Blaming the Younger Generation

One reads now and again of unruly, uncontrolled – dare one say raucous? – young people. Consider this heartfelt lament:

Furthermore, during the last thirty years customs have changed; now when young…get together, if there is not just talk about money matters, loss and gain, secrets, clothing styles, or matters of sex, there is no reason to gather together at all. Customs are going to pieces. One can say that formerly, when a man reached the age of twenty or thirty, he did not carry despicable things in his heart, and thus neither did such words appear. If an elder unwittingly said something of that sort, he thought of it as a sort of injury.

This new custom probably appears because people attach importance to being beautiful before society and to household finances. What things a person should be able to accomplish if he had no haughtiness concerning his place in society! It is a wretched thing that the young men of today are so contriving and so proud of their material possessions. Men with contriving hearts are lacking in duty. Lacking in duty, they will have no self-respect.

Do you find any of this a compelling description of our times? I’m not in the least convinced this applies to us, but then I’ve omitted one word from this complaint: samurai. The first line begins, in full, “Furthermore, during the last thirty years customs have changed; now when young samurai get together….” (Emphasis mine.)

Samurai’s in the original because the passage is one of the sayings of Yamamoto Tsunetomo, an early 18th century samurai (and later Buddhist priest). Hundreds of his observations form the Hagakure (Completed 1716).

If Tsunetomo’s concerns were somehow contemporary to you, then you’d be a three-centuries old Japanese man. If young people were truly that bad, back then, we’d have descended into utter ruin by now.

I well understand that young people might have been horrible three hundred years ago, improved since, and then regressed more recently, but I’m wholly unconvinced.

More likely, in each age, elderly and increasingly cranky men conclude, falsely, that the younger generation is going to seed, and there’s nothing to be done about it except complain.

The next time someone complains about youth run amok, and all society going to pot, remember that you’ve heard all this before…at least as far back as early eighteen-century Japan.

Cross-posted at FREE WHITEWATER.

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