Politics in America
Part 4: The Hung-up Generations Continued
by Robert L. Kocher
Development of Polarized Attitudes in Relationships
Let’s begin this segment by expanding a concept initiated earlier.
In order to understand the 60s and 70s in America, you must first understand the 50s and last half of the 40s. Full understanding of the 50s requires one to be nearly 90 years old.
In the first 10 years of the 1900s there was no electricity to speak of. People struggled in darkness and isolation, many of them working 70 or 80 hour weeks. And the lucky ones plodded down dirt paths in horse-drawn vehicles.
My mother, who was almost old enough to be menopausal when she had me and my brother, used to recount how to trim coal-oil lamps which lit homes when she was a child in the early 1900s. One of the most irritating household chores was cleaning the carbon out of lamp chimneys. Those coal-oil lamps were a miracle of civilization during the early nineteen hundreds.
Life before 1945 was hard, tough, concrete and real. There was a period known as the Roaring Twenties. The Roaring Twenties are largely a romanticized myth, having been lived as the Roaring Twenties by relatively few people. The Roaring Twenties didn’t last very long and for ninety percent of the people who were busy working to make a living, there wasn’t much roar. The depression followed and it lasted a lot longer than the Roaring Twenties.
The 1950s will probably go down in future history books as the period when this country was at its peak and after which it began to slide into rapid decline. The 50s were a celebration by a generation, sometimes called the last of the great generations of Americans. Two generations who had won two world wars, survived a great depression, and had meanwhile taken America from the near-stone-age to an age where most diseases had been conquered by something called “wonder drugs;” where people sat in heated, lighted living rooms, entertained by televised pictures coming through the air immediately informing them of what was happening all over the world; where people in New York were eating food that had been on California trees two days earlier; where millions of people were traveling on concrete highways in automobiles at high speeds; where satellites were circling the earth and a man would shortly walk on the moon; where there were 40 hour work weeks and a multitude of jobs at better salaries than anyone could have imagined. It was a miracle that had taken place in a fifty-year period.
One should be able to understand the initial unbelieving puzzlement and then wrath of the previous generations when the left-wing protesters of the 60s and 70s said it wasn’t good enough.
The point is, except for a few of the very wealthy, anyone with significant living experience before 1945 spent a considerable time struggling with his back to the wall, dealing with unyielding physical reality and real unyielding cause and effect. The technological and economic conditions of that period were such that I, personally, am not unhappy to have missed them.
A newspaper piece I read in 1978 described a college class reunion taking place that June. One man was somewhat representative of the class of 1938. Living in a single room, he had worked his way through college waiting tables and doing odd jobs. This was still during the depression and it was a struggle. I imagine he had served in the armed forces during the war and had then gone on to build a business over the next thirty years. At his class’s fortieth reunion, he gave his college a $100,000 donation “In gratitude for the opportunities America had given him.” His frame of reference is quite different from people who grew up in more recent times. What he called opportunities are what many young for the past nearly 35 years would call an oppressive system.
With generations of his strength and attitude a great country was built from nothing. These people were the basis of the 50 and 60s boom. There has been no one to take their place.
This difference in attitude and interpretation was one of the primary factors contributing to the “generation gap” of the 60s as well as a number of pathological personality characteristics.
The Generation Gap
The middle-to-late 1960’s saw the formal emergence of what was called “the generation gap,” a polarization and hostility between a generation of young and parents, between a generation of young and a society and its traditions, between a generation of young and any authorities representing parents or society. What existed was a “them against us” siege mentality which persisted as a social movement until the beginning of the 1980s. The personal attitudes of that period seem to be relatively permanent. Many people 45, 50, and even 55 years old are as polarized from parents, as polarized from the great generations, and polarized from American traditions today as they were 30 or more years ago.
The explanation members of the polarized generation often give for their polarization is the Viet Nam war. The Viet Nam war had little or nothing to do with it. The Viet Nam war happened to coincidentally take place at a time which would have been turbulent anyway. The Viet Nam war protest movement was a tool which provided an expression of hostility while focusing attention away from the real issues. A new generation was headed for a collision with reality, with parents and society representing reality.
Whoever drew the unpleasant job of taking the toy pistols and cowboy clothes away from the seventeen-year-old boy mentioned earlier, got kicked in the shins and hated for their effort because he didn’t want to leave his child’s world and was going to have one hell of a temper tantrum when that time came. Opportunity was not what he was looking for. That scene explains much of the turbulence and polarization of the last 35 years.
The generation gap of the 60s was, and is, as much as anything else, a difference in way of looking at and thinking about reality. On one side is a relatively realistic view in terms of what is possible and what the consequences are. On the other side is a spoiled child’s view of the way he wants things to be and his view of the importance of his or her own impulses or desires, which in his mind primarily constitute the only reality there is.
A generation of young was in for a surprise and an impossible transition between two worlds–a transition which many of them are still unable to make 30 or 35 years later.
A generation of parents who had grown up in or lived through an economic depression didn’t want to see their kids suffer the way they did. They wanted to give the kids advantages they never had, and wanted to make their children’s youth more enjoyable than theirs had been.
It was more enjoyable. Many of their kids were to be the first in the family line to become college educated. The kids had enough money available to them to divert a separate part of the economy to teen-age culture in the media and in consumer products. They had time and freedom to engage in that culture. A separate strong isolated juvenile/teen-age culture developed.
The values in the juvenile/teen-age culture bore no relationship to adult real-world values. There was no way to suddenly bridge the psychological canyon between the two entirely different cultures. Responsibility, work-orientation, work-habits, were not the direction of teen-age culture. A large portion of a generation had as good a life as was imaginable as teens and young adults with few responsibilities. They already had it all. Under such a situation, why become adults? When someone has unlimited entertainment, drugs, sex, automobiles and no responsibilities as a teen-ager, why become an adult? Adulthood brought responsibilities and work, with no advantage over the lives they had been living. Hence, when the time came to leave an eternal teen-age paradise to undertake the responsibility of adulthood the answer was, “Hell no! We won’t go!” to borrow one of the anti-war chants of the period.
Even if there were desire to become an adult, many did not have enough substance to become adults. Many were forced to reject the adult world because, not only was it a strange and entirely different world from anything they had seen or heard about, they were completely unqualified to enter it.
Some of this began during the late 50s resulting in the beatniks of that period, but the full force began to be felt in the 60s.
Parents had been making assumptions. They assumed their children would mature the same way as they had–only better and faster because of the increased advantages they had been given. They assumed their children were getting an education. The kids were. Kids graduated from Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Mickey Mouse Club, then went on to graduate work in rock and roll without any significant interruption by any other world or any other set of values. Parents suddenly woke up to find their nearly-grown children had almost the same mentality as Howdy Doody, the Mickey Mouse Club, or the Beach Blanket Bingo teen-age movies of the period. While the teen-age years in previous periods of American culture had been a more serious time dedicated to preparation for adulthood, childhood and the teen-age period had now become an end in itself. The adolescent world was a perpetual summer camp that was being extended. Few wanted to, or could, leave. It was, and still is, a substantial entrenched subculture inhabited by people who resented any intrusion by adults, by objective reality, or by responsibility into their world. It has produced a group of people, some of whom are now well into their early fifties, who still reject the adult world.
The heroes of previous decades had been the Carnegies, the Charles Lindbergs, the Edisons, the Goodyears, the Rickenbachers, the Marie Curies, the General MacArthurs, along with successful and responsible people in the local communities–role models which required maturation. The young of previous periods were eager to grow up and become like those role models.
But in the 60s the new centers of attention were the Beetles, the Timothy Learys of drug culture, the Hugh Hefner playboys, so-called social activists such as Abbie Hoffman and others among an assortment of the substanceless, pathological, and perpetually immature. Many role models were borderline psychotics who were dazed on drugs and led chaotic self-indulgent self-destructive personal lives. They managed to pull themselves together just long enough to make a record or stagger out on stage to sing a song. Their “life styles” became glamorized as symptomatic of brilliance, liberation and creativity and were adopted as role models. A false culture developed where any sixteen-year-old who had the capacity to play a guitar and become angry at the adult world could become a center of importance, and perhaps even become a millionaire overnight. That’s not much of an achievement.
Role models in popular achievement today are not good examples of either achievement or maturity. Society does not make demands for maturity. Maturity is not a prerequisite for success or survival today. An examination of the faces on prime TV reveals that probably sixty or seventy percent are immature kooks who have become highly financially successful. Some of them are dangerously unbalanced. If you can have a psychotic break on stage, in your private life, or can be generally outrageous so as to attract attention, you’ve made it in media-centralized society. Monica Lewinsky, who has done nothing in her lifetime but snap her underwear at an eternal child president, is still the toast of media attention. Much of our entertainment, our media content and our cultural editing along the media axis is either directed by, or consists of watching, self-infatuated mental defectives. These have become the unfortunate role models for maturational development.
In a media-centered society, children at the age of five and ten quickly develop superficial personality growth from internalizing the presentations flooding in through TV. That and their memory skills become highly developed very quickly. On that basis the young of recent decades have exhibited a superficial precociousness. But, they have failed to develop important self-discipline, character, sense of reality, interpersonal relationship capacity and many of the other aspects of personal maturity. After saturated development at the superficial level, further emotional growth process slows down markedly with the exception of sexual development. That final state has become not only acceptable in this culture, but since the mid 60s it has become a source of liberated pride.
Simultaneously, the national centralization and glamorization of focus brought on by television made critically important local community figures forgotten or seem drab by comparison. The subjective psychological importance of the local physician, the local business man, the local industrialist, the necessary previously respected people who made the country work and who exemplified the importance of unglamorous day-to-day business–all of these were displaced as role models by glossy superficial national figures on TV. This led to a dangerous psychological reference away from local communities and concrete real life which is characteristic of American culture and political life today. It led to a subtle psychological alienation from real life and real roles in life.
Many of the young of the 60s and 70s were hopelessly soft. They had little or no character. They had little substance. They showed little depth. They had little interest in, or capacity for, day to day responsibility and had no identification with the real adult world. Parents found themselves facing soft cosmetically-attractive immature inadequate personalities who had created a self-referencing enjoyable world for themselves. They found many of their children could not meet anywhere near the expectations which had been met by normal teen-agers and young adults ten or fifteen years earlier and that the most minimal expectations were labeled as being impossibly perfectionistic, abusive, or anachronistic.
For their part, many of the teenagers or young adults of that period often didn’t know anything was wrong with them and were perplexed by any criticism. Today, 25 or 30 years later (and older) many of them have the same values and are in the same mental condition as they were in that period, and still are oblivious of the possibility that anything is wrong with them.
This is a basic problem. While many of the pathological from the 60s and 70s are deliberately manipulative and exploitive and use superficial denial to avoid exposure or confrontation or responsibility, others sincerely don’t know there is anything wrong with them. It’s a little like dealing with the village half-wit. To him, everything he says seems at least as intelligent as what everybody else is saying–and maybe more so because half of what they say doesn’t seem to be at all understandable so there must be something wrong with them. In fact, during secret moments he is sometimes rather certain that he must be a little smarter than they are. In his own mind he must have a brilliant sense of humor because wherever he goes and whenever he talks the people around him seem highly amused. He doesn’t see anything wrong with himself and is the only one in the room who doesn’t. If you put two of them in the same room and they begin agreeing with each other, they can develop astronomical levels of self-confidence.
While not organically deficient, many of the young of that period fell into or created a psychological condition resulting in the same ultimate effect as organic mental deficiency. Within their physical and psychological isolation from any other world, often aided by drugs, generations of youth began to create a warped isolated self-referencing social reinforcement system irrelevant to, or divergent from, reality. Through this psychological reinforcement system which psychologically dominated their environment, a consensual validation evolved in which they, having defined the values of the teen-age culture as all-important, ceased the process of maturation after attaining that level. Within that social system, they lived in a virtual state of warped ignorance, consensually invalidating reality or subjective responsibility through use of peer social pressure.
Most parents of the period didn’t know what had happened. The only thing some of them could say was that their kids were hopeless. They didn’t seem to want to grow up. The kids didn’t seem to understand there was any problem and they were in a perpetual mess. There seemed to be something lacking in a large proportion of a generation.
In a few cases parents did figure it out and took radical corrective action. One kid was becoming one of the biggest goofs in the high school. His father gritted his teeth for a while and when he could no longer stand it, exploded in frustration. He moved himself and his family up to the wilds of Canada where survival would be rough, saying the kid was either going to take some responsibility seriously and become a man or the two of them would die of starvation up there, and as far as he was concerned his boy would be better off dead than to be what he was becoming. The father brought the kid back from Canada for a visit a year later and in an amazing transformation he had become a man. The boy no longer fitted in with his former environment or friends who he now viewed as immature and silly. He and his father looked around, didn’t like what they saw or the way things were going, said to hell with it, and returned to Canada.
Most of the young of that period were not so lucky.
The War Against Reality
In the early- to mid-60s the war escalated. Not the Viet Nam war–the real war–the war in which a coalition of social forces defended themselves against maturity or avoided resolving the developmental conflicts of adolescence by mounting an offensive against parents, society, and anything else representing reality.
In the 60s and 70s parents were being put in an impossible position. They were being attacked on all sides with no support anywhere. To the West was a tantalizing cornucopia of ultimately destructive hedonistic pleasures beckoning: drugs, irresponsible sex, “life styles,” often led or endorsed by rogue religious or other authority figures and glamorized in the media. To the East was a soft generation of youth straining to participate in these new forms of amusement, wanting to know why they shouldn’t be allowed to participate, and taking their tantrums out on parents–with parents in the middle. Simultaneously, from the North, parents had to contend with primary school systems lacking in discipline, teaching the so-called “new math,” new literature, new social studies, new “relevance,” new sex education, and the new ignorance and the new low test scores; and also colleges, where alienated faculties were indoctrinating students for purposes of exploiting them as psychological cannon fodder in the war of continuing hatred they were waging upon American society and social institutions. From the South, parents were being undercut and ill-advised by counter-cultural psychologists and social theorists who first encouraged and then sided with the young in their assault upon parents and American society.
Drugs, indiscriminate sex, and almost anything else a fourteen-year-old mental defective could do, mysteriously came to be labeled as independence. After having attained this new definition of independence, many of the young of that period had permanently-distorted mentalities and did not have sense enough left to find their own behinds, let alone support themselves in economic independence. For those who were seduced by the rhetoric, the new independence ultimately meant fitness to do little else but be in a state of permanent antagonism against a society they were not qualified to enter and which threatened to extract them from a hedonistic eternal teen-age culture.
Meanwhile, education and orientation toward participation in American society were widely interpreted by various theorists as representing excessive domination by parents, domination by parental values, or domination by arbitrary societal values–and supposedly demonstrated an over-obedient conformity and lack of independent thought. Among the implicit premises in this were that the only way someone could agree with willing or enthusiastic participation in American society, or agree with the direction of American society, was if they were dominated and deluded. Or that there was something inherently defective in parental values or societal values.
The possibility that there was an inherent validity to American society and its values and that someone might be able to perceive that validity, was not to be seriously considered. Nor was it, and is it to this day, seriously considered that someone with any maturity, intelligence and sense of proportion might consider much of the new independence of that period as being empty nonsense being carried on by a collection of mindless fops.
This adversarial and subversive attitude is still generationally prevalent in various forms. About 10 years ago I attended a group discussion in which a woman mentioned she had been quite lucky. She had five children. All of them had turned out well. All had obtained good educations. Two of them were still in graduate school and none of them had been on drugs. A forty-four year old psychologist, social worker, or something similar who worked in some kind of drug rehabilitation center and happened to be present took immediate offense, saying the fact they had not tried drugs was due to their fear of breaking the dangerous over-conformity and lack of self-actualizing maturity she had imposed upon them. The idea that her children, with her guidance, might have had maturity and good enough sense to avoid the remedial necessity of wasting years being messed up and undergoing treatment in his drug rehabilitation program wasn’t his frame of reference–and won’t be because he’s going to continue a battle to subvert reasonable concepts of reality and maturity until the day he dies. He may or may not be off drugs, but he is not off the drug mentality–and never will be in his lifetime.
One thing people growing up during that period did learn was sociological and psychological theorizing, for there was plenty of that. This would establish the psychological society which was to come. By the time they were 15, teen-agers were ready for doctorates as sociologists; and if they wanted to do something they could sit down with supposed complete scientific detachment to evaluate and decide whether their early developmental experience was such that it psychologically predestined them to do whatever it was they wanted to do anyway. The rationalization of sociological license became a legitimized social profession.
They are still doing it. One can sit in discussion groups for single people in the Bill Clinton age group living the “single life style”, many of whom are sexual vampires leaving trails of victims with the emotional blood sucked out of them, and hear fascinating theories about how the people there are predestined to commit destructive behavior. They don’t intend to stop or take responsibility, but they have rationalized license. They will act as if they are being impelled by unconscious drives or motivations, but at the same time can, in contradiction, consciously delineate all their predestining experiences, deficiencies and motivations, using them as excuses without any intent of changing their behavior. The period started many people on the road to a psychological escapism and buck-passing about which more will be said later.
Passing the Buck
In the psychological theorizing and buck-passing that has been created, people have sought the advantages of having somewhat the status of innocent helpless psychiatric patients conferred upon themselves. But at the same time they want to deny responsibility for seeking treatment or being socially or physically isolated from the rest of the community. Their primary treatment, in their mind, should consist of unconditional love, understanding, acceptance and unaccountability while they continue their behavior. They demand a type of perpetual relationship therapy, including sex–at extreme cost to others and no cost to themselves. They continue practicing this until their early 50s in exploitive “relationships” in which they denied any responsibility by claiming their exploitive and callous disregard for the emotions of others should be forgiven in the name of attempting to understand themselves or attempting to understand life.
It was, and still is, de-emphasized that the reasonable and sincere way to deal with behavior is to evaluate the consequences and if the consequences are destructive, stop the behavior–quit doing it. There are times when self-understanding is not as important, or is no substitute, for understanding and admitting destructive behavioral consequences. The evaluation and focusing upon the destructive consequences–along with social rejection of people engaging in destructive behavior–furnishes motivation to cease the behavior. This is, for example, the Dr. Laura approach. However, in the insincere psychologizing used to rationalize license, the approach is to focus upon feeling personal impulses, to emphasize how the impulses and other factors helplessly predestine the person to commit behavior, while focusing attention away from the consequences of that behavior.
Parents of that period were sadistically attacked, insulted, and invalidated from all sides. Even the most fundamental elements of sense and reality received no validation. Parents were being universally told they were wrong about everything. In fact, they were the only ones that were correct. It was a maddening time for them.
Under the urging of liberal permissive psychologists and social theorists, parents and others were supposed to keep lines of communication and understanding open, which required subdued nonjudgmental reaction from parents while children and teen-agers freely experimented with life to find their true essences free from adult contamination–the “free from adult contamination” phrase containing an insulting implicit judgment adults were supposed to swallow without showing anger–an implicit insult that also undermined adult credibility and authority.
The experimentation or experiences talked about makes the ridiculously erroneous assumption that very young people can develop a value system by trial and error experimentation from a standpoint of ignorance and that the errors they make will be reversible, non-scarring and non-catastrophic. Drug treatment centers, today, are filled with people for whom the experiments and experiences of 25 years ago are hard to reverse. Many a “life style” and value system experimentally acquired by people 25 or more years ago produced either an arrested or warped mental state that has been hard to reverse and has cost them lost years which are impossible to recover. Many of them have gone through multiple marriages and scarred their children. In the mid 80s and 90s America had more than 22,000,000 adults in this country still living with their parents. Some of them were in their 40s or early 50s and are still trying to get their lives straight. Perhaps a more accurate interpretation is that they were in their 40s and 50s and still attempting to keep their lives immature, and were attempting to co-opt parents and government into maintaining them in that role. Given any sense of reality, it was foreseeable that that was the way it was and the way it was going to turn out for many people, but at the time it was simply denied or over-ruled while parents or other people with any reasoning capacity gritted their teeth.
Under the excessively intellectualized approach to childrearing, parents were being set up by a demand for intellectual explanations and rational discourse in childrearing which puts pressure on people to come up with instantaneous explanations which are often not possible or are beyond the understanding of children, teen-agers, or even adults.
Reason and Limits
I strongly believe, as much as anyone else in the country, in the necessity for reasonable explanations to children and teen-agers. However, there are limitations. Excessive demands for intellectual explanations become unreasonable and impossible, putting parents at an immediate disadvantage, if not an impossible situation. Taking an example from the physical world, most of us use the math formula for the area of a circle: Pi times the radius squared. The formula is valid, but the explanation of it requires calculus to understand. I would guess that probably less than one person in a thousand could demonstrate the proof of that formula without recourse to advanced math books. That formula must be accepted on authority until someone is proficient at the calculus. That’s the way it is. It does not excuse students in junior high school from learning how to calculate the area of a circle nor license students to employ erroneous methods of calculation. However, any student who wants to mock a math teacher can do so by demanding a nonexistent easy instantaneous proof of a formula that required several thousand years to develop.
Similarly, there are many aspects of life and many rules children and teen-agers must accept from authority because there is no simple explanation immediately available. Children and teen-agers are incapable of understanding many things because they lack the prerequisites. That is an innate characteristic of children. That is why children must be raised and educated over a period of many years. Twenty or 30 years later, life, experience, and wisdom will verify rules or provide the understanding–if a person is lucky and develops the capacity by that time. Some people never develop significant wisdom or other capacity. That’s just the way it is.
To say that a parent can only make rules or only have that authority which he or she can come up with short simple explanations to support, or that a child or teen-ager need follow only those rules he has the prerequisites or inclination to understand, is to remove all behavioral limits on children or teen-agers. That may be pleasing to children or teen-agers, but it makes parenting or discipline impossible. Children and teen-agers know that and have used demands for rational discourse to immobilize several generations of parents.
Just as teen-agers could also use denial that they understand explanations as a method of sadistically undermining and tormenting parents (that is, they could deny the obvious while demanding further explanations), so would alienated and hostile psychological or social theorists of the 1960s and 70s do the same thing to mock parents. The 60s and 70s were a period of intellectualized sadism combined with denial of sadism, most of it directed at parents or parental figures.
Whining parents pleaded for their children not to use drugs, and pleaded for their children not to become sexually active and pregnant. They pleaded, whined, groveled and pleaded. But, supported and egged on by various hostile adult authorities who had the same mentality as the kids and who would help immobilize parents, children disputed parents by quoting psychobabble theories about how they were expanding their minds or they were in experiential modes of self-exploration or they were freeing themselves from adult hang-ups and so on. And the parents whined, pleaded and pleaded some more.
More than 30 years later, in the hopeless never-ending task, we’re whining and pleading unsuccessfully with Presidents and First Ladies to grow up.
Parents were supposed to keep lines of communication and understanding open, with nonjudgmentality and unconditional acceptance so that they wouldn’t lose their children. In many cases they lost their children anyway. Or worse, in many cases they didn’t lose them. In subsequent years, America went gone from the empty nest syndrome where parents were suddenly confronted by an echoing empty house after children grew up and left, to a full-nest syndrome–a house full of fully grown adult children who wouldn’t or couldn’t leave. Again, it is pertinent to reflect upon the fact that at one period 22,000,000 adult children are still at home living with their parents. That constituted nearly 25 percent of the adult age group containing those adults. America has been filled with aging tired parents still fighting an uphill battle of trying to get their thirty, thirty-five, forty, and forty-five year old children straightened out–and now the children of their 35-, 40- and 45-year-old children straightened out.
Just as importantly, and to the ultimate point, America has been filled with people wishing their 35-, 40-, and 50-year-old husbands or wives would straighten out. It’s also filled with hopeless 35-, 40- and 45-year-olds married to each other and trying to straighten each other out. It’s also been filled with 30-, 35-, 40- and 45-year-olds engaging in revolving door “relationships” and similar patterns who are never going to straighten out. Reference the Clinton White House for exemplary combinations of the above.
There has been a great deal of theorizing about lack of love on the part of parents contributing to maladjustment and rebellious or neurotic predisposition on the part of children. By a twist of logic this has been construed to imply almost permission for several generations to do what they want while placing blame on parents.
In the theorizing about abusive parents there has been a tendency not to differentiate between abuse from parents versus legitimate protest from parents while children and teen-agers were getting away with committing mayhem. Often, parents of the 60s and 70s were making correct observations or criticisms, but were too passive, having been over-ruled and immobilized by the warped social and intellectual environment of the period. Instead of correcting their children with authority and finality, parents were reduced to employing constant ineffective half-measures–measures often consisting of endlessly repetitive, nagging criticism and protest that produced an unpleasant home atmosphere interpreted as abusive or over-critical, but measures not strong enough to correct the children and the situation. Thus, a situation which should have been corrected and been done with, instead festered and worsened, contributing to hostility and half-confrontation on a continuing basis. The constant atmosphere of nagging, criticism, protest and bitterness from immobilized, angry and frightened parents did produce a debilitating situation which promoted depressive reactions on all sides.
It has been also overlooked that a basic rule is that the more spoiled an adolescent is, the more abusive he or she tends to perceive parents. There two reasons for this. First, the relationships between a spoiled individual and parents, or for that matter between a spoiled individual and anybody else, are intrinsically very confrontional and turbulent. Second, the inability of parents to satisfy the limitless and escalating unrealistic demands of a spoiled adolescent invariably produces a subjective feeling of deprivation on the part of spoiled adolescents. There is no way of satisfying their voracious impulses and fantasies. The more spoiled they are and the more unreasonable those impulses and demands become, the more they expect the rest of the world to conform to their fantasies and demands, and the more deprived they feel when the real world fails to conform to their demands. The spoiled teen-age girl who is given one horse to ride, rapidly escalates her desires to want a whole stable. The spoiled teen-age boy who is given one real airplane to fly, may not then be satisfied with an additional faster plane and an unlimited credit card to go around the world.
Rights vs. Imposition
The spoiled adolescent, be he 15 or 45, does not know the difference between rights and imposition. In any relationship with a spoiled adolescent, you are forced into an adversarial and defensive posture because of necessity to defend both your limits and the limits of reality against constant serious encroachments and temper tantrums, and because he or she neither understands or respects those limits. The spoiled adolescent who hasn’t any internal sense of limits, forces those people around him to establish limits externally through confrontation and enforcement, sometimes physical enforcement, which he or she inevitably interprets as abuse. This is true whether the spoiled adolescent is 15 years old or 45 years old. Spoiled adolescents always believe they are abused or deprived.
A number of young of the 1960s and 70s, and many critics sympathetic to the social changes of the period, wanted, and want, to believe they were far more abused than they really were. Many of them were abusers, more than abused. They created the anger or distance they interpret as abuse or indifference. The question is, how is it genuinely possible to praise or support a kid who is arrogant, irresponsible, inconsiderate, insulting, sadistic, antagonistic, on drugs, and who constantly quotes and has support from hostile countercultural authorities determined to undermine your authority, credibility or values? It’s difficult to love under those conditions. It creates bitterness and deterioration of family relationships. If many of the young of that period had been more considerate, had been more respectful, had been more trustworthy, had been more responsible, had been more loving, they would have received more love. Many of them were not very lovable, then. They were not very lovable subsequently. That is why they’ve had hideous divorce rates. That is why their relationships have failed since then.
The situation has created the psychoanalytic problem of the mythical abusive and/or perfectionistic parent(s). There are those who view their parents as having been abusive or overly perfectionistic and look at this background as having been one of the most destructive and predetermining factors in their lives as well as the basis of their present problems. As evidence they complain that at the present other people can still “push their buttons,” causing turmoil by reminding them of their background and parental pressures or perfectionism. This interpretation is a common assertion to explain many things.
Whether their parents were or were not abusive or perfectionistic is questionable. A therapist’s view of whether he agrees that these parents were perfectionistic often implicitly depends upon what he considers to be reasonable standards for a teen-ager or adult to meet and whether he agrees with the cultural changes of the last several decades. Many therapists or other authorities will begin by accepting the premise of abuse and perfectionism. For practical purposes this premise can constitute social license for pathological behavior.
However, sixty percent of adults from the Bill Clinton generation have not resolved the conflicts of adolescence and do not have the over-all level of maturity or seriousness as did the average eighteen-year-old of 45 years ago. They may be competent technicians; that is they may be able to program a computer or sell something to somebody through personality, but in terms of maturity or character, they couldn’t come close to the character levels of the average eightteen-year-old farm kid of 45 years ago–and they are often wrestling with attaining what was once the twelve-year-old level.
The reason they are still haunted by parental criticism and the reason things other people say still push their buttons, setting off anxiety or anger is because they have not matured or developed much more than they were at the time they were when they underwent the original correct criticism. The anxiety and anger they are falsely attributing to memories of parents or similar sources are properly attributable to the threat inherent in their disordered relationship with reality. Their arguments are not really with parents or parental figures, but with life.
On the practical and specific level, a man may complain of marital difficulties or complain that his wife “pushes his buttons,” making him feel the same way as his parents did. It turns out he’s sleeping with four other women and is seldom home. His wife wants him to stop it. If you tell him he can’t be spending his time with other women and expect his wife to put up with it, he also complains you remind him of his parents. His parents wanted him to grow up, but he successfully avoided it. His wife now wants him to grow up, but he still doesn’t want to do it. If he asks you what is wrong and you say the same thing, you are bringing up the same issue. The issue hasn’t changed because he hasn’t changed. (This has been the essential problem with Bill Clinton.)
There are “liberated” psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers who will treat him, and others like him, as having been the victims of excessively perfectionistic and abusive parents or as being presently discomforted and victimized by excessively demanding and perfectionistic people.
The Control Issue
There is a closely aligned issue, the so-called “control issue.” Dozens of people can be heard phoning radio talk-show psychologists and psychiatrists, or people will come into psychotherapists complaining their spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend is “too controlling.” On the most basic level of analysis, the issue of control indicates there is a difference between the way one person is behaving and the way someone else expects them to behave. The wife, husband, or whatever is asking this person to change or do something he or she doesn’t want to do. The person who claims to being over-controlled says he or she wants to “be himself,” wants “freedom to be myself,” wants “freedom to grow” or something similar and claims that the demands being made are restrictive.
Whether or not the other person is, in fact, over-controlling or too controlling depends upon whether or not the behavioral expectations that person has are reasonable under the circumstances. At some point other people have a right to reasonable expectations of maturity or honesty and those expectations are not being “over-controlling.” At some point in a genuine relationship you have a right to expect some degree of commitment and emotional security rather than being treated as an ongoing temporary convenience. This is not being too controlling, but is a legitimate part of a genuine relationship. At some point, if there are, or will be, children in a marriage, those children must be provided for at inconvenience to the adults having those children. Children are time-consuming and displace other activities. That’s part of the basic responsibility which comes with having children. At some point, exercising some options in life inherently means giving up other options. Those are not control issues, but are reality issues.
This, again, closely parallels the mentality of Bill Clinton, who had a strange woman dragged into a hotel room and stuck his penis in her face, then became indignant over being asked questions he argued nobody should be asked, and furthermore lied in court. Questioning his maturity or mental competency is looked upon as a control issue. Many Americans agree with him and rush to his support.
Today it often turns out that someone who asks for a necessary and reasonable amount of adult maturity and commitment is labeled “controlling.” Concurrently, “being free to be myself” often represents an encoded demand to be allowed to be a perpetual emotional freeloader or being allowed to be a perpetual spoiled teenager reluctant to take any responsibility or to examine any consequences.
In a variation on a theme, one of the stock parries or phrases from the 60s generation when they entered the 80s was, “Do I have to give up myself in order to be loved by you?” The answer should have been, and still should be (when “myself” is an irresponsible, egocentric eternal teenager who views other people as throwaway conveniences): “Yes, absolutely–and the sooner the better.” When “myself” is playing at life rather than making realistic adult choices and commitments: “Yes, absolutely–and the sooner the better.”
Again, there are liberated psychiatrists or psychologists who will interpret demands for maturity as being over-controlling. A therapist, for example, who believes in wife-swapping or open marriage may support a patient’s belief that the pleas on the part of a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend against casual outside sex constitute an invasion of the patient’s freedom and an undue attempt to control or over-control the patient.
The Mask of Sanity
In summation what has come to exist in this country on a widespread level is a nearly unbelievably primitive type of psychological functioning with primitive reality contact which can act out roles. It is a very highly pathological and disordered personality combined with an attractive and verbally brilliant mask of sanity which makes it profoundly psychologically undermining to those around it. These people look so good and are so smooth that it’s difficult or nearly impossible to believe they are as mentally pathological as they are. That’s one of the reasons they are able to continue operating.
Parenthetically, some of these people make excellent actors and actresses because their internal inconsistency and instability lends itself to role playing. They don’t have an internal structure which would interfere with their acting or believing in a role. Pretense in personal life lends itself to pretense on the stage as a profession. This same internal pathology lends itself to pathological and irrational, but dramatic, political and social positions within the profession.
On a specific and molecular level, this personality type is subject to an unending stream of primitive impulses that are unattenuated by conditions imposed by reality and which these people expect to act upon without regard for conflict with reality or with consistency between impulses. It’s a moment to moment stream of impulses. They’ll jeopardize something of importance or something which is supposed to last a lifetime for a night’s pleasure or triviality. They believe other people and other people’s emotions should be whatever is convenient at the moment and support this belief with shallow verbal argumentation. They do not have a clear concept of cause and effect. Nor do they have an understanding that actions are serious and have serious consequences. There is an absence of a sense of reality and stark real consequences to their actions. Seriousness of consequences is denied through arguments employing flippant psychological theorizing. Words come to have an almost magical quality. If a given string of words can be put together, it’s assumed reality will change to conform to those words. Instead of verbal communications being used to describe reality, reality is somehow supposed to change to conform to whatever argument they make up at the moment. They often expect to argue the most basic principles of reality out of existence.
These irrational elements make up components of what some theorists term the borderline or borderline psychotic personality. This type of pathology goes far beyond simple character disorder. Returning to the Freudian concept of the mind as Id, Ego and Superego; not only is there an absence of superego functioning characteristic of psychopathic and character disorders, but there is additionally severe disturbance of ego rationality functions. How psychotic their condition is rated depends upon the condition of the person doing the evaluation. From the standpoint of an evaluator in the same, or agreeable, condition, the condition is not judged as serious. As generations exhibiting the condition have come to dominance in clinical fields, there are fewer professionals remaining to confront what would have been judged psychotic 45 years ago.
In their psychological development, they are about two steps ahead of the kid in the supermarket laying down on the floor having a tantrum–or slightly ahead of the seventeen-year-old with the toy pistols shooting at make-believe bad-men behind trees. Paradoxically, this level of immaturity may exist even though they have doctorates or other impressive credentials from recognized universities. But, regardless of credentials, like the child in the supermarket, they are angry at conflicts between their impulses and reality. Their impulses are at nearly the same level of maturity as that child. They are angry because they are going through what should have been temper tantrums of childhood–-ten, twenty, or thirty-five years late. If the anger is psychologically blocked, it can lead to depression–-and is a cause of depression in America. Because of lack of any internal substance, these are trendy conformists dependent upon outside influence and reference for values.
Parenthetically, the flooding in of desire for unrestricted immediate gratification together with insatiable demands and insatiable ungoverned fantasy have produced a manic insatiability. This insatiability, in turn, has produced a life in the fast lane. In the fast lane, individual people and events move by so quickly that they become a blur and lose their identity–and their individual importance or value. Even if fast lane people had the capacity to form relationships, which they don’t, there’s no time for relationships of depth. People and human relationships of any depth do not exist within this mentality. Their relationships are cosmetic.
One characteristic of cocaine and other drugs is that no matter how fast you’re going, they move along with you. You can keep on moving. You don’t need to see anything but the blur and drugs still work. If you’re running from life, they’ll run with you. Capacity to form human relationships is not necessary to use drugs.
As a consequence of these over-all patterns, we get grown men half in tears because they can’t engage in sexual intercourse with two women at the same time. They have two impulses at nearly the same time and, like the angry child in the supermarket, it’s the most important thing in the world that they should be able to act them out at the same time. This is their level of reality-acceptance and reality contact.
This is how I find myself facing a 40-year-old man with a doctorate degree who complains about the deterioration of his marriage, but when I tell him it would be a good idea if he would spend time at home with his wife, he looks at me with tears in his eyes saying, “But, if I do that, what am I going to do for sex with other women?”
This is why we have the existence of a 40-year-old woman who is now becoming concerned about losing her husband. He’s nice, he’s intelligent, he’s sweet, he’s financially responsible, he’s presentable–-the perfect husband and she says she loves him. She also has one other man she has been sleeping with on the side for fifteen years and a third one for the last two years. Brightly, she announces, “I want to have it all,” waiting for someone to give her the accustomed pat on the head for making a “liberated” statement. Her long-suffering husband is becoming disgusted and is about ready to leave her.
This is what produces a thirty-eight year old man who has a perfect line of seduction which lasts forty-eight hours. Parceled out in two-hour segments, it makes him nearly irresistible to women over a period of days. After eight hours of charm parcels, any woman he talks to begins to see a perfect life that will last forever in a land of perpetual enchantment with an exciting and perfect man. He constantly fools with other people’s wives. He gets them in bed where he’s a sexual grand master. In a short time they are ready to leave their husbands. But, about that time, his forty-eight hours of charm runs out and he moves on, leaving the women in love with him and their marriages in shambles. Some of them attempt suicide. It takes some of them years to rebuild their marriages. Their husbands are torn to pieces because they can only offer real life which doesn’t compare with the forty-eight hour fantasy. He denies any understanding of why turmoil and confusion always seem to be taking place around him. He’s hurt and indignant. He says he’s not doing anything serious. The idea that those are people’s lives he’s playing with doesn’t seem real to him. Real people’s emotions are not real to him.
This is the basic functioning of women who are sleeping with several men, but become angry because a new man they meet refuses to take them seriously or leaves. One of them says indignantly, “I’m a sexual being.”
This is why America is burdened with generations of people who will not sacrifice one thing so they can have something else. They are unable to make rational choices or tradeoffs–or often even admit the necessity of tradeoffs. They are unable to endure a reasonable amount of adult discomfort.
That’s what has created people who want love, commitment, trust, involvement, and openness, but on a conveniently transitory basis so that they can move on or trade for somebody new. They want love when it’s convenient and unlove when it’s convenient, at a moment’s notice. They expect to vary other people’s emotions back and forth like windshield wipers at their convenience. When told that it’s not possible because it destroys normal people, they will fabricate contrived psychological refutations, then, additionally, tell you you’re wrong because they are able to engage in the type of relationships they are talking about and aren’t hurt.
They are correct. They can and do engage in such relationships. The reason they are able to do it is because they don’t form genuine love or deep attachments and are incapable of doing so. They may use the word love. In reality, they vent their emotionally-detached sexual impulses or passing fantasies then move on. If a “relationship” breaks up before they have completed their fun, they are terribly hurt the same way the child at the supermarket was hurt because he had to leave.
It’s important to realize that their painful emotional reactions are not a valid indication of either mature capacity or mature intent. They may complain and cry. They are confused. The tears they cry are real. The tears of the child in the supermarket were also real. The tears of the seventeen-year-old were also real when someone eventually took away his toy cowboy outfit. Their confusion is real. Part of their confusion is the result of having moved back and forth across the boundary between truth and lie that they’ve lost track of which is which. At the same time, on a conscious level, they can be vicious and deceptive. They look at others as throwaway people.
It is also important to understand something else. They are never going to change. At this point in their lives, they are what they are and that is all they will ever be. Many of them are forty years old or older. They have lived half their life, and possible change is after the fact. It’s too late to salvage anything.
These are very demanding and oppressive people in the same way all spoiled children are demanding. They have fabricated a refined maze of evasive defensive psychological jargon and theorizing to rationalize their actions and they demand absolute obedience in supporting their rationalizations or you will face temper tantrums.
What follows is a partial quote of comments published from an unknown original paper, as circulated in selected Internet sites. It is abbreviated as pertaining to some of the issues discussed here:
Sunday, August 22, 1999THE NATION / SOCIETY
Strange to Say, but Neurotics Are Preferable
By PETER WOLSON
The recent outbreak of mass violence in Atlanta and Los Angeles, after the carnage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., has shocked and frightened Americans into wondering what has broken down in our society. Still, it is remarkable how well psychological regulators of aggression have worked in the United States, a largely free and open society. While it is appropriate to account for the apparent erosion of social controls, it is equally important to ask how we have been so effective in containing violence.
According to Sigmund Freud, human beings are animals motivated primarily by their sexual and aggressive impulses. In his “Civilization and Its Discontents,” the psychoanalyst argued that civilization, through principles of morality, law and order and social propriety, controls human aggression to protect us from each other. These learned regulators, however, do not guarantee that our basic animal nature will not rear its ugly head, particularly in a democracy in which aggression is widely tolerated. Nonetheless, mass murder in America is quite rare.
So what, if anything, has broken down in the American psyche?
Since the perpetrators of recent attacks have had severe psychological problems, perhaps part of the answer lies in the radical shift in the diagnosis of mental-health patients since the 1960s, from inhibited neurosis to impulse-ridden and narcissistic disorders. Neurotics are overly controlled by strict consciences, right and wrong, and their fears of disapproval for expressing sexual and aggressive impulses.
Through the guilt-ridden 1950s, the American nuclear family was the primary emissary of society’s moral values. Outbreaks of violence were largely confined to an isolated murder here and there. In the ’60s, the rising divorce rate undercut the nuclear family. American values embraced the freedom to pursue pleasure: sexual, drug-induced, etc. Guilt became bad, impulsivity good.
From the late ’60s till now, therapists have noticed that their patients no longer mainly suffer from inhibition and guilt. Instead, impulse disorders, drug and sexual addictions, eating disorders and victims of sexual and physical abuse have proliferated. These patients are much more difficult to treat than neurotics. They tend to be extremely egocentric, infantile, filled with aggression and possessing little empathic sensitivity toward their fellow man.
Peter Wolson, a Psychoanalyst, Is Director of Training at the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies
Amen, brother, but most of them don’t seek treatment. They write for liberal magazines or run for political office on a platform of restructuring society to license their mentality with the support of tens of millions just like themselves.
The concern in this series is not with people who commit multiple murders, although the crime rate, including all forms of violent crime, is far beyond anything imaginable in the 50s and is a symptom of the described process. What is of concern in this series is that a generation grew up early on in a separate world and went on to form a separate pathological perpetual teen-age subculture in which they parented themselves according to their own impulses while holding the adult world away with the help of alienated adults and the media. – and that they still inhabit and can be seen in the Clinton White House. It created a break with conscience and rationality that may never be restored because the people posessing character and rationality have been both demographically and culturally sidelined and are dying out.
People with such mentalities as individuals, or in a group, produce a turbulent and difficult situation. However, the emergence of a large proportion of such people in generations since the mid-60s was the first step in a much greater problem which radically changed the character of the American nation, including its politics.