Questions for Eighteen-Year Olds, by Andrei Codrescu
“I have some questions for young people 18 or under. Do you fight with your parents over politics? Do you leave the dinner table in a huff after arguing about the war, I mean, wars? Do you immediately after throwing the mashed potatoes against the sliding glass door, throw your stuff into a duffel bag and leave home swearing not to return until the war, I mean wars, are over? And your parents see how wrong they were?
Do you have two parents, a mother and a father? Do you, after throwing your things into the bag, hitchhike to… (I can’t think of a place here: first I thought “California,” then I remembered that “California” hasn’t been “California” since 1978!” Continue reading here.
It’s over, isn’t it? Sure, hostels still exist, mostly in Europe, but they exist; sure, one in a hundred kids will shave his head and pronounce the old-world ideology (Democracy?) of his parents as responsible for everything wrong in the world; sure, some families do still have dinners together and maybe they even discuss something besides what happened on “Glee” last night. But something essential has left the building.
We are currently at one of the most precarious points in human history not because everywhere you look everything seems poised to collapse, but because this is happening at a time in the eternal cycle of things when our entire culture is nothing more than a collage of recycled relics from years past. Outside of the realm of science and technology, the collective conscience of which each of us is a part, is still in its twenties. Wearing high tops, Guevarra tee shirts and wielding various incarnations of The Little Red Book– even if they don’t know what it really is. There is certainly an existential unrest and everyone certainly feels like they should be doing something and no one really knows what that something should be. There are rallies. And howls of protest. And they come from every corner. And some of them come from the throats of young people. And these howls, forgive me, are howls of despair. A general, indirect and indistint malaise directed at the heavens. A base understanding of the absolute hopelessness of the state of things and a uniquely human need to hold on to hopeless hope. But none of it means anything. The kids who no longer have a “California” to run away to, or, by the same token, a Greenwich Village to run away to in order to discover the world and who they are in it, are just running in place. They don’t know where they come from and they certainly don’t know where they’re going.
CliffsNotes are to blame. CliffsNotes of books and CliffsNotes of history and art and philosophy and the human experience as it was before the present moment . Back when people were coming up with original ideas they were doing so after consuming entire libraries. Every word of entire libraries. This was done slowly and devotedly. It was precisely because they lived a life of the mind for even a limited time that they were able to emerge having absorbed the spaces between the lines, having processed the silences and the chaos, having allowed for germination and it was then that fruit was borne. Now, entire libraries are chewed and spit out in bite-sized bits for the purpose of educating a generation for whom there is far too much out there to consume. They know Romeo and Juliet loved each other very much. Their families did not approve of a union. He killed himself. She killed herself. Then it turned out that she didn’t really kill herself. They know not one thing of value. They don’t know “Romeo and Juliet”. They know what happens in “Romeo and Juliet”. And it isn’t their fault. It’s because we no longer sing to each other in the evenings. And the songs are lost.
Of course, this is a highly generalized opinion based in purely anecdotal fact. But the fact remains: when there are too many things to fight for and stand for, and when you’ve got a young man or woman who has the facts but no grasp of the winds that blew to create those facts, indecision and immobility are far wiser choices.
2 responses to “Howling”
I am sorry to say that I agree. Sorry because it is extremely sad and true that for most of us, our passion, introspection, philosophical yearnings and caring have indeed “left the building”. In our hurry to romp through our day being thoroughly entertained (because we deserve it since we work so hard for supervisors that undervalue us in jobs that have no true meaning for us) we attempt to block out the emptiness of our lives by staying tuned in to superficial electronic connections, burying our heads in the sands of facebook, twitter, tv, and texting instead of working to restore and reform this country.
Who doesn’t love the idea of sharing intelligent dialogue with family and friends; talking about our day/ the world’s day, as we pass the organic green beans and arugula salad. But in reality, we pass the bowl with one hand, the other tightly bound to our smart phone, scrolling for the latest text, the newest must- read- right- this -very -second bit of information mutated down to the smallest possible bastardized sentence.
Somewhere in the background, there is the flat screen droning on and on, so important is its content that we can’t bear to turn it off, yet the next morning, we are hard pressed to recall what we exactly specifically saw.
We are fast becoming a species of multi-taskers; juggling several plates at once, touching each for mere seconds. A touch so superficial that not even a partial fingerprint remains behind to mark our having held it.
We expect our children to make thoughtful choices, to weigh and reason the facts before forming opinions. We have high hopes they will one day take on the world and do good. But how are they to do that if every waking hour is a sensory overload of distraction, with little to no time given to reflection and listening to both themselves and others.
So lets all of us turn off the tube, pitch the phone- if it’s really important we’ll find out about it sooner or later. Let’s pass around the bowl of field greens with both hands. Who knows where a lively discussion about Capulets and Montaques might lead to? Read a good book lately?