Cross from me today in the coffee shop was an Iraq vet. About my age, I over heard him recount his journey over seas to a passing barista. Victory in Iraq... a journey home... an uncertain future. A small part of me envied him, the journey he took, the years he served, coincided with the years I spent away at college fumbling through books and drinking away long weekends. Yet I wonder if this is an emotion we both shared. He was studying preparing for clearly his own college journey. He wanted a degree like I had, and I wanted the sense of accomplishment and honor he carried home with him. But in the end we both faced the same uncertain future. After four years in college I was left contemplating military service as an escape from a dismal future in the work force. And after some similar number of years in the army he was turning to college in what was most likely the same fashion.
I wonder if he was confronting much the same world I was. Everyday I went to work and I was confronted by an endless parade of conservatives and tea party members. An older generation constantly reminding me of how little I knew about the way the world ‘really’ worked. How the country was being torn apart by a ballooning federal government and its wasteful ‘spending’. Spending which for my grandfather’s generation had guaranteed service men good jobs and academics like my self a place in the civil services or academic realms. Spending which now had to be traded in for tax cuts and new Promised Land without the constraints of government regulation and bureaucratic red tape. A new republic that just simply didn’t need men like my self, and may or may not have for need men like him.
I’m left like so many unsure of how to feel about my generation. The wars we’ve fought do not provide us with the sense of accomplishment that WWII did for the baby boomers now grabbing at the reigns of political power. On the other hand neither the war in Afghanistan or Iraq have been able to spark the rage or anger that fueled the Woodstock generation which has all but passed out of the politics of today. The EPA and all of the other great achievements of that generation are slowly being turned back. Even the great social safety net founded by the Eisenhower generation is now under attack. Our generation is left floundering for some place, some purpose, some great achievement or purpose to proclaim for our generation.
Yet at the same time our own youthful president, a reflection in him self of a long passed Camelot, has been rejected by the rest of the republic and twisted into an escape goat for a failed political system. Our music branded as so much noise and racket. Our books as nothing more then dime novels filled with idealistic conjecture. Our cars are cheap imports. Our green business ventures tech companies as nothing more then Ponzi schemes. At the same time it’s our president who fights to maintain social security. It’s our music the stands for the silenced masses in the face of censorship and social constraint. It’s our novels and films that try to provide meaning and purpose to future generations. It’s our cars that provide a future at least a little less dependent of foreign oil. It is our green ventures that provide sustainable energy. And companies like Apple that grow and create jobs when the rest of the economic world shutters.
A large portion of our generation has fought and won much of two wars we did not desire to be apart of and returned mostly intact. Another part graduated from college at time when the costs of education where reaching all new heights. Now all of us are left wondering what we worked for? In a world where previous generations dismiss our educations as meaningless in the face of their accumulated ‘wisdom’, and at the same time refuse to put to work a generation of returning vets, where are we left to turn? Not to Washington. Not to some third party. Not to any of the preconceived wisdom of some bygone generation of seniors. We have to find something else. We are left to coble together a new vision for the future. One I think we will find on the discarded pages of rap lyrics. In the countless folded and worn pages of postmodern novels and dyeing newspapers accumulated in coffee shops and libraries. In blogs and social network posts. We will find it in the countless millions all across the world raising up, responding to new forms of communications, and creating their own destines.
I have no idea what this future looks like. I know only this, it cannot be decided by cable news shows or syndicated pundits who only serve their own endless quest for ratings and profits. It most be decided by the collective consciousness of a generation of young men and women who have journeyed half way around the world whether through travel or studies. Those who have found themselves sitting in coffee shops with freshly printed degrees at home or entering college classrooms or new careers after years of public service. Hopefully I may be able to at least observe, even perhaps spark in some small way a revolution in thought. Maybe we can still turn a generation away from rhetoric and towards real thinking creative growth. Maybe we can find a purpose for a discarded academic like my self and the former marine who sat across from me. Maybe we still have a purpose if only the more abstract one of finding a purpose.
Or maybe I’ll join the army, and he’ll get a degree and the world will just keep on turning. I think I’d rather just go listen to some old vinyl and pen another blog post or story no one will ever read. Cheers.