By the time a man reaches his 70s, he has passed through the stage of forgetting his youthful irresponsibility and is remembering it again. Whatever the irresponsible youth of today get up to, their grandfathers did similar things. Far too many of us in the older generations get our diapers in a twist about the threat to society posed by our grandchildren’s wildness.
Of course sometimes they go too far – further than we went, perhaps – but we ought to be more tolerant of the activities in principle. Children jumping off cliffs is the latest outrage; but didn’t we all do that when we were younger? We didn’t all drown, but that owed more to good luck than to good judgment. Young men driving cars too fast or too dangerously or too drunk, is a serious social problem; but hasn’t it always been? Those of us who did it in our time (when we ourselves were young and stupid) generally survived; but wasn’t that more by good luck than good judgment? Sure it was.
I fell asleep at the wheel once, late at night and sober, and in the days before seatbelts. A telegraph pole was two yards to the right of where the car stopped. If I’d stayed awake another fifth of a second, it would have been two yards to the left. Another tenth of a second, well... I once wound my crappy little Hillman Minx up to seventy miles an hour downhill with four of my National Service mates on board. The brakes were shot, at the time, and slowing down was achieved only by changing down the gears at high revs and by careful use of the handbrake. How stupid; how irresponsible; how lucky.
The thing is that when you’re young, you’re invincible. If life were a comic-book you’d be a superhero. And what kind of superhero ever took advice from wusses? Warning notices at Pedro? As some poster in the CNS forums pointed out, the notices will come in handy as alternative jumping-off platforms. Don’t speed down the middle lane of West Bay Road? Hey, bring it on: catch me if you can. Don’t do drugs? Peace, man: go chase the bad guys. Girls, don’t have babies? Well, but my babies love me.
It’s not that we can’t understand our irresponsible youths, it’s that we pretend not to understand them. They are us. Older readers of this blog who never, ever, drove fast or played fast: stay out of the debate; you have nothing to offer. Those who did, know that the reason why they’re here today is sheer bloody luck.
If only we could get inside their heads, these irresponsible young idiots... But we’d be surprised by what we find in there. We would find images from electronic games, TV and movies, of fast cars and dangerous jumps and ferocious fights and mass slaughters, rapes and disrespect, intoxication (mainly alcohol) and promiscuity. How can signposts at Pedro and lectures from policemen and churchmen hope to compete with those exciting images? What’s the solution? All I know is, until we get rid of the humbug we’ll never find a solution. Putting small-time thieves in jail while letting big-time ones go free: that’s humbug. Going after low-class gangs while ignoring “establishment” gangs: more humbug.
Who else besides me remembers “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”? What a great movie that was! Remember when Butch and Sundance were trapped by law-enforcement agents on a high, high, rock, and escaped by leaping two hundred feet down into the rapids, and Sundance couldn’t even swim? Wow. That was a pretty cool jump, eh?