Guest Post: A Twenty Something Speaks
(As much as anyone else, I am guilty of complaining that “the younger generation” is absent from the developing collapse dialogue. More than once I have said that if permanent change is to be made, first the young must become involved, then change needs to be embraced by the average Jane and Joe. But when the young raise their voices in anger or protest, such as the On Wall Street contingent, my tendency is to complain about the methods they use or the process they follow. This is patently unfair of me and hypocritical to boot.
With this thought in mind I present the following from Steak, a ZH Veteran by any measure with more time in than me, who many know from the playlists he drops into the comment section from time to time. Please take a few moments and read what he has to say.)
To my peers:
Being born in 1984 offers a special perspective on where society is at present, as well as where it might be going. We are digital natives who also remember the old ways. Our first years of elementary school were characterized by paper encyclopedias, library card filing systems, and Apple II computers. We reached our teenage years just in time for AOL Instant Messenger to become a dominant force in our social lives, and we weren’t just pioneers on Facebook, we were on THE Facebook.
Having a foot planted on each side of distinct historical eras defines us. While the question of generational divides along technological lines is a commonly explored theme, the great divide unique to us is economic.
Those before us only knew and only expect an ever increasing level of prosperity. Those after us only know the turmoil of collapse. The older ones are attached to a world that never truly existed, and the younger ones have trouble imagining any sort of better world. All the while we children of 1983/84 grew up in the last parabolic push of the most prosperous era in human history. It was enough that we can remember in vivid detail how it was, but it did not last so long in our lives that we have some fundamental expectation for it to persist.
At least where I grew up, the idyllic childhood in the bubble years was disrupted by a sign that perhaps things were worse than appeared on the surface. Around the time my cohort was starting middle school, many of us had new kids in our classes. Atlanta being a popular place for refugee resettlement, in the mid 90’s there was a wave of immigrants from the former Soviet republics. We gave them shit as ‘ruskies’ and ‘commies’, but they came along early enough that by high school we were all just part of the same groups.
They were hard, all of them. Where they came from there was hunger, deeply ingrained organized crime, and ethnic hatreds. Their parents were PhDs who had to work for the mafia just to make ends meet. There was a deep appreciation on their part that America was a place, still in those last few years, where if one followed the rules there was a shot at a comfortable life.
It all seemed so dramatic. We were just kids, and those were stories from distant lands. We didn’t know they were describing the violence of collapse. They didn’t know they were only the first victims of a wave that would follow them here and one day sweep the world. Looking back, those things are clear both to us and to them.
Being born 1983/84 put us in a unique position on the day of the inflection point of our time. By September 2001 we were seniors in high school and all around 18. Sure there was talk about how the government would respond, but on that day and in the following months the real question was how WE would respond. Go to college or go to war? In May of 2002 Eminem spoke directly to us when he said:
Fuckin' assassins hijackin' Amtracks crashing,
All this terror America demands action,
Next thing you know you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'
To join the army or what you'll do for there Navy.
You just a baby,
Gettin' recruited at eighteen,
You're on a plane now,
Eating their food and their baked beans.
They gonna take you 'fore they take me
Some decided to fight, some were horribly injured, and others died. I can’t commend or condemn how any of my friends decided they would respond to the attack, it was a deeply personal decision for everyone. But that was where we broke with the past. Our parents, as they were conditioned in their lifetime of prosperity, waited for someone to do something……and we realized that someone was us.
For those of us who went to college, we once again found ourselves at an interesting and unique intersection in history. As a member of the class of 2006, we had the incredible luck of entering the work force and gaining critical experience in the last year before the financial collapse. Five years later many of us are moving up to management positions, or at least have substantial resumes. This puts real decision making authority at our fingertips.
There is a responsibility to those older and younger than us, since we are a bridge between eras. It is our responsibility to tell those older than us that the world they have known all their lives is dead, and they fight for it at the expense of future generations. At the same time we must make sure their knowledge does not retire when they do. Our responsibility to those younger is to show them, not tell, but show them that a better future is possible through what we can create.
So far we are handling these responsibilities well. A decade of war has made our peers the most skilled, adaptable, and combat proven fighting force the country has seen since World War Two. 1980's baby Mark Zuckerberg helped found the social media industry, where people in their 20's are making fortunes working at the bleeding edge of technology and social interaction. And most dramatic of all, our peers are at the vanguard of revolutions all over the world from Tahrir to Wall Street.
A source of great strength is that we see the world for what it is, but have also seen what it can be. The way we engage the world is fundamentally driven by an understanding of two great waves sweeping the world. One is collapse, a collapse that began in earnest in 1991 and since then has been deferred and delayed, but not deterred. The second wave is technology. It has the potential to organize us to defend against forces that would tear apart our societies, our families, and our faith in others. Technology has the potential to give all access to pillars of free living including health, energy, and information. And it is on us to fulfill that potential.
By any quantifiable measure of wealth or opportunity, we will be the first generation of Americans to have less than our parents. Yet there is no room for self-pity. There is no room for wishing times were not so hard or that our burdens were someone else's. The coming conflagration and its fallout are ours to engage and overcome. Others wait for leaders to deliberate and decide, but we do not have that luxury. For us there is no hope. There is no fate. All there is are the things we create.