Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dead children, dead dreams, and lies

Palo Alto is nick-named "Shallow Alto" by locals from Berkeley. It is a place where BMW's and Mercedes Benzes are as common as Toyotas in other parts of the Bay area, where exclusive homes hide behind bushes or boldly proclaim the affluence of their owners depending upon whether it's old money or new money (old money doesn't proclaim, new money does), where upscale shops are the rule and big boxes need not apply, where the schools are the best and have all the college AP courses that any aspiring Stanford student would ever want or need, where... where in the past four months, four young people have deliberately walked out in front of trains to die.

Palo Alto, it seems, is a place where the American Dream has gone to make its last stand, where the desperation of parents to make sure that their own children do not fall out of the comfortable upper-middle-class affluence to which they are accustomed has led to pressures upon children that they are not capable of handling, where every child is instilled with a desperation, a fear, that if they are not the best, if they are not at the top of their class, if they are not popular, if they don't take all the right extracurriculars or are lousy at sports so do not look good to recruiters from top colleges looking for "well-rounded" students, then they are failures, doomed to be one of those people who shuffle around pushing a shopping cart, a piteous beggar in the cornucopia of America.

Palo Alto. It is a kingdom of fear, in the end, fear of failure, fear of falling out of the upper middle class, fear that this generation will be the last generation of upper middle class America as the American Dream turns into the American Nightmare of Mexico North, a nation of piteous ill-educated peasants and a small upper crust of masters who rule them all, a place where an ill-defined sense of panic clutches each heart in a deadly grip. And a place where children, overwhelmed, step out in front of trains and end it all.

Palo Alto. It is where the American Dream has gone to die, and with it... so, too, do the children die, killed by dreams turned to nightmares, dreams turned to lies.

-- Badtux the Sombre Penguin

Yes, it took me all day to write this post. It wasn't an easy one to write. I only wish I could do it right.


  1. Sort of reminds me of the suicides in Japan by overwhelmed students.

    And B/T, don't beat yourself up because you could not find the words. Some tragedies are just so difficult to understand that they leave us all speechless.

  2. There were also four student suicides in a town near here. Granted, Geelong isn't Palo Alto. Its economic driver (pun intended) is a Ford car plant that's on the skids. (Another pun intended.) But it's in a beautiful place on a big bay, near an even bigger ocean, and it's in a relaxed country. But kids are still finding it too hard to keep living here, too.

    But wait -- it gets worse! Media censorship, in the name of "saving the children," kept a "60 Minutes" (yeah, we got one of those here too) report on the suicides off the air. And the censorship campaign was led by a former state premier (i.e "governor") from the conservative party. Even worse than what goes on in the U.S.!

  3. You got it right. Personally, I'm surprised we aren't hearing more about this stuff...

  4. There is a fear amongst many young people that what they have now is the best they'll ever have, that the world is irretrievably headed on a long downbound train into a new darkness of world-wide collapse from which civilization will never recover, that there is no hope for the future of Mankind, only toil and misery and deaths by the billions as the ecology of planet Earth collapses due to global warming and the poisoning of the environment by mankind. When you read about things such as every fish in every U.S. stream is contaminated with mercury, or you read about adults denying that global warming exists when there is now a scientific consensus that it exists and is a dire threat to the ecosphere, it is hard to not agree with them.

    Thing is, us old farts are used to living under a cloud of doom. Living next to a large SAC base I got used to the feeling early -- we knew as a child that my family and I personally would never survive a nuclear war because we were on Ground Zero so to speak. Plus we're old. We know we're going to die, and relatively soon, I'm closer to death than to birth. But young people feel like they are going to live forever. Living forever, each year worse than the next as civilization slides into a new Dark Ages that will never end...

    Of course, for most, it never comes out that way. They never intellectualize it. It is just a sense of impending doom that is everywhere today, regardless of what your age and socio-economic status is. Poor kids turn to crime, which is slow suicide in a way given today's prison state, and affluent kids walk in front of trains. And elderly people show up at health care town halls and angrily shout, "you keep your government hands off of my Medicare!". As Dr. Howard Dean has pointed out, that last statement has nothing to do with Medicare or health care. Rather, it is that ever-present feeling that things have gone wrong, and a desire to shout out angrily about that feeling, regardless of whether the anger comes out in a useful or accurate manner...

    - Badtux the Gloom Penguin

  5. I think you wrote it very well . I was raised in Berkeley Ca. , when it was a town unto itself . I saw the armed and ready Nike missiles up at the "park" a mile from my home and had to think about how little would remain when they launched . I went to cotatilions(?) when I was young and was being groomed for all that BS . Thank the creator for Acid , I spit that silver spoon out a long time ago . I do feel sorry for todays kids and my solution wouldn't work for them . In fact I lost a few of my class even after the Acid . Life is hard as we living know , I guess not everyone can find the strength in themselves to live . Too bad such a "prosperous" country as ours can't find a little more compassion for others .
    a tired and sad w3ski

  6. Not sure you could do it right?

    Friend, in the words of a literary character, "Tha hast done champion."

  7. You did yourself proud, Badtux. I can only think of one blogger who might have written it better, but she (Tarleisio, a.k.a. MoltenMetalMama) lives in Denmark, where the problems you describe are somewhat less urgent.

    The kids aren't wrong, you know, in their perceptions of the world, but they are wrong to take the coward's way out. The world of the near future doesn't necessarily have to be worse than the one in which we now live, but it does have to be different.

  8. No one says this as well.

    Super kudos, BT.

    Everyone should be linking to your fine memoriam.


    P.S. I write about this reality as much as possible, and wrote about the rise in suicide rate of the troops who are under so much war pressure earlier this week (and lectured on your subject when I last taught Business Management to a class comprising sophomores to seniors - who agreed that their parents' standard of living was slipping away from them everyday).

    fear that this generation will be the last generation of upper middle class America as the American Dream turns into the American Nightmare of Mexico North, a nation of piteous ill-educated peasants and a small upper crust of masters who rule them all, a place where an ill-defined sense of panic clutches each heart in a deadly grip. And a place where children, overwhelmed, step out in front of trains and end it all.

  9. Suicide is not a coward's way out. I don't believe people make a reasoned decision "life is too hard, I'm bailing". Rather, suicide is associated with overwhelming feelings of despair. If one is suffering from depression, experiencing waves of despair, then suicide becomes, to some people, the only hope of putting an end to continuous misery.

    It takes a lot of courage, even with utter misery, to violate the instinct to live and take one's own life. That these young people are in such a mental state, undiagnosed and untreated, is an absolute travesty.

  10. To admit depression, to admit the despair, would be to admit imperfection and these kids have been taught since birth that they must be perfect, that they must pretend to be chipper and happy, or otherwise they risk being unpopular losers and thus cast out of the Eden into which they were born. I do believe that the children who walked out in front of trains were depressed. On the other hand, the gloomy milieu into which they've been born, the constant pressure to be the best or be cast out of Eden into the hells of being poor in the United States (and being poor in the United States *is* hell, I've been there, I know), means that admitting the depression and getting treatment for it is not happening. Even if the child somehow manages to express that he needs help, the parents will deny it, because their children must be perfect, must not have any real problems, else their child will not make it into the good schools, will not get accepted by the good universities, will not become one of our new ruling class in this Mexico North that we are building here, but instead will become one of the peasants, one of the ruled. That is not acceptable...

    - Badtux the Saddened Penguin

  11. BadTux, I agree with you completely.

  12. Oh, and you don't need to live in an upper-middle-class environment to grow up depressed, and to have your parents deny the diagnosis of depression. I know this from experience; fortunately, I was never depressed enough to seriously consider taking my own life, and even more fortunate to get some help as an adult.

    Having walked in that particular valley of shadow, I also agree that intense pressure to be the perfect kid definitely helps push one into it. I grew up "knowing" I could be perfect or I could face a miserable life of unloved desolation. That's tough on a kid, and certainly not what my parents would say they believed... but that was the message I got.

  13. You done good, BT.

    There's a rich old family from Mass - three of their kids accepted values other than money and all did OK. John, Bobby & Ted. The point being, they grew up with money and values other than greed.

    Flip the coin - there are kids on the poor side of the tracks who believe money is everything. Brings to mind an old Simon & Garfunkle tune 'Richard Cory' - the poor, broke, envious bastard never realized - money wasn't IT.

    Money is fine - but teaching a life of WORTH means allowing & encouraging your kids to find values greater than greenbacks.


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