits for the State’s all-encompassing march into a transformative future.

Okay… but why are for-profit enterprises carrying so much water for Super-Nanny’s bath of brainwash?  What other reason for it could there possibly be than that they mortally fear some sort of bad press or boycott labeling them unsympathetic to the goal of stamping out racism?  They don’t want any trouble… and so they get out in front of the shakedown, hanging the right colors on their doorstep before Big Brother’s goons come around demanding to see their papers.

So how long before overtly gay couples start turning up on Home Depot ads?  How long before Chevrolet commercials end with a declaration that their workplace has a zero-tolerance of sexual harassment?

I don’t like this.  I have utterly no problem whatever with a blond Jack marrying a Japanese or African Jill (as long as they’re not doing it just to make one of those West Coast statements).  My wife is either 1/16th or 1/32nd Cherokee; Elizabeth Warren informs us that either of those percentages would be significant.  I’m not arguing that people should marry within their race.  I am questioning why depictions of our lives projected in our media are being distorted to reflect somebody’s version of Shangri La.  If the intent is to influence the impressionable (i.e., the young) toward pairing up with those of different races, then we are NOT being left alone to pursue the mate of our choice: we are being tactlessly nudged—the more impressionable among us, at least—into the ethic of ostentation, of showing off one’s moral superiority by selecting a mate of a certain appearance.

How is this any different from the Cult of the Blond that prevailed when I was a boy, and that induced so many women to dye their hair?  Answer: that was a silly, superficial cultural prejudice, while this is yet another theater opening up in the vast war against culture itself. The social engineer’s futuristic spaceship needs cadets, and the training program has begun.


Reason Not the Need: In Praise of Vagueness

One more time, I’m going to cheat a little by pasting into this space part of an intro I wrote over the weekend for a section of my collected poems.  The introductions are getting almost as long as the stuff they’re supposed to explain!

That my introduction to this final section is proving far and away the most difficult to write may, to a cynic, indict the essential fraud of all history: the more distant a sequence of events becomes, the tidier its description grows. An alternative explanation may be that, since this period ends only because it cannot extend beyond the present moment, it has the most artificial and arbitrary of endings—not a true terminus imposed by real change; and yet another perspective might be that I’m becoming more confused as I get older.

For my money, the last explanation is the most valid. I seem to have lived much of my life in reverse, so a curious failure to find the tranquility of acquired wisdom in my silver years fits the puzzle perfectly. If I was more gloomy as a young man, I also dwelt deeper in the isolation of a very concentrated and (I will admit now) comforting gloom. Now that I have found ways to push back against the world somewhat, I feel less exiled and nullified—but I also see the challenges to civilized life growing much more complex (largely because we who face them appear to be growing more simple-minded). I am less disposed now, as well, to withdraw into that old self-imposed exile and more inclined to get impatient or disgusted. I expect to see more effort made—effort to understand, to reevaluate, to prepare for necessary action, to act at the ripe moment—since I myself was able to grind a not-so-bad life out of very unpromising circumstances; yet what I observe, instead, is an escalating flight to “plug-in drugs” and “virtual reality” as well as to the more conventional hallucinogens and “artificial paradises” (in Baudelaire’s phrase) so popular in my youth.

I have a good head-start on being an angry old man. I am not a Luddite; yet I am deeply distressed, not so much that young people don’t know what a Luddite is (I didn’t, either, at their age)—but that they don’t care to find out, will recur to some handheld “device” if forced to find out, and will have forgotten what they found out five minutes later. Hell, the device is still there! “Why don’t you get your own, if you have a question, and leave me alone?”

The profits that the private sector harvests from such high-tech addiction have finally and fully merged with the manipulative designs of the public sector upon e-voters of the future, their I-Brains and I-Tastes determined by the paternalistically “helpful” software of I-nfo and E-ntertainment. Nobody seems to care; everybody seems to be happy. Corporations have more money, politicians have more power, and citizen voter-drones have more leisurely escapism (all the way to the slaughterhouse). I’m sounding now like some Sixties radical—the type whose self-serving antinomian protests I deplored as a young man and even referenced in some of my first poems. Have I again clumsily shifted gears into reverse: am I becoming more “liberal” in my old age, contrary to the cliché? Or has the true basis of liberalitas—the insistence on individual liberty—that was caricatured in Sixties hedonism become the critical issue of our onward-and-upward, “accept digital centralization or die” version of progress?

Within such anguish, George Shirley was born. Under this pseudonym, I composed many of my final poems for Praesidium. The name was drawn from the South Carolinian branch of our family tree. I imagined in George a polite but mildly jaundice-eyed country gentleman who, as a matter of strict principle, hated to offend—but who found a broader body of reverend principles impelling him to mount a resistance against the annihilation of liberal (read “freely speaking and thinking”) society. The lover of the soil and the gentle things she produced had a tincture of the rebel in him, and he wasn’t above sneaking the mare from his weathered barn for a night raid on the depot. As my poetically encrypted attacks under this guise grew more and more narrowly indexed to political trends, in fact, I became more and more puzzled and uneasy. One late edition of the journal quasi-apologized, “If George Shirley’s poetry continues to become more political, it can only be because politics continues to intrude upon our private lives.”

I’m not sure that the prominent appearance of natural images in the midst of so much diatribe is an accident or an oddity. I have always felt a vital need of nature, just as I need oxygen and water. Yet for George (and for me through George), nature isn’t identical with oxygen and water: one doesn’t protest the escalating mechanization of the times, that is, because one’s all-important health may stand in jeopardy. The motive there is not negligible… but the real benefit of nature to life that doesn’t perish (i.e., that doesn’t need oxygen and water) is its purposelessness. The woodpecker I hear outside my window just now could drop dead this instant without disrupting the smooth operation of the cosmos. In that regard, he is like art—like my poetry, I hope: he is marginal, an outlier. As we strive ever more vigorously and effectively to make everything around us contribute to an identified goal or objective (and in what other endeavor do we show any vigor and efficiency at all?), we draw ever closer to fusion with robots. Many of us consciously hail this impending union as Nirvana rather than a marriage made in Hell: that’s how dumb we’ve already become. A few of us “cling to green” (since we’ve destroyed the open-endedness of art, reducing it to an evolutionary history of the oppressed) because something in us persists in crying out for an exit, a window on airy infinity… but our political handlers are quick to exploit that longing. We must vote for them, they warn, if the moon isn’t to fall; and we must contribute more of our squalid salary to their newly formed, state-of-the-art Bureau of Lunar Salvation.

My cousin George fully comprehends what crap this all is. Hence the more he turns his wry smile upon our “saviors”, the more he turns away from any hope offered by this world and heeds the woodpecker. And the woodpecker’s message? I think it’s this: “Live not in life but through life. Seek in everything that you are at the moment—in every circumstance that defines your current parameters—a voice transcending specific need or use. Always seek in what you see more than what’s visible just now.”


The Electronic Thumbs-Down Operates With a Lightning Trigger-Finger

I was shocked to receive notice last week that a book I have self-published through Amazon, Hitting Secrets From Baseball’s Graveyard, has been nominated for the 2018 Larry Ritter Award.  I hardly see how anyone can even have heard of the book, since it wasn’t distributed through a major publisher.  Maybe somebody at the Society for American Baseball Research simply Googled the word “deadball” (since the award goes to the year’s best book about the early twentieth century’s so-called Deadball Era) and came up with a short list.  It would have to be short.  Almost nobody cares about the subject!

Nevertheless, I was riding pretty high for a while… for about six hours, to be exact.  Then I logged onto Amazon to order the volumes that the judges would require—and I found that the first online review had been posted.  A meager two stars.  I had to read the review at that point, even though I scrupulously avoid all reviews when I can.  This one had fallen directly across my path, and I couldn’t suppress a craving to know what had rubbed its author the wrong way.

I still don’t know, honestly.  The post claimed that my title and press release were completely misleading—that the book was only about me and my son, and that it presented us both as brilliant baseball material that should have ended up in the Hall of Fame.  In short, my book was just an exercise in incredibly self-indulgent egotism. Not a word did this caustic critic spare to Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Honus Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, Sam Crawford, Fred Clarke, Babe Ruth… to any of at least two dozen figures who were analyzed quite minutely in my hundred thousand words.  The thumbnail thumbs-down could only be referenced to three or four chapters in the short introductory section; and even there, I found it almost incoherent.

The first chapters had explained that the inevitable guinea pig in my method was myself, since I could ask no young person successfully playing the game right now to throw all his conditioning out the window and experiment with radically different techniques; and I’d added that a balsa wood plane in a wind tunnel can assist the designing of a Space Shuttle, lest anyone imagine that I considered myself more than a scrap of kindling.  This initial testing on tiny prototypes is standard engineering procedure (unless you’re a Soviet rocket scientist, in which case you just build the whole thing to scale from scratch and see how many bodies rain to earth).

As for my son, he was mentioned only in the context of my arguing how severely hampered young people are by a coaching system that refuses to acknowledge the past and arrogantly assumes (along with the rest of our society) that latest is best.  I was especially irritated that he was tossed onto the target range.  The imputation of egotism to me might have been a simple misreading (I did, after all, refer to “my brilliant career”—a phrase whose irony was cliché in my day, but surely lost to kids who are mystified by the reference in “the emperor’s new clothes”).  To garble the part of the presentation where my son figured, however, began to look like willful distortion to me.  And to think that this person, having skipped about 85% of the book, felt licensed to publish such things before prospective buyers!

Frankly, I don’t know how I got two stars from him.  The final line of his “review” almost seemed faintly penitent… which further leads me to believe that he had a personal axe to grind.

I have suspicions about this person’s identity—and I’m certainly not going to counter-attack, even though his “revenge” may cost me sales, because he may feel that I began the battle by challenging the way he and his buddies play the game.  If my suspicions are correct, I actually feel badly for him, because he’s not getting the deeper message: poor coaching probably cut him off from his potential at least as much as it did my son.

In any case, I’m very used to baseball insiders—and academic insiders, and really every kind of insider—treating honest, curious inquiry with contempt.  “You don’t know what’s going on here, idiot!  Go back to your side of the line.  You have no idea!”  (Professors send the same message in more syllables.)

The broader moral to this tale, it seems to me, has much to do with our electronic age of quick information and hair-trigger eagerness to voice an opinion.  I remember a parting of the ways with Alipac’s William Gheen in spring of 2016 because, in his expert opinion, Heidi Cruz’s having once worked for Goldman Sachs completely disqualified her husband Ted from seeking the presidential nomination.  Same magnification of a virtual irrelevancy; same ready imputation of sordid motives where there was no objective evidence; same cocksureness in the conclusion’s propriety.  Don’t slow down, don’t look deeper.  You know this one’s an egotist, that one’s a narcissist (two very popular words whose street definition simply equates with “jerk”).  You know because you’re worldly-wise, and nobody pulls any wool over YOUR eyes!  “I see what you’re doing there!  I see what you’re up to!  You’re just working your own angle, dude!”

Yes, twenty-first century Mass Man, you are far too bright for me!  Now, why don’t you move on to your next election, your next book, and leave me to stagger about in the dark looking for the audience of yesteryear?


Depression: Part Two

Looking back on my youth, I realize that I frequently fought through bouts of what would now be designated depression.  There were times when I wanted my life to end; and there were one of two times when I wanted it very much not to end, but was almost terrified that I would be unable to keep myself from pulling the plug.  I never asked for anyone’s help at any such moment, partly due to pride, to shame… perhaps mostly that.  But I also think I was aware that any meaningful, durable solution would have to come from my own wrestling with the invisible tormentor.  No one could wage that battle for me.

Of course, we now know (italics of irony) that depression has no ratiocinative component: it’s just a hormonal imbalance. Silly me! Thinking never causes anything or resolves anything. We’re just bags of DNA and enzymes.

Not too long ago, I was treated to a round of contemptuous hoots from several coeds when I made an off-hand, jocular reference to suicide in class.  One would have thought that I had drawn an obscene cartoon about Muhammad on the wall of a mosque while worship was in progress.  Today’s young souls “in jeopardy”, from where I stand, are indeed rather wimpy in their approach to the subject.  Above all, I should say that they want to be noticed.  They want their issues of depression and suicide to be taken very, very, VERY seriously… because when they feel down, it’s a result of their being non-entities among their peer group—and the world’s appropriate response must be instantly and utterly to stop everything else and notice their crisis, thus remedying the potentially fatal attack of negligence.

I can’t help harboring a certain callousness here.  By the grace of God, I managed to crawl through Hell and back when I was the same age as these drama queens, and my isolation was several exponents more intense than theirs.  No one cried for me, and I sought no one’s tears.  In fact, being noticed in such a state would have disgusted me—with myself most of all, but perhaps a little with the Good Samaritan who offered consolation.  I’m not saying that my sentiments were healthy ones; I’m saying that I cannot recognize the youth that I was then in the young people I see today.

Something else I might note along the same lines: my distress was fundamentally rooted in the collapse of every traditional value—courage, honor, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility—that I observed proceeding apace all around me.  Romantic love and torrid sexual adventures were indistinguishable; attention to personal grooming lest one inflict discomfort on one’s neighbors was considered a sell-out to bourgeois hypocrisy; plangent insistence that one’s selfish needs be served did not seem to stir any accompanying sense of shame.  I could see no open path to being a young man of honor and principle in the era of Woodstock, reefers, and shack-ups.

In contrast, I see today’s vulnerable youth as hitting rock-bottom when they fail to catch onto the coattails of some bypassing trend.  For a while, having too few friends on Facebook—or getting lit up by one of them in a posted comment—was clear grounds for hara kiri.  Maybe it still is… but my hunch is that the angst has largely shifted to “social media” venues like Instagram about which I know nothing.  The problem now isn’t that there are no more Mohicans and the ways of a past you worshiped are all desecrated; it’s that you can’t acquire enough feathers in time to join the latest tribe.

Suicide is suicide: no wanton waste of a life is ever trivial.  But at least the battle I fought was one to exist as an honest, adult human in an evolving world of counterfeit, vulgarity, and even bestiality.  I don’t see these distressed kids around me as being in the least concerned about claiming an identity in God as the toxic swill of the world soils their shoes: they simply seem to want to be Bubble Number 89 in the malodorous froth.

And, yeah, that gets me depressed, to this very day and hour.  If you can’t even have the dignity and sense to feel blue about something worth worrying about, then you’re not evidence of a social trajectory that would inspire optimism in a thoughtful person.