Saturday, February 02, 2002

I have enormous sympathy for irate New Yorkers (first, for having to live in New York, but also for) having to deal with a huge throng of ignorant, immature, misbehaving kids marching through their streets and disrupting the sense of public security that was only recently returning to that city after Sept. 11th. But I wonder, reading a bitter New Yorker's angry rant at the WEF protesters, if she and her fellow defenders of public order notice how much they sound like their counterparts of thirty-five years ago, venting their fury at the far more dangerous and disruptive protesters of an earlier era--and how much those now-celebrated protesters actually resembled the current ones in their political confusion and irresponsible disruptiveness.

Boomers like to think, of course, that there's a clear distinction between their own youthfully idealistic fight for a better world against narrow-minded defenders of a corrupt status quo, on the one hand, and today's rowdy hoodlums disturbing the public peace and spouting radical nonsense, on the other. (And being the dominant demographic group throughout their lives, they get to decide society's--and hence history's--verdict in each case.) But the striking parallels between the eras demonstrate that the true difference turns largely on the perspective of age; society's middle-aged, middle-class solid citizens will inevitably react more negatively to the threat of social disorder from radical youths than will its rebellious, coddled teenagers.

After all, it's true of America in 1967 and 2002, with the same people in both roles. That's about as close to empirical proof of a sociological claim by controlled experiment as we'll ever get.

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