6,000 years of antisocial behaviour
"We live in a decaying age. Young
people no longer respect
their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently
inhabit taverns and have no self control."
6000 year-old Egyptian tomb1
"New" menace to society
In 1898, newspapers in England warned of the menace of "hooligans"
and of a "dramatic increase in disorderly behaviour".
The Times reported "organised terrorism
in the streets".2 In every decade
of the 20th century there were similar media panics.
Meanwhile, at the start of the 21st century, politicians
have (once again) revived and stoked public fears of juvenile
misbehaviour. A new Anti-Social Behaviour Act has given
British authorities extraordinary liberty-eroding powers.
Mainstream journalists often parrot government press releases.
Then, for "balance", they question whether or not
governments should interfere in how parents raise children
(a side issue at best). They tend not to question the belief
that there is some kind of new, unique, escalating
menace which requires urgent action.
They don't question the idea that this is part of a distinctly
modern malaise so unlike the good old days, when
young people had more respect...
A time of lawlessness & disrespect
"When I was young, we were taught
to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth
are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint".
Hesiod, 8th century BC
"What is happening to our young
people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents.
They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with
wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become
Plato, 4th Century BC
"The young people of today think
of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents
or old age. They are impatient of all restraint... As for
the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech,
behavior and dress."
Attributed to Peter the Hermit,
In April 1738, the press covered a report from a British
Government committee which had been set up to "examine
the causes of the present notorious immorality and profaneness."4
In the 1800s, hordes of teens and pre-teens ran wild in American
city streets, dodging authorities, "gnawing
away at the foundations of society", as
a commentator put it. In 1850, New York City recorded more
than 200 gang wars fought largely by adolescent boys.5
The Golden Age
"Juvenile delinquency has increased
at an alarming rate and is eating at the heart of America"
US juvenile court judge,
In 1992 the Wall Street Journal published two lists,
ostensibly of the biggest problems in schools in 1940 and
1990 ("as identified by teachers"). The 1940 problems
were listed as: talking, chewing gum, making noise, running
in the halls, improper clothing and littering.
The 1990 problems were: pregnancy, suicide, drugs,
alcohol, rape, robbery and assault.
By the time the Journal printed the lists, they'd
appeared in hundreds of media publications, books and political
speeches. In 1994, a Yale professor demonstrated that the
"1990" list was from a 1975 survey in which principals
(not teachers) were asked about crimes (not general
problems). The sociologist, Barry Glassner, points out that
when teachers have been asked about problems in schools,
they respond with items such as parent apathy, lack of financial
support, absenteeism, fighting and too few textbooks
not rape and robbery.7
But the lists "confirmed" common beliefs
that morals are breaking down, that everything is going to
"In the late 1990s the number
of drug users had decreased by half compared to a decade earlier;
almost two-thirds of high school seniors had never used any
illegal drugs, even marijuana. So why did a majority of adults
rank drug abuse as the greatest danger to America's youth?"
(Barry Glassner, The Culture of
inscription quoted in R. Buckminster Fuller's I Seem to
be a Verb.
2 From Laurie Taylor's article, Looking
with a historical eye, published in the 1995 Channel Four
booklet, Battered Britain.
3 Whilst the quotes attributed to
Hesiod and Plato seem well-supported, the attribution of this
quote to Peter the Hermit has been questioned
by some. Another, similar quote, commonly attributed to Socrates
(but not included here) is also questionable.
4 Fortean Times no. 39, p41.
5 Quoted in Barry Glassner's The
Culture of Fear, p75.
6 Ibid, p75.
7 Ibid, p75-76.