Monday, August 6, 2012

Panic Years—an Indecent Proposal, or really just flailing at the wind


Let’s see if I can bring this together.

As of late I’ve been pondering the future—and with the future comes the past, all that has gone on before. It’s hard not to worry.

There is so much paralyzing news: mass shootings, Voter Suppression, Citizens United, climate change. None of these, absolutely none of them are anything I can do anything about. Sometimes I wonder what happened to hope.

I’m not talking campaign slogans. Yes, Obama ran on hope, and IT WORKED. Four years ago. Notice how no one is chanting hope today?

Now I know the world continues to turn—whether we have hope or not. But hope makes the heart lighter, lifts the spirit. Raises the possibility that people do matter, that we can change the way things are.

I was nurtured in hope. Born into the 60s—never mind when—I was of a generation at the vanguard of change. How could we not—that whole, messy mass of Baby Boomers—leave its mark on mankind. Advertisers crafted their messages just for us; we were the engine of the new economy. The world turned on the post WWII generation. For a long time the answer did lie in modernity, what we could build, manufacture, formulate in labs. There was nothing we couldn’t do or a problem too big to solve. Finally polio could be eradicated or TB if there was a will, DNA decoded, and genome pools to explore. We could make nuclear power work, we could mine clean coal, drill safely for oil in fragile ocean environments because we’d engineered shut off valves.

There was so much hope—or was it hubris?

I remember a series of popular paperbacks with the titles Age of Science, Age of Reason, Age of Belief. I thought recently we’ve entered the Age of Screwed Over. What have we left for the post-Baby Boomers?

I know, I know they’re called Generation X or the Millennials. But, really, is that what they call themselves? Are there enough of them to constitute another force, to make a dent, to change the world?

Lately I hosted a band called The Panic Years. Now I wasn’t familiar with their music, so I googled them and read that they sing about loss and the struggle to find order. There was other stuff on their band page, lots more, but my mind stayed on that word: loss.

It’s more than 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Iraq war, all the wars. It’s that there is nothing no one can do about anything. This group of young people are pretty much the Age of Screwed Over. The Baby Boomers consumed most of the jobs, resources, we are responsible for the housing bubble, for Banks Too Big Too Fail, we voted Democratic, we voted Republican, we got to vote, drive cars, afford college (mostly). We got the hope. They got the short end of the tipping point. They got the hottest summer on record, health care out of reach, tons of student loan debt, and a housing market so riddled with scandal that mortgages seem analogous with scam. We got a free lunch; they don’t even get the leftovers.

Yeah, I’d be grieving too.

And, I’m not just talking the decline of American Exceptionalism (what the  . . .?). This is global. Young people everywhere are moving back home, into their parent’s basements, taking jobs as cashiers when they have law degrees, putting off families, putting off graduate school—or else going for broke, MORE schooling. In Spain 50% of young people are unemployed. Here in the US it’s hard to get specific, but 1 in every 3 graduating college has trouble finding a job in their field of training. In Tunisia where the Arab Spring started there was real frustration—so many people are educated, in fact OVER educated, and there was no room for advancement, no jobs available. Global Unemployment.

That truly 20th century belief that progress would solve all problems has been replaced by a deadening fatalism. Indeed, who is listening anymore?

I propose community.

It’s not going to be easy, but couldn’t a few of you, the Age of Screwed Over band together, squat in an abandoned house, buy a tear-down in Detroit, put up gardens, acquire chickens, hang some curtains, paint the outside pink, sunflower yellow, or the blue of wildflowers growing crazy in the empty lots. If the glory has gone, couldn’t something new be resurrected? Just for the moment, come together, find an old couch, put it on the porch, sit and sip a beer?

This isn’t progress or paying down the national debt, but community is a way for one person not to feel alone.


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