DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Tough guy Clint Eastwood believes America is getting soft around the middle - and the iconic Oscar winner thinks he knows when the problem began.
"Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life," Eastwood, 78, growls in the January issue of Esquire.
The actor/director recalls the deeper questions were rarely posed during his Depression-era California childhood - and says that wasn't a bad thing.
"People barely got by," Eastwood recounts. "People were tougher then."
Eastwood, whose on-screen tough guys included Dirty Harry and gun-for-hire William Munny in "Unforgiven," was a fighter at a young age.
"I was a shy kid," he says. "But a lot of my childhood was spent punching the bullies out."
That mentality is gone, he laments.
"Everyone's become used to saying, 'Well, how do we handle it psychologically?'" Eastwood says. "In those days, you punched the bully back and duked it out."
When not overanalyzing things, 21st century America spends too much time worrying about ... everything.
"You can't stop everything from happening," Eastwood says. "But we've gotten to a point where we're certainly trying. If a car doesn't have 400 air bags in it, then it's no good."
The somewhat-grumpy-old man doesn't quite grasp the concept of body piercing. "What kind of masochism is that?" he wonders. "Is it to show you can take it?"
The "Dirty Harry" star has good things to say about life as a senior citizen: He likes kids a lot more, has less self-doubt and doesn't sweat the small stuff.
"What can they do to you after you get in your 70s?" he asks.