I am staring down the barrel of turning 38 this coming March.With this comes the absolute understanding that middle-age is here and that the clock is only moving forward. I will never be 27 again. So, this has lead me to reflect a little on life over the last 30 years and how things are not getting better even though I hold on to the Utopian vision that this situation is only temporary. Like a voodoo doll, I have been probing and poking at the sore spots in my mind. Here is a brief list of items that have led me to conclude that a war is indeed being waged against my/your/our adulthood. Some of it is a matter of circumstance, some is cultivated, and all of it is societal. And, unfortunately, unless we begin to recognize its reality, it will spill over into a war against our children as well. So without further ado.....the proof is in the diatribe.....
When I was in 7th grade, the 1st Gulf War started. War was a new concept for us as students. Although abstract concepts such as the Iran-Contra affair had made small dents on our impressionable minds, the open commitment of troops to an over-seas conflict was foreign and frightening. My 7th grade history teacher Mr. Nimic tasked us with keeping a war diary as part of our winter quarter. We were to watch the news and report on what we were learning about the engagement. I still remember quotes on the walls of our room such as 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' It took me at least another 15 or 20 years to really grasp the reality of this statement.
It has now been almost 25 years since I was asked to keep this journal. Our engagement in the Middle East has been more or less a constant in my life during this entire quarter century. An engagement sold to the American people as 'temporary' has begun to drag out for a lifetime of conflict and has reached a status quo in our society that is barely even acknowledged any more (It has been years since I have even SEEN a yellow ribbon bumper magnet). We don't even take the time to vote for funding to care for our beloved 'troops' who are now legions of veterans struggling from the strangle hold of PTSD. Government graft and corruption in the form of large military contracts has reached the culturally accepted status of 'business as usual' much to the dismay of our underfunded domestic laundry list of 'to-do' items.
As I slowly and steadily climb toward middle-age I realize that those of my friends who are barely much younger than me (and by all rights are considered full-fledged adults, legally speaking) have had an entire lifetime filled with images of warfare and have lived with the definition of Democracy as defined by the constant restriction in their personal rights sold under the premise that our nation's safety comes first and their freedoms come second. I have realized that they do not know a life before this became the standard sacrifice we have all been asked to make as our way of showing our allegiance to a nation committed to defending the freedoms of others. I say this only half seriously as at this point in my life, it is hard for me to choke this statement out with a straight face. People will not protest a war if they do not know life without it.
Not long after the the war diaries I recall several other events that changed the course of our future...the first being a newscast documenting the rising wages of both doctors and lawyers in the United States (I remember telling my mother that I was going to become a lawyer so that I could make a lot of money). Healthcare and litigation marched on, hand in hand and everyone was getting rich....except for the blue collar worker. These poor saps were labeled 'unpatriotic' and made into targets on national TV as unions were busted and jobs were confiscated, effectively bankrupting whole cities.Vasts portions of our nation could no longer afford to purchase goods 'made in America' due to the undercutting of working class salaries. It made it even easier to sell our nation to the lowest bidder (China, anyone?) and brought in the age of designed obsolescence. Salary inflation became an accepted part of life as well....but only for those whose jobs held the correct title; doctor, lawyer, insurance agent, stock broker, middle man. What I have come to understand; wage inflation is accepted when its inception is linked to careers with a tradition of higher earning potential and when the under educated are targeted as 'undeserving' of a higher wage and are labelled as 'unskilled' or even 'unpatriotic'. If this message is reinforced by mass media on a regular basis, the general public begins to believe it as truth....especially if this message is repeated throughout years of adolescence into young adulthood. Why would we argue for anything but this model when this is all we have known since the tender age of 12 (or for an entire lifetime as is the case of my younger adult friends).
Then, a lawsuit involving a hot cup of coffee changed our world forever. Suddenly, willful ignorance to the obvious became a cash cow and self determination was no longer a family value. The people demanded retribution for their stupidity and many a trial lawyer was happy to oblige. We entered the age of litigation, law suits, and general mis-trust of one another. This was in 1994. Enrollment in law schools swelled and the generation raised on 'The Breakfast Club' and 'St. Elmo's Fire' were being groomed for adulthood in the age of 'me first' economics. Ironically, it is largely this generation, a step above my own, who continues to propagate our current economic model. And why shouldn't they? This is what they were trained to do.
It also became very 'uncool' to be intelligent. We as a society accepted the idea that the lowest common denominator was as high a bar as we wanted to set for ourselves....anything above the LCD put you in the bracket of 'over-achiever'...a cultural fopaux that still exists today including in public education. Intelligence and critical thinking have taken a backseat to NASCAR, country music songs about the 'drinking class', and the us vs. them mentality encouraged by one of our nations greatest presidents.
The war on women and families has been a treacherous one. The profits from this war are HUGE which makes it a hard one to put an end to. Until kids my husband and I were operating our household under the DINKY model. Yes, we had student loans and a car payment and a mortgage, but no kids. This model has become a norm in our society and most households can no longer support themselves in general day to day living without the double income.Once kids enter the picture, the little bit of extra cushion accumulated in young adulthood evaporates leaving parents in the desperate struggle to financially continue to make ends meet while raising children without depending on government assistance. Although Women's Liberation was founded on the basis of equality for both sexes, it has failed us as modern-day men, women and families. It has caused a skyrocketing rate of price inflation during our short lifetime (the ever-growing economy is due in part to a doubling of the workforce and the diminishment of the the value of the dollar. As a result a larger per- household income has not led to more savings or a higher standard of living.). Rather than offering women the choice of participating in a career outside the home, it has made it necessary. We now All (men and women alike) share the right to be behind on the laundry, stay home with sick children, cook a hurried dinner, sub-contract out domestic duties such as housekeeping and in general bear the burden of the stress that comes along with never having enough time or monetary resources to actually get ahead. In fact, we are falling farther and farther behind all the time. A recent study concluded that the middle class can no longer afford items that were once considered the hallmarks of middle class living; a new car, vacations, higher quality food etc...
Also, children themselves have become devalued in favor of large profits. During the years of my childhood, programming on TV was based on the idea that the hours before 9 PM were family viewing time and the hours after 9 PM were for content geared towards adults. The upsurge in Cable Television blurred this line and the internet killed it all-together.And then, pornography became a thriving business during the age of the internet. It suddenly became the responsibility of the parent rather than the society to try and safeguard children against this insidious invader. Instead of a society that has a general outlook that is conservative toward the preservation of childhood, we live in the modern day equivalent of a base and degrading culture that children are forced to co-exist with. The general encouragement of pornography in our society is disturbing to me as a parent. Raising both a boy and a girl I see a conflicting message being sent to both sexes. My daughter is expected to be both a motherly virgin and a submissive whore. My son is to be both a loving father and a warmongering rapist. WTF people, WTF.
So what have we been given that eases the strain of these societal burdens and allows us to forestall dealing with all of this terrible news? Well, that would be the war on adulthood. We live in the age of instant gratification and are treated about the same as a child trapped in an adult's body. Want to stay up and play video games all night? No problem! That is your right as an adult. Want to buy that new pair of shoes but don't feel like paying for them right now? Use your credit card....its your right. Want to sit in front of the TV drinking all day this weekend...you earned that right by showing up to work this week. Want to eat nothing but potato chips and drink soda with every meal...congratulations, this is your right too. But you don't have the right to change the way politics runs or the way Wall Street handles money or the right to protest our 60% military spending budget, our crumbling East German-esque infrastructure (yes, this is the direction our nation is headed....don't be fooled), failing schools, diminishing quality of life, and toxic environment. Those jobs are better left to the real adults.
And I keep thinking, exactly when do we become adults? It seems to me that this is a right that not many people my age (or younger) are looking for or forward to....it just isn't very fun. It seems like the right to be an adult will come sometime just before we begin suffering from dementia and are committed to a raisin ranch. And our inability to handle adulthood, what will that mean for our children? This is something to ponder....
So the first adult-like task is to remember history. Begin to love it. Read it...from many sources. We are Rome unless we choose another path. Our future awaits but first we must take responsibility for our present by understanding our past. And then, we have to start acting like adults which means taking action, of some kind, in some way to improve this shit-hole of an existence that we have allowed to be created for us. We are entering the middle of our lives. We have the right to become adults. On behalf of my children, it is a war I am willing to fight.