Will COVID-19 Be a Generation-Defining Event?
Could the COVID-19 panic lead to a generational shift in culture comparable to those resulting from the Great Depression or the advent of the personal computer?
The new era we are entering could set up a new generation of people ready to obey orders. After all, “stay at home,” “shelter in place,” and “social distance” sound to many like commands that ought to succeed. Therefore, governors and mayors, even the president, as well as heads of state around the globe, have issued them under the misguided assumption that free people will not avoid contact during a pandemic without the application of force. Nevermind that voluntary isolation and the use of masks began trending as early as January 2020 among certain communities as knowledge increased, i.e., voluntary precautions preceded their mandates. Taking advantage of, and feeding, the panic, politicians have promulgated executive orders with the force of law. No public input, nor any cognition of the constitutional balance of powers, mitigated the rapid development of such decrees from the exalted ones. Any denizen can be fined, arrested, imprisoned, or manhandled for violations of these novel controls. Technocrats operating under the orders of both elected and nonelected officials demanding immediate results lack the time, expertise, or, frankly, the interest to research the consequences of their actions. With all deliberate hubris, they simply love adopting the guise of “savior” and its attendant popularity. Contrary to their claims, hastily cobbled together rules lead to interminable deprivations for individuals, families, and entire communities. Aside from the oft-considered effects on the food chain, the financial well-being of the citizenry, the threats against the survival of businesses, and pervasive bankruptcies likely to come, these effects extend into areas of mental health. Discussions have appeared regarding depression and suicide.
The ill-conceived new rules subject people to unacknowledged hazards. Imprisonment or assault by the obsessed constabulary in response to the coronavirus panic, could, through irrational rules, inflict enormous suffering on innocent citizens. Police departments from several municipalities have been observed, and photographed, issuing tickets to persons sheltering in their cars at drive-in church services and at sunsets. Persons sheltering in their cars are, by definition, isolated. In terms of effective quarantine, the shield provided by one’s automobile amounts to as effective a seclusion as would find in one’s house. Besides, in this era of price inflation in housing, the vehicle may be the only home for a growing cadre of victims. They meet the physical requirements for stopping or slowing the spread of the disease. Other instances have shown folks who were socially distant (at least six feet) attacked or manhandled by officers in blue. Such assaults result from nonsensical, vague, and contradictory restrictions imposed inconsistently and with inadequate notice, but with the force of law.
The misapplication of force is predicable, for law enforcement hopes to cash in and collect more lucre to fill the state's coffers while claiming to keep people safe and projecting themselves as tough on crime. Many of the victims of this oppression are poor people who cannot afford to pay fines. These represent a jackpot for the government because it can then issue follow up levies and collect interest on unpaid penalties for months or years to come.
The question this article asks is whether the current panic, administrative overreach, and personal isolation represents a generation-defining event? Will children ages six months (or younger) to approximately twelve years (or older), have a sense of foreboding permanently imprinted on their personalities like those who grew up during the Great Depression? This in no way intends to disparage today’s youngsters, but examines a potential unintended and unrecognized consequence of state-imposed stay-at-home orders. The Silent Generation of the 1930s, which also fought during World War II, had a lot going for it, as illustrated by Time magazine description of them as having an optimistic outlook. Members of this time regiment must be credited both metaphorically and literally for bringing recovery to societies the world over after the devastation and ashes wrought by a decade and a half, or more, of economic deprivation and military conflict. So, the generation is not to be denigrated. Although tense times spawned fear that nuclear Armageddon could occur imminently and introduced MAD (mutual assured destruction) as the default foreign policy, this age group led civilization out of the upheaval intact and avoided annihilation by World War III.
As a result of the pervasive fear foisted on all by politicians, could Gen Alpha and the latter part of iGen now become the Covid Gen? If so, the state fearmongering described above might lead this generation to bear some similarities to the Silent Generation. Defining common traits of this cohort would include obsessive cleanliness, only feeling comfortable outdoors when wearing a mask, looking askance at anyone not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), a rapport-crushing desire to keep distant from others, avoidance of intimacy, and a strong desire to stay at home and only communicate electronically. Should, as is likely, a new serious inflationary depression start, hoarding and frugality would constitute more common traits. Although admitting that no two generations have identical traits, certain of these qualities resemble those of the Silents.
The obsessive cleanliness would stem from the repeated exhortations, even lectures, to wash hands frequently for fear of contracting a deadly disease. Think of the effect of pervasive societal paranoia on a young mind: “Wash your hands or DIE.” Surfaces must be kept immaculate and smell of chlorine. Face and extremities must remain chapped from the effects of soap and must reek of alcohol. The obsessive fear of germs, or more properly virions, would lead to a discomfort when away from home that would only be poorly assuaged by wearing face coverings. For the rest of their lives, persons with this anxiety could be expected to look askance at strangers not wearing PPE. To recognize the potential similarities to the Silent Generation, consider the latter’s ideals for housekeeping and decorating. In those days, a sort of zenlike image was valued: clean, straight lines, narrow neckties, straight A-line or pencil skirts, and long, low jetlike automobiles. Idyllic Spic and Span was iconic. Rogers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, especially the songs “I Enjoy Being and Girl” and “Sunday” typified the image in the art of the times. For further evidence of artistic simplicity, ponder the 1953 unnamed painting of Clyfford Still: an almost solid canvass of blue with only the barest of accents.
More characteristics would include the irresistible desire to keep distant from others and avoid intimacy. Again, this is suggestive, at least superficially, of the antiseptic environment revered in the 1950s. Diverging from that cohort's traits could be expected the aforementioned urge to stay at home and communicate electronically. However, should a new serious inflation and depression start, hoarding and frugality would constitute other common traits shared with the Silents. Although the 1950s may appear to the casual observer as an epoch of conspicuous consumption, emblematic of that supposed acquisitiveness were small, modest houses; low-end Fords, Chevys, and hot rods; spare furnishings; low-cost simple performances, movies, and television; and drive-up hamburger stands replacing sit-in diners. (It was not until the 1960s of the Baby Boomers that wealth and debt-based consumption returned. Only in the 1960s were folks rich enough to take time for protest marches and sit-ins.) The Silent Generation was too busy rebuilding the world.
Are today’s politicians setting civilization up for a new era of nose-to-the-grindstone silence, unquestioned obedience, and submissiveness to authority? Will a second Great “Recession,” deeper and more tenacious than the last one, a mere decade ago, require twenty years of hard work for recovery? Only time will tell, but the overlords certainly relish the idea of exercising their power and taking credit for “saving the world.”