Monday, June 16, 2014

The Jaded Generation

When you’ve grown up with everything being wrong, it becomes hard to understand what “right” is. There’s been a lot of talk about how the Millennials, Generation Y, or whatever it’s supposed to be called, are all a bunch of vapid narcissists who are too lazy to get anywhere in the real world. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but it’s the least of this generation’s problems. We have grown up in a time where things fail to be even superficially all right. We have become adjusted to the madness that constantly happens around us, like children growing up with parents that beat them regularly for no reason. That’s what we are, in a way—the abused children of history.

The September 11 attacks happened when I was in second grade. I remember the day, though not that well. Other people my age have said they barely remember it at all. We have grown up in a world shaped by it, and we’re too young to even remember how things used to be and wish they could return that way. Not that they were by any means great before that point—far from it. But 9/11 gave an opportunity for some sinister powers to pounce, and shape the world in dangerous, ugly ways.

The invasion of Afghanistan came almost immediately after 9/11. The country was At War now, which is a big concept when you’re a second-grader. But after that war drags on for years, you begin to forget there was even a time in your life when it wasn’t going on. We’re still in Afghanistan. A lot of people my age probably barely think about it anymore. I don’t really either, for that matter. It’s How Things Are—and how they’ve been for years.

We invaded Iraq when I was in third grade. By this point, my friends and I were pretty convinced that this must constitute another World War, like the ones we knew vaguely of from school. Not quite, as it turned out. During the two World Wars, the government emphasized that sacrifices had to be made, things had to be run differently, and so on. Here we had a government essentially telling everyone to go on with their everyday lives while they handled the war business. Don’t worry—we’ll make sure you’re safe.

After Saddam Hussein was found and imprisoned, the war seemed pretty much won to me. I was confused as to why it didn’t seem to be coming to a close. But it definitely wasn’t, and eventually that became another part of How Things Are. We’re out of Iraq now—unless the government decides to launch airstrikes to quell the chaos that’s currently going on there, an ugly byproduct of our long, bloody war.

I was a freshman in high school when the economy, seemingly out of nowhere, fell to bits. It was like a second Great Depression, they were saying. But there was no New Deal—just some bailouts and a stimulus package that made sure there was still something of an economy left. The country didn’t come together to dig itself out of the new depression, didn’t unite behind any FDR-figure—just splintered into angry ultraconservative fragments decrying “socialism,” then later a failed left-wing movement trying to break the corporate stranglehold that’s only been getting worse. The economy, meanwhile, has been limping along the road to “recovery”—which means good news for Wall Street, but not much for the rest of us. The economy doesn’t serve us anymore—it’s just run by corporations, for corporations. That’s just How Things Are.

Then last summer came the revelations about the NSA. Outrageous, sure, but surprising? Not really. The government might have pretended to respect civil liberties decades ago, and kept its violations on the DL, but by this point it was pretty much expected to admit it had no regard for them. When a bill passed a few years back to give the president authority to hold anyone indefinitely, it might have seemed unnerving to people older than myself. To people my age, it was nothing surprising—the government does whatever it wants, for the sake of protecting us. Just another part of How Things Are.

And yet, I don’t think there are many people in my generation who are actually all right with all of this. We don’t really remember how things were before corporations ran everything, we were constantly at war, and the Bill of Rights was just a piece of parchment, but we have an understanding that it had to be better than this. There’s definitely a desire to move past this era and into a better one.

But that desire is all too passive in those who even have it, generally speaking. We’re used to things being out of our control, so we just sort of hope they’ll work themselves out. But that blind hope achieves nothing. We need to actually recognize that there is a potential for change—it might take drastic actions that go outside of the normal ways of getting things done, but these are the sort of circumstances that require that.

We have to remember the success of the Civil Rights Movement—a movement that secured rights for a small and hated minority of the population, against huge opposition and in stark defiance of How Things Had Been. We also have to keep in mind the sort of things that helped lead to that movement’s success. They went a lot further than passively hoping for better.

No comments:

Post a Comment