I tend to hear a lot from friends, family, and random acquaintances about why the world is going to Hell in a handbasket—seems everybody has a different theory. No one can quite agree on what the problem is, but everyone’s sure there is one; things are about to be awful, things are about to change dramatically for the worse, society is going to be Orwell’s 1984, society is going to be Huxley’s Brave New World, society is already this and that terrible thing—
I mean, it’s exhausting. Not that it’s meant to be uplifting, exactly, but. Not a lot of cheery faces in my generation.
Which is fairly easily explained, what with none of us having any decent job prospects and the environment being fucked over and Time Magazine being mean and Lord, don’t even mention student loans. But the general miasma seems to go deeper than that—seems to be an overall dissatisfaction, a confusion, an anxiety, a loneliness. If you listen to the people around me, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong with them; it’s society that’s gone sick.
And God knows there’s nothing new about that, either; isn’t it always Society, hasn’t it always been Society, didn’t the Baby Boomers drive halfway from bat country to Las Vegas high on mescaline on account of Society? (The Man, man.)
So 1968 was angry, so 1968 was starting a revolution, so 1968 was going to change the world. I wonder if 1968 felt quite so tired.
I’ve been doing some activism lately—advocacy against mass surveillance, I’ve met some really cool people (and gotten to hang out with some really cool people I already knew)—and the question is always, always, always, “How do we get people interested?”
Which sounds like it means, “How do we make people care about our cause?” Which actually means, “How do we make people care about anything?”
There’s a lot said about the Internet and smartphones, about the generation of distractability. Everyone says my generation tends not to care about this-or-that cause because we’re so easily distracted, we’re too easily entertained. Your government is overstepping the bounds of its constitution! War crimes in the Middle East! And 16 Cats in Adorable Tuxedos!
But I keep circling back to a conversation I had with my brother in November, when we were sitting in the living room surrounded by Hanukkah wrapping paper, and we were discussing some political cause or other, and he said, “I don’t have any influence over the way the country is run. I’m never going to have any influence over the way the country is run.”
My brother and I tend to argue more or less constantly, idly, in the way siblings do; I enjoy debating him because he’s the smartest person I know and it keeps me sharp, and he appears to enjoy debating me (probably because he’s the smartest person I know and beating me down with logic boosts his ego), and our arguments always end unfinished, with no clear winner. The point isn’t to have an opinion; the point is to snipe at each other, because it’s what we do.
And I don’t think I’ve ever, ever had a gut reaction in an argument with my brother before that night—and I do mean a gut reaction, pure emotion, less I think that’s wrong than I know that’s wrong, that’s wrong, that has to be wrong, no, NO.
Because I really do feel very strongly that the only thing guaranteed to send the world to Hell in a handbasket is apathy. And I really do feel very strongly that, as a generation, we are enormously and incredibly apathetic.
But I believe that to call us the generation of distractability is wrong, and to say we are diverted from serious things by entertaining things is wrong. I believe, as much as I can believe anything, that we are an apathetic generation because we honest-to-God do not believe we can change the world.
We are apathetic because we believe the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, and there is nothing we can do about it. We are apathetic because we are cynical, and we are tired because we do not see cause for hope.
So here I am, beginning with “I mean, it’s exhausting. Not that it’s meant to be uplifting, exactly, but,” and writing a post that’s more or less as depressing as it gets. So I don’t mean to suggest that there is not cause for hope. I make a point of hope. It gets me through the day.
But I suppose the point is that the world seems very, very tired. Which is not a cause to seek out hope, maybe, but a cause to seek out comfort. And to offer it, too.