Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ungreat expectations.

UK Guardian Online
We are making our children ill with unrealisable expectations
Young people are paying the price for an economy driven by dissatisfaction, in which social mobility is in sharp decline
George Monbiot Tuesday 27 June 2006

...there has been a steady increase in mental health disorders among children between five and 16 years old...

...Willy Loman is the hero of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman. He is torn apart by the gulf between his expectations - the promise held out to everyone of fame and fortune - and reality. Even as his modest powers decline and his career falls apart, he believes that he can still be No 1. This used to be called the American dream. Now it is everyone's nightmare.

A survey published in April by the economist Tom Hertz showed that the United States has one of the lowest levels of intergenerational mobility in the rich world...

...Hertz noted that "among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States."

...Here too, declining mobility is accompanied by rising expectations. In January the Learning and Skills Council found that 16% of the teenagers it interviewed believed they would become famous, probably by appearing on a show like Big Brother. Many of them saw this as a better prospect than obtaining qualifications; 11% of them, it found, were "sitting around 'waiting to be discovered' ". The council claimed that the probability of being chosen by Big Brother and of becoming rich and famous as a result is 30 million to one. But the promise held out to us is that it can happen to anyone. The teenagers seemed to believe it can happen to everyone.

And this is surely how much of our economy now works. A vast industry is devoted to selling people images of themselves that bear no relation to reality. The most obvious of these (this is hardly an original point) is the celebration of extreme thinness just as childhood obesity becomes an epidemic...

...One of the conditions that is growing fastest, the British Medical Association says, is self-harm: cutting or burning yourself, pulling out your hair, swallowing poisons. It is commoner in girls than in boys: one survey found that 11.2% of girls had committed an act of this kind. If girls are attacking or seeking to erase their bodies, it is surely because they have been taught to hate them.

The gulf between what we are told we should be and what we are is growing. As children's expectations lose contact with reality, they are torn between their inner lives of fame and fortune and the humdrum reality their minds no longer inhabit. Advertising (and the businesses supported by it) is not the clattering of the stick in the swill bucket that Orwell perceived as much as the carrot that keeps the donkey moving. You are never allowed to come close enough to eat, however hard you pull. An economy driven by dissatisfaction could scarcely fail to cultivate mental illness.

With future economic reality leaning heavily toward living within one's actual means instead of living a fantasy built on credit cards and home equity lines of credit, today's young people are going to have to embrace downward mobility, to say the least. Yet few are prepared to do so - especially in the world of Orthodox Judaism where who can throw the most trendy or elaborate simcha is taken practically as a religious obligation.

A poor girl has no real chance for shidduch, especially when the potential grooms expect to be supported in kollel by her father. In many communities, that's just a fact - and no one questions the morality or sanity of such a process. Their goal is to live a life completely unconcerned about finances - a fantasy life, in other words.

Plenty of kollel wives have to be frugal - but they aren't proud of it. They want bigger stipends and more parental support, not to have their husbands actually step up to the plate and earn a living for his family. Never mind that a woman with kids will never be able to earn as much as a man, in real life. They also live in fantasy land.

And reality is not likely to comply. The disconnect between what they want and what they have is going to destroy marriages, hurt kids, and leave the community at large is a state of stunned disarray trying to deal with them - actually, we're pretty much there now.

It's too late for all the young people who went through high school without having a single class on budgeting, accounting and real-world economics - and who were indoctrinated into the philosophy that all they need was "more faith," and "better prayer" and to give to the "right" charity to be financially secure. They are doomed to a bitter crash with the reality train.

Periodically, some Ravs send out flyers saying weddings should "only" have a four person band and should "only" serve this or that meal and liquor, or something similar for bar/bat mitzvot and each other simcha - but it's not enough, not even close.

And no one ever tells these young families not to have more kids than they can afford to raise and educate on their own income.

Their expectations are so far out of line with economic reality that the two won't actually meet until the entire UO/Chereidi social system collapses, or until the Ravs embrace a radical shift of values (starting with their own) and teach all their students and shul members to do likewise. We must all embrace downward mobility or drown in our debts and unmet expectations.

Business as usual just isn't an option.

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