After we returned from an early dinner with friends late Sunday afternoon, we began to hear the reports of disturbances a few blocks away from where we live in downtown Huntington Beach. The annual eight-day-long and well-attended US Open competition had just concluded around 5:00. The neighborhood had been packed with attendees all weekend, and residents, as they do each year, grumbled about the trash and beer bottles strewn in their yards. The high-traffic-mark of that event had been Modest Mouse’s open air beach concert on Friday night, when parking had overflowed all the way to the front of our house fifteen blocks away. We thought we had seen the worst of it.
Huntington Beach is a solidly upper middle class beach city in Orange County, and the northern neighbor of affluent Newport Beach. Its beaches and vibrant downtown area are magnets for Southern California beachgoers. Predictably, they are mostly young and often rowdy.
By the time the week-long youth-oriented event concluded late Sunday afternoon, many of the adults had returned home. With all other sources of stimulus depleted, the youths turned to rioting. They fought. They knocked over porta-toilets. They tore down traffic signs. They smashed store windows and looted. Our city’s police called in backup from all over the county to quell the rampage. Thus far, police have made seven arrests.
I could not help but reflect on how our culture has failed our youth. With so much leisure time, so little training, so few productive outlets, and such a diminished set of traditional values, perhaps a surf contest was like throwing a lit match on kindling. Younger generations continue to swamp our cultural institutions. Families, churches, schools, Boy Scouts and other youth organizations, etc., have all declined since the 1960s, such that each new generation creates its own culture rather than inheriting what came before. We are all Bowling Alone, as Harvard professor Robert Putnam put it in the title of his influential book, inheriting progressively less and less of the culture that came before and increasingly taking on a spirit of narcissistic nihilism. The decline in our social capital delays adulthood such that younger generations take longer and longer to civilize, being detached and isolated as they are from society. A society which, in turn, is more detached and isolated with each passing generation.
Impromptu rioting, so long as it “feels good,” is perhaps just one visible result.