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Wednesday, 28 November 2007 00:00

Today’s youth are missing in action

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I was 22 years old in 1967. Although it’s become fashionable to downgrade the sweeping changes brought about by my generation to the meaningless antics of a bunch of spaced-out druggies and naive idealists, history confirms that we really shook things up in the 1960s. We advanced civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights, and free speech; we became environmentally aware; we exposed and brought down the dark reign of Nixonian evil, we said no to an imbecilic war, blind conformity and government censorship. Yes we had our nut cases and, yes, we made our mistakes, but overall we made a real and positive difference. This great worldwide birth contraction was spearheaded by young people.

And then, apparently, we got tired. Maybe we were lulled into a false sense of security by Nixon’s resignation in 1974 (surely the crowning moment of the entire epoch). Maybe we were corrupted by the necessity of “earning a living.” Maybe we became discouraged because of what followed our revolution. Jimmy Carter barely won the next election, and four short years later the best supporting actor in “Bedtime for Bonzo” won by a landslide and we entered the lackluster Eighties (punk rock, disco, yuppies, unrestrained avarice). We veterans of the Sixties understandably wondered if our labors had been in vain. Had we really changed anything? No matter, we consoled ourselves; the young will eventually catch fire and pick up where we left off.

Yeah right.

Now a cranky propensity to disparage the young is the hallmark of a geezer. “What’s wrong with these kids today?” is a complaint old as history. Intermingled with this reflexive criticism is of course an element of pure envy: the firm healthy bodies, the boundless health and vigor, the life left to live — all cruel reminders of what once was and is no more.

That admitted, 40 years distant from the Summer of Love, what indications of societal disenchantment do we observe in today’s youth? Other than a few progressive enclaves on certain college campuses and in a few cities, we observe largely nada. Zip. Most young people appear to be diligently playing the standard-issue conformist game: getting their degrees, learning their skills, working and earning, buying and selling, paying their taxes, marrying and reproducing: in short, behaving as though the precarious state of their country and world didn’t matter nearly so much as, say, spilling their Starbucks on their iPhone.

During the Eighties and Nineties America’s youth were sometimes labeled “Generation X” (whatever that meant). I sometimes think of today’s young people as “Generation X-Lax,” because they appear incapable of producing anything solid in the way of social transformation. Please spare me the line that there is virtue in spending one’s life in silent submission to the system, that working within the system is OK and, besides, many of today’s youth do, after all, sport pierced body parts or small tattoos that are polite and employable tokens of “rebellion.”

And should I mention the well-documented inability of unprecedented numbers of our future generation to sever the umbilicus, to leave the comforts of home and/or financial dependence upon Mom and Dad?

Hey whippersnappers! Your world needs your energy and your idealism (commodities which tend to fade with age). Want to make a difference? Want to contribute something bigger than micromanaging your own survival? Here are but a few problems you might want to consider. There are enough stockpiled nuclear weapons on our planet to potentially end human life. There’s a certified lunatic occupying the White House. There’s a bunch of sniveling cowards — both Realuglyman and Demoncrat — in both houses of Congress. There are some genuine nut cases parked for life on the Supreme Court.

The rich are robbing the poor at a pace unseen since the Gilded Age, we are bogged down in an obscene and illegal war, the United States now tortures its prisoners, our nation’s image has been perhaps fatally tarnished, the world thinks we’re a bunch of lazy dangerous idiots, we’re contributing to global warming more than any other country, and half the people living on our planet still don’t have a pot to pee in. That’s just for openers. These are all real problems crying out for solutions. Maybe Washington, D.C., (and every other capital on earth) should be peacefully invaded by millions of outraged citizens and shut down until the whole sorry gang either slinks away in disgrace or gets the message: shape up or ship out. What do you think?

How about agitating for a few changes here in the U.S.A.? It’s your government! How about putting an end to the absurd Electoral College system? How about breaking the corrupt stranglehold of a two-party system? How about unilateral eradication of nuclear weapons? How about ending the draconian horrors of our prison-industrial complex? How about making “contributing” money in any form to any public servant a felony offense? How about legalizing and regulating all drugs? How about making “private health insurance” obsolete by embracing socialized medicine that provides top-notch care both now and in your old age (as opposed to lying in your own waste in some corporately-owned understaffed and under-regulated warehouse for the dying). How about wresting control of mass media from the handful of billionaires who monopolize our airwaves and print media and thereby brainwash us into believing that unregulated capitalism is synonymous with democracy, that competition beats cooperation, that we all have to fear and fight each other to claw our way to the top of the heap, that distribution of wealth is no different than playing the lottery: some win and some lose, and that business is, in fact, indistinguishable from God Almighty?

Of course it’s not only the young who are MFA (Missing From Action). We all seem to be in a coma. President Cheney is spoiling for an Iranian invasion, Russia is turning back into the Soviet Union, Red China is a “favored trading partner” to whom we are deeply in debt, and the polar ice caps are melting. Hello? Is anybody out there? Maybe we should all young and old alike — stop devoting so much of our lives to the ceaseless worship of Mammon, pull the plug on our TV God and WAKE UP before it’s too late!

We’re long overdue for another birth contraction ....

(Arthur Hancock lives in Highlands. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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