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Jewish World Review July 7, 2000/ 4 Tamuz, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

I wanna be around -- THERE'S A GRATING QUALITY to the Gen X and Gen Y whippersnappers who, along with their stock options and dot-coms, dominate our world. They resist the wisdom of the ages and any knowledge not found with point and click.

Youthful arrogance and self-perceived invincibility are not new. However, this is the first crop of arrogancia not to crack a textbook. They know it all without, thanks to the public schools, ever having studied history, unless you count the lifeline questions with Regis.

Last year Jay Leno asked college graduates, "What is the Gettysburg address?" One graduate, clothed in cap and gown, offered, "A letter addressed to the Getties." Last Sunday's New York Times ran a 34-question high school history quiz taken by 556 graduating seniors at 55 colleges, including Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Questions such as identify the 20-year period during which the Civil War occurred were too tough for them.

The average score was 53% and two of the questions covered Beavis and Butthead (99% got that right) and Snoop Doggy Dog (98% got that right). Only 22% knew that "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" came from the infamous address to the Getties.

Cicero wrote that to not understand what came before us is to forever remain children. Gen Xers and upcoming Gen Ys don't understand civilization's basic tenet of all knowledge: there's not much new under the sun. By the way, the Leno grads had a heck of a time with the solar system.

There's a "we are the new technology and economy" attitude that signals, "You have nothing to offer us." They want degrees without going to class, paychecks without loyalty, and millions via stock options with little work.

A young man approached me after my speech on ethics that emphasized the common-sense things we once had as moral consensus: honesty; keeping our word; playing fair. He, in all of his 27 years, offered, "Your speech was very lovely, but with this new technology we need to abandon Judeo-Christian values. They don't work anymore."

Oh, kid, precisely because of technology and its power, we need these values. Jon Huntsman, the chemical magnate, after meeting with a group of Gen Xers on Internet contracts observed, "Some times I wish I were born 20 years earlier, so I'd be dead. Then I wouldn't have to listen to this nonsense."

KISS' Simmons

My young critic has not learned time's lessons; its brutality on human frailty and its consequences for the uneducated choices of youth. That there are inevitable consequences of choices and time, even for the rich and famous escapes the techies. The members of the rock group KISS have hearing loss and carry Ben-Gay on tour for bad knees. The Beach Boys rely on chiropractors and Ozzy Osbourne listens to Frank Sinatra to warm up for a concert. How the mighty art fallen. How the excesses of youth take their toll.

Tony Bennett's hit, "I Wanna Be Around" keeps darting through my mind each time a Gen Xer or Yer annoys me. For these young 'uns who discount our values and advice, as if we are Brachiosauruses, I wanna be around when history repeats.

I wanna be around to invest in laser technologies that will remove the tattoos you sport from ankle to jugular. When you hit 40, you'll discover that nature gives you her own spider web tattoos --- the varicose vein. You can take a Sharpie marker and play connect the capillaries for a tarantula look.

I wanna be around to hear you confess history's repetition, "Where was my mind and what was I thinking when I engraved my neck like a heavy drinker in the Navy?"

I wanna be around for the physical and mental consequences of "hooking up." Psychotherapists will rake in the dough answering one question: How come if I did what I wanted sexually I'm miserable? Treatment for the physical ailments caused by the sexual indiscretions of youth should also be lucrative. Like my friend Kelly says, "They'll spend their 30s and 40s getting over their 20s."

I wanna be around to see their leveraged lives when the down side of the market cycle hits. When I explain to my students that home mortgage interest rates at 17% were a bargain in the Carter administration, they look at me as if I am Rumpelstiltskin. They have come of age in a Dow of 9,000 and think Alan Greenspan cures all.

I wanna be around when they can't pump iron at the gym each day because of pain from body parts whose existence had been a mystery. Their day with lumbago will come and they and their tired joints will discover that the human body can grow jowls anywhere.

I wanna be around when 24/7, the cell phones, the e-mail and the pagers finally frazzle them. I will then tell tales of Sunday closing laws, when we all had a day of peace. Work could wait until Monday along with the Einstein bagels and Starbucks coffee runs. We did only 15/6 and needed no Prozac for stress and no Halcion for insomnia.

I wanna be around when their children try to figure out why Adam Sandler and Seinfeldwere funny even as they try to understand our Bob Hope and Don Rickles. I wanna be around when they realize there is an economy beyond e-commerce. Pipes still need a plumber, not a Web site, and the Internet doesn't do alterations. The carpenter, the seamstress and all those they believe have been passed by in the new economy will charge dearly for life's inevitable clogs and buttons. I wanna be around to point and click, my finger and my tongue, respectively.

I shall also make a little cash in the futures I hold in the wisdom and history of the ages.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings