The Stopped Clock Syndrome

by Sy Schechtman

A stopped clock is absolutely right twice a day. A mere fragment of the total time of a day, but still of some significant impact if those fleeting seconds are added day by day over the mature life span of a person. It is the same with one’s convictions and life style beliefs. If one looks for validation of what one holds dear there will always be proof if one narrows his view selectively enough. There will be at least twice a day validations of one’s cherished opinions in this media driven, sensory laden culture that values, and indeed flaunts, free speech from almost all aspects of our culture. Leading, unfortunately at times, to attitudinal hardening of the mental “arteries”. “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.!” We many times have this ostrich like, head in the sand, stopped clock syndrome, that allows one to snuggle down with ones preconceived notions reinforced by daily input supplied either by television, radio, Internet, newspapers, and even books or magazines. At least twice a day confirming affirmation of almost any perception or conception without trying too hard---unless you are looking for the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge, or that the world is really flat and that several people are missing, having falling off its edges. Even Creationism is back as a possible hypothesis to the origins and development of our planet.

Now we all have our own stopped clock beliefs, depending on our age, sex, religion, economic status, politics, and educational level. The point is that we tend to seek validation of these attitudes, to retreat reflexively into the security of these beliefs. And this may be ostrich like, but it also has protective features, a mental reflex arc that circumvents thinking and aggravating too deeply and allows life style habit to continue productively. Even if from a socio cultural point of view the sky is falling and the ground rumbling with earthquake force beneath us. This great cultural turmoil probably afflicts every generation or historic era, but the last fifty years or so, that period of my adult mature years, many of us had to do emotional somersaults and landed most insecurely right side up. Motherhood was replaced by Mother Earth as the ideal icon to adore; a powerful feminist movement made males guiltily defensive; every renowned center of higher learning proved its worth not by featuring knowledge as much tolerating varying amounts of student rebellion and strikes. No self respecting undergraduate would be caught dead speaking to any adult over thirty--including parents, except when money was needed. Rapidly changing sexual mores pilloried the concept of the virgin female, or male. ( College dorms, and even bathrooms became co- ed, making the possibility of abstaining very difficult.) And there was the homophobe problem; which most of us uncomfortably accepted, because as avowed heterophiles we much preferred that path for our children.

And there was the Vietnam War, a family torment and nation divider. A minefield of dissent pitting often dubious but patriotic parents, veterans of several needed wars---World War 2 and the Korean War--against children who had no feeling for the slogan "my country right or wrong!" Plus the atom bomb, the "evil empire" of an expansionist Soviet Union and their launching of Sputnick, etc. etc.... One simple instance of this clash of the old and the new, between the parents and the children, a generational schism really, was reflected for me graphically in the way select merchandise was sold in our very own local drug store. Up until the late sixties or early seventies tobacco products, the various brands of competing cigarette brands mainly, were on display and readily available. No where in sight was that prime sexual necessity--the condom. To buy condoms was a surreptitious purchase indeed, the sale consummated by the clerk reaching under the counter to some secret place where they were stored and in some sort of sidewise fashion, as if making sure that no third person was watching, wrapping the package and taking the money very hurriedly. Today buying condoms is a very deliberate affair, for one is now confronted with a very large assortment of size, color and even the promise of ecstatic delight if one but chooses the right product. And tobacco products are now more or less under the table. Available but the people involved buying them somewhat guiltily because they too feel inadequate and wanting. If anything it is the sin product of our times; certainly not the condom, which is the key to a gratification our society seems to insist is one of our inalienable rights. And as another proof generation schism, it is the adults who are not smoking as much---the kids are still spending the money for the greatly overpriced pack of cigarettes to show their defiance of adult cautionary advice.

Rare indeed was the family with teen age children who did not find many emotional potholes along the way. And most of us coped by relying on the values, and shibboleths that shaped our upbringing--our own stopped clock cushion. We gave ground grudgingly, but after awhile certain values were rounded off at the edges--to say the least. In the sexual struggle some and then more mothers took their pre college daughters to be fitted for diaphragms, but with the devout stricture that only if you truly loved your partner would you ever allow intimate sex to occur. But then there was the vacation break when daughter brought her “steady” home. First it was definitely separate rooms while home with parents and then some compromising along the way. Then there was the use of the family car for uses other than its primary transportation purpose. Then there was the use and abuse of so called harmless recreational drugs, marijuana and alcohol, agents which quickly led to an explosion in teen age car insurance premiums because of the increased accidents due to the reckless driving of the drunken or doped up teen drivers. I believe that those who ceded the moral high ground grudgingly, with due respect to their stopped clock old fashioned principles, still retained family unity to a greater degree than those who allowed a very liberal approach. Many times the abdication of parental input, the shrugging the shoulders in cultural impotence to the excessive surge of libertine trends, has robbed equally confused children of the desperately needed steadying hand of involved and concerned parents.

Inevitably a situation of relativism evolved, a sort of "dumbing down" of moral values. Compromise without too much loss of love and respect on both sides. If you like, the "hypocrisy of standards", a concept that was sneered at by the young as they gloried in their contempt of the older, still in control generations. Today our life styles are not quite the same as before, but still the general framework, or at least goal, of society is still monogamous, heterosexual union, although single family child rearing is a growing feature of the societal mix. Feminism has produced both more reluctant males and more independant women----, women who can to a varying degree become self supporting and rear a family. And men who are somewhat feckless, settling for ‘free sex' with no conjugal ties that demand increased responsibility, caring. and sharing. And, if divorced, are not too anxious to pay their proper share of child support.

One of the villains is relatively rapid change brought about by accelerating technology. One of the last centuries significant achievements was the liberation of women due to safe and effective birth control techniques, notably the contraceptive pill. Equally important was the vast computer driven increase in productivity and output that spurred the largest increase in gross domestic output ever, leading to the need for a larger work force and the relative ease for the now sexually liberated woman, if she so desired, to be self supporting, and even very respectably unmarried. But the basic villain is Economics, as in our beloved capitalistic system, which thrives by changing luxuries into necesities! A prime example of which is the coming fight over energy conservation this very summer. Energy conservation as exemplified by air conditioning. Only fifty years ago or less it was only beginning to make inroads on our way of thinking and living. Sweating, and damp armpits and smelling somewhat malodorous were not merely the result of athletic endeavor, but the normal state of the "good old summer time", where open windows with screens were the cooling agents we relied on. Except in expensive hotels, restaurants, and movie theaters where we luxuriated with air conditioning.. And then, soon after, lo and behold!, the deep South gradually rose to equal prominence with the rest of the country as it attained year round air conditioning. As did the rest of the country in due time somewhat later. And to this day this is not the life style state that our other prime industrial peers have yet achieved, by far. Indeed the concept of the air conditioned cars, among other things, made for the European market is still an extreme novelty. As is residential air conditioning on any where near the scale as in the United States.

If indeed we have an energy crisis and have to retreat now, ---- trade down to a less comfortable life, --- as this somewhat dire scenario of energy shortage suggests, we will need mentally to employ some more of the emotional cushion of the stopped clock reflex to help us endure. With less of the blessings of abundant electricity will we employ the Spartan ethic of heroic deprivation, the Puritan ethic of right and wrong to ferret out the cheaters, or the Calvinist ethic of "God Helps Him Who Helps Himself." which inevitably leads to black markets and distortions of the whole process of mutual sharing.? (As was quite common in World War Two when rationing was the order of the day.) The basic ethic, as always, will have to be the Old Testament one, "I am my brother’s keeper" and "I will not do anything that is hurtful to me to my neighbor."

Hopefully we will have more basic energy supply so mankind’s good intentions will not be so severely tested!!