Friday, 6 December 2019

Everything was better when I was growing up...

Going to Hell in a Handcart (Soyer, 24 July 2017).
We humans are really strange creatures.

I have been watching the rise of a fascinating fashion trend, 'grandpa' fashion. Macklemore's hit song "Thrift Shop" from seven years ago nailed it with "Imma take your grandpa's style [...] Can I have his hand-me-downs?" (and for those of you who are bemused by 'imma', it is short for 'I'm going to'. No. Don't roll your eyes and say that "people used to be able to speak the language properly when I grew up").

We catastrophise other's behaviour, using time as a measure of quality. To see this in action, talk to an elderly person who likes to grumble. You will note that they seem to think that the world is going to hell in a handcart. Morals, language, manners, ability to park a car, or how much things cost, are "nothing like they were in my day". They are correct to a certain value of correct: but it is the world which has moved on, while they have not.

We want to hold onto what we know as 'good' (ie, we know the rules, so we feel comfortable), and shift we don't like as 'bad' (ie, we no longer know the rules, so we feel uncomfortable). Douglas Adams had something really useful to say on this, in his last book, the Salmon of Doubt:
"Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things" (2002, p. 95).
The rules governing human behaviour - how we speak, how we smooth public and private interactions, travel from place to place and make purchases - are constantly evolving. The progression is largely glacial, so we don't notice this slow shift from within in our lifetimes. Change is happening, but we generally can't see our stodginess until we interact with much younger people. Then the shift becomes very visible.

Over a hundred years ago, Kenneth John Freeman, a Cambridge scholar of Greek education 500-300BC, paraphrased what we assume to be voices of ancient Greek scholars on "the youth of today":
"In the period of juvenile emancipation and increasing luxury and indulgence for children which marked the closing decades of the fifth century, it became customary for conservative thinkers to look back with longing, and no doubt idealising, eyes to the 'good old times'." (Freeman, 1912, p. 71). [The next few pages call witnesses to these views: Aristophanes, Isocrates, Plato, and Xenophon].
"The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. […] Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannised over the paidagogoi and schoolmasters." (p. 74).
There we go: we humans ARE crazy. We long for the golden age when we knew all the rules and we could hang onto our 'truth'. Even the great thinkers did it, over 2000 years ago. The truth has probably moved on a bit since 300 BC.

And that is why grandpa style has slowly grown into the trend that it is today. The young people are now starting to drink the Kool Aid, and believe that everything was better for their grandparents.

Imma take your grandpa style and raise you one.


Sam

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