Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Rockwell Scale/Degree of Hardness

Do I have your attention? Thought so.
The hardness/brittleness/resilience of materials is important to know, either precisely for the engineer, architect or product designer, or just enough mostly empirical knowledge for the homeowner or hobbyist to get by without making an inconvenient or dangerous mess of a project. The Rockwell scale applies to metals, and I haven't looked up what applies to plastics, but I think with plastics it is simpler and depends on the amount and type of additive chemical (if you've ever made candles, it's similar in the amount of stearic acid used to soften the wax so it will melt in advance of the flame at the rate desired). OK, now I've lost your attention -- here's the real topic after that dull intro:
After mulling over differences between succeeding generations during yesterday's post, I thought an awful lot has been written about and by the Boomers, but I wish there were more analysis of the mental world inhabited by the Greatest/Silent generations except for the usually mentioned and obvious profound effects of the Depression, WWII, and the deserved relief of the 1945 - 1963 period (peace and rebuilding ended by the sudden shock of the Kennedy murder). I've seen some other distinct patterns in their behavior, however, that beg a psychological/sociological explanation. We can understand their thriftiness when as young people they earned maybe $25 a week and remembered their parents being unemployed for long periods. That can easily be carried too far, but in general we can agree it makes sense to keep your head on straight when easy temptations all around are causing others to lose theirs. Their parents learned their values in the Edwardian world: discipline, submission to authority, beliefs held without question even if the belief system was full of glaring contradictions (if it were ever examined). Even in the early 21st century, the Greatest generation's bedrock of belief lies in the late Victorian world.
I recently re-read the Studs Lonigan triology, great fiction but really a social analysis that should be used in place of a lot of textbooks. The very Irish Catholic family in Chicago (depicted during the WWI to early Depression era) votes Democratic, because that's what urban immigrants did, but their values are reactionary, xenophobic, narrow and uninformed in the extreme, and utterly conformist. They supported with barely controlled violence institutions and systems that were not in their own interests at all. Isolated and easily perturbed peasants of hundreds of years before were hardly much different despite the skyscrapers, airplanes and worldwide communication and transportation that made the material world this generation and their parents lived in.
Rigidity as the core of their mind-set can be observed in some curious behavior:
I had an assistant once who worked part-time as a retirement job, mostly to stay active and get out of the house. He did the same procedure each day with minimal supervision, which suited both of us since after he was gone, I knew no one younger would put up with such dullness for very long. Once he said, "It's Tuesday, spaghetti night." He explained that he and his wife had a set meal for each night of the week. This routine was easy, I guessed; no decisions to be made -- as if it were a most desirable goal not to exercise the brain the slightest bit. Archie Bunker liked complete predictability, too. I wondered about the costs of giving up the freedom of making choices and the delights of experiencing or learning something new.
I see a couple nearby who go out in their car at the same times each weekday and arrive back home at the same times, indicating a particular task assigned to each day. I think this harks back to the farm life of their progenitors; my grandmother had specific work designated for certain days of the week: Monday was laundry day, period. Probably in her youth Saturday was bath day; there were reasons behind this arrangement, like the impracticality of bringing lots of water to boil on a woodstove more than twice a week. Routines, habits, beliefs and traditions are maintained after the reasons for them are mostly forgotten: for example, a mandatory Spring cleaning, thorough beyond our imagining, was absolutely required to remove the effects of heating with dirty coal for a longer and more severe winter than we're used to. There were probably rational bases for complete or seasonal religious food prohibitions which are still taken seriously; those reasons have disappeared due to refrigeration, scientific germ theory, or great social changes but the form persists after the content has gone missing.
So people must somehow now try to cope with a world changing more rapidly than humans ever experienced before, stuck with the mental equipment of their parents' generation which comes from a century earlier.
As Ringo sang, "It ain't easy!"

1 comment:

  1. Coping with change? Look back on the last 30 years and see how much has happened, but only on a day-by-day basis. We blend into it.
    And the simple, designation of daily chores, allows us the stability to accept other changes in our world.
    Maybe mom and pop had something there?