Miércoles 5 de Septiembre de 2007, Ip nº 206

Dress Like Your Child, and the Terrorists Win
Por William Grimes

Fathers in America used to have sons. Now they have mini-me’s. Pop and his offspring head out to the mall dressed in the same outfits: baggy shorts, sneakers, athletic socks and T-shirt, topped by a baseball cap. At home they watch Cartoon Network, play video games and eat lots of breakfast cereal. One is older and bigger, the other smaller and younger, but their tastes overlap to a remarkable degree. Today’s child truly is father to the man.

Diana West, a columnist for The Washington Times, finds nothing amusing about this. In “The Death of the Grown-Up,” she argues that the steadily expanding reach of youth culture over the last half century has brought Western civilization to the brink of disaster.

It’s more than just baseball caps, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans and four-letter words, although those are bad enough. Narcissistic baby boomers, she writes, have methodically reversed the maturation process, destroyed parental authority, subverted traditional values and imposed a bland, sticky multicultural agenda that leaves the West unable and unwilling to confront its enemies.

Whew. Part argument, part rant, “The Death of the Grown-Up” sees signs of doom and decay everywhere. Ms. West’s polymorphous anxiety embraces pimp and ho Halloween costumes, James Dean, the Beatles, freak dancing, supersize fast food, street crime, subway riders who do not give up their seats to pregnant women and declining standards of shame among Rotary Club members. Oh, also Islamic jihad.

Ms. West writes with great flair. She has a columnist’s talent for seizing on arresting facts and locating the sort of outrageous incident guaranteed to make the blood boil. She has a sense of humor. What she doesn’t have is a sense of proportion. Nor does she have the intellectual firepower to make the argument she wants to make. The death of the grown-up has preoccupied her, she says, for the last decade. This is a remarkable admission. Ten years in the oven, and the theory still comes out half-baked.

The gist of it is this: In a now-vanished age, parents knew the difference between right and wrong and taught it to their children. For reasons that might have been fascinating to explore, the same generation that fought World War II, the Greatest Generation, rejected this role, raising children more interested in self-gratification and creating their own culture of music and clothes than in emulating their parents.

“The common compass of the past — the urge to grow up and into long pants; to be old enough to dance at the ball (amazingly enough, to the music adults danced to); to assume one’s rights and responsibilities — completely disappeared,” she writes.

Rudderless, the baby boomers developed a values-free, nonjudgmental world view that reached fruition in multiculturalism, a debilitating condition that has left the West virtually powerless to argue for its own interests, to recognize and denounce evil or to resist aggression. Somehow, the backward baseball cap and stone-washed jeans, for a keen cultural eye, tell everything you need to know about this sad condition.

To get from the baseball cap to Bin Laden, Ms. West takes more leaps than Carl Lewis. She is long on assertion and light on data. Generally, one key text by an academic authority, mined extensively for quotations, props up each pillar in her argument, while juicy anecdotes fuel the book’s general tone of sizzling outrage.

Ms. West does know how to set the pulse racing. Along the way, we read of parents who hire strippers for their children’s parties, schools that have dropped honor rolls as too hurtful to students who do not make the list and a suburban mother outraged that her daughter has been suspended for giving oral sex to a classmate on the school bus. In court the mother argued that the school “was not clear in its written policies that oral sex on a bus was unacceptable behavior.”

Ms. West’s right hand needs to watch what the left is doing. In one case after another, the community reacts with outrage, or a judge throws the argument out of court. Common sense and local standards, it seems, do occasionally score a victory, but Ms. West will have none of it.
Trapped in “a quagmire of nonjudgmentalism,” and “an infantile lack of behavioral restraint,” American adults have abdicated their traditional responsibilities, refused to grow up and adopted a “whatever” passivity to each and every moral challenge thrown their way.

Ms. West makes a principled, conservative cultural argument unflinchingly. She thinks that censorship was a good idea, that elites played a vital role in presiding over the “court of taste and manners” and that schools have been asked, far too often, to do the work that parents should be doing. “Banned in Boston” was great, she argues insouciantly. Enlightened repressiveness gave spice to forbidden works, energized the avant-garde and made subcultures possible.

“It is a strange and, I would argue, new state of affairs when rebels without a cause face off against reactionaries without a reaction,” she writes.

This cultural analysis fits awkwardly with Ms. West’s grand thesis about the West’s failure to confront Islam. Not Islamic fundamentalism, not Islamism, but Islam.

Here again, Ms. West volunteers to face the hard facts. Grown-ups would understand that the threat to the West comes from tenets inherent in Islam, not from extremists or terrorists distorting the message. They would also be confident in their own culture and prepared to defend its values. Ms. West sees no grown-ups on the global horizon, not even President Bush, who, in her view, makes a huge mistake in calling Islam a religion of peace, and in assuming that its followers value freedom and human rights.

Wrong. Totally wrong. Ms. West, with enormous energy, explains why, none too convincingly. Centuries of history whiz by in a blur. The generalizations fly fast and free, obscuring completely valid points in the process. It is absolutely true, for example, that the West has made its own case poorly to the rest of the world, and has often dealt with Islamic radicalism by pandering, condescending or denying.

No matter. Ms. West, in her style of argument, shows herself to be more a child of the 1960s than she might care to admit. In the end the facts matter less than the emotions. She surely remembers the slogan: If it feels good, do it.


  29/08/2007. The New York Times.


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