The Kids Are Alright

Kids. What the hell do they know? A whole lot, apparently.

I’ve just returned from my old school, where I spoke to senior high school students about careers in journalism (my central message: it beats having a real job).

After tolerating my lame opening speech, the teenagers asked a range of questions so wide-ranging and clever I felt like sitting down and asking them to do the talking.

I mean, what is the point of doing anything for youngsters unless you can lord it over them like some kind of Sun King? It was a humiliating experience, made worse by the kids’ extraordinary politeness. "Thanks for coming to our school and talking to us," one girl said as I was leaving. At her age, I would’ve needed three "umms" and two "ers" before I made it to the fourth word in that sentence, even if I’d thought to say such a thing in the first place.

"Umm, er, thank you," I replied.

The whole ordeal helped reinforce a horrible idea I first had a few years ago: Today’s younger generation might be better — at least, are potentially better — than all who have gone before them.

They’re not cynically ironic and vaguely paranoid like Generation Xers. They’re not creepy and lazy, like hippies. They’re not demographically over-represented and smug like Boomers. And they’re not paralyzed by straightjacket social conventions, like the Boomers’ parents.

Why are they so? Part of the reason: These kids grew up with The Simpsons. Who wouldn’t be well-adjusted and smart after years of exposure to Homer.

No wonder my generation is so angry. We had nothing to entertain us but Scooby Doo and his repulsive doofus sidekick Shaggy. Just thinking about them now makes me want to eat powdered glass.

Another, arguably more important reason: These kids grew up in a post-ideological world. The Cold War ended when they were infants. They don’t care about redundant arguments over left versus right, workers versus oppressors. They aren’t scared of market forces; they’re eager to get into the game.

Interestingly, this even applies to kids who are part of the anti-market, anti-globalization movements. Last year I interviewed some young activists at a meeting to organize a left-wing political party. After listening to them jabber about "selling" anti-market ideas, "motivating" people to join, and "generating" the money needed to fund the party, the thought struck: These kids are teaching themselves capitalism. Give them time, and they’ll swap sides.

The process was underway during the meeting. When an old lefty began ranting about the need for the new party to "ban police," a youthful soon-to-be-ex-revolutionary muttered: "We get a lot of her type at these things."

This freedom from grouch-making binds of the past makes for happier, more creative, more balanced people, in all sorts of fields. In the 1970s, Howard Marsden ran an Australian racing team for the Ford motor company. Drivers of that era, he said, were almost pathologically competitive; one, Allan Moffat, once sat at the wheel of his stationary race car for hours after a mechanical failure robbed him of victory, unable to contain his despair.

When the windshield of his car became smeared with oil during a race in 1972, Moffat undid his seatbelts and drove on while leaning out the window of his Mustang at 160 miles per hour. In 1978, when Moffat’s car caught fire during a pit stop, the Canadian-born driver attempted to smother the flames with his bare hands.

Today, Marsden marvels at Craig Lowndes, a youngster who risks all to win, but isn’t devastated if he doesn’t. "He’s a modern person," says Marsden. "He isn’t horrified by defeat. It doesn’t hurt him."

Back to school. An old classmate, Debbie Hynes, is now the drama teacher. So we could have time to talk, she set her class of 15-year-olds a ridiculously complex assignment: Design a proposal with advertising, presentations, and the whole deal to scam cash from the government’s arts funding board so they could produce a play.

The kids launched into this with terrifying industry. A couple of them seemed as motivated by the idea of tricking the government as by any artistic idealism, and kept asking questions about exactly how much money was available.

Good for them. Ten, 15, 20 years from now, today’s liberated western kids will be running the global show. Bring it on.

Tim Blair is an Australia-based journalist who first encountered the horror of environmentalism as a grade school student, when a bearded teacher told him that all the fossil fuel in the world was about to vanish and everybody would soon be driving electric cars. Born in 1965, he has been a senior editor at Time magazine, a columnist at Sydney's Daily Telegraph, and the editor of Sports Illustrated's Australian edition. He currently writes for various Australian newspapers and magazines, publishes and has owned dozens of cars and motorcycles — none of them electric.

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