I think the initial turn-around started in the 1950s and 60s, with the generation of post-war parents who, coming from a heritage of privation in the war years, and the Great Depression, delighted in giving abundantly to their kids, proud and happy not to have to deny them anything! In the 50s there was more stuff, new stuff like television, new technologies that seemed wondrous–and there was the money to buy it!
Clothing didn’t have to be worn until it fell apart, and more was store-bought than ever before–because we could!
Dr. Spock changed attitudes and approaches to child-rearing. James Dean glamourized adolescent angst. Alan Ginsberg threw a whole new attitude into the poetic undercurrent of life. Gender values were thrown totally askew from the traditional assumptions: things that had long been kept politely secret began to leak, creep, and leap out of the shadows to confront society with their existence–and the terrible question of their actual rightness or wrongness. The Pill followed changes in attitudes about sexual behavior, and greatly reduced one of greatest of forces towards self-restraint, for women, at least. The evolving of study and understanding of the human psyche changed attitudes about mental illness and disorder: recrimination was replaced with compassion and no one was merely crazy anymore; therapy and medication replaced the darkness of cellars and cells where the deranged could mutter and scream away their lives without bothering the neighbors. As well, a whole new world of excuses for unacceptable behavior sprang up: “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived…” and a whole new bag of excuses for excusing responsibility.
Meanwhile, with a swell of patriotic fervor on the part of citizens who had lately returned from offering up their lives for the sake of their country’s policies, and no longer taking for granted the blessings of a free society, Jane and Joe Public began to get personally involved in government issues. The established government itself, because of the sudden and vast improvements in the speed of information and communication, came under greater and more immediate scrutiny: dissent was on the rise as a political art-form, and our elected officials had less and and less to hide behind, less time to let a decision have its real effect before it was seen and judged by popular opinion.
Technology bounded towards the era of the Jetsons; affluence leaped upwards for many Americans, Hollywood became fiercer than ever, pouring escapist and indulgent glamours over the landscape; Big Business was as busy in its own interests as ever, but the Individual was thinking more and more of his/her own significance-as were women, blacks, adolescents, and every other minority in the nation–and they/we were mobilizing!
The glamour of selfishness brightened: Looking out for Number One!
For reasons social, political and personal, not to mention economic, more and more households had two working parents: the kids more than ever were raised by teachers, television and each other.
Since the 50s, the Golden Rule had been in eclipse, and as the next generation of babies came along, their parents failed to teach this most basic and universal of social contracts, because they themselves had not learned it. Oh, it may have been stated, but it was not being demonstrated.
I do not suggest that change is bad: it is inevitable, and necessary to any growing organism. What I am suggesting is that several very important babies got tossed with the clean-up water. We need to go out and find them, nurture them, and return them to society.
Self-indulgence carries a high price-tag. Always. Sometimes we are willing to pay for an evening’s partying with the next day’s recovery. We are willing to pay the extra thousands of dollars for the cool car, the new technology. But we have to draw lines for ourselves, and realize what we will not pay. We can’t just say Gimmee Now without a regard for the price, or for when it will have to be paid, or by whom.
We who inherited the burdens of our current society from the short-sightedness, the ignorance, the simply mistaken assumptions and beliefs of our parents, and their parents–What are we creating now, to bequeath to our children, and theirs?
I wrote that essay 10 years ago: We are a decade further into seeing the answer to that last question. Do you think we’re doing better?