Sunday, August 22, 2010

Solipsism, or, How an Entire Generation is Dropping the Tent

Dr. Smith sat me down.  He said, “Tom, you’re a pretty funny kid.  And you’ve had a great run here at Davidson.  I get it.  Showing up to class in your bathrobe, wearing your black beanie in 100 degree weather.  It’s a great act, way to go.  But now, now you’re graduating, you’re getting a job, and now you’ve got to start helping the rest of us hold up the tent and stop just playing in it.  Understand?”

I didn’t.  Not at all.  My “job” was a two year study abroad in Japan stint “teaching English” while being overpaid to satisfy my wanderlust.

After that?  Back to school so as never to get close to the real world again.

Now, my generation’s relentless navel-gazing and endless adolescence would be merely comical but for one simple fact: somebody has to hold up the tent.  It isn’t magic.  This wonderland we all grew up in is built upon, predicated upon something, namely Other People’s Work.  So, you know, awesome for us that we’re useless and directionless, but it sure sucks for everyone else.

But this is all lost on the self-congratulating Jessie Rosen, author of the 20-nothings blog.  In a recent rebuttal to an NYT article about the sorry state of our “emerging adulthood,” she whines:

We are painfully aware that decisions in our 20s lay the foundation for all of adult life. We know exactly how old our parents were when they had us, and exactly what they sacrificed as a result. We know that time is precious, age isn't really just a number, and having kids changes everything.

So, we can absolutely see the forest through the trees. We just figure it's best to deliberately navigate through those trees so we arrive at the forest in one (better) piece. And -- this may just be the crux of it -- we don't see why we should rush. We were raised not to.

Mmm, yes.  Raised not to.  Find yourself.  Kids change everything. 

Really?  Do you seriously not understand the problem?  The issue isn’t that our generation is taking its time to do things right, it’s that we simply assume that what is important and good is what is best for us.  We have zero sense of obligation to hold up the tent unless, like, you know, it’s like, right for me.  This is the fantasyland rainbows unicorns and gumdrop children approach to human life.

Ms. Rosen, get a clue.  You are not history’s first navel-gazer.  It’s just that, for the first time ever, an entire swath of the middle class had the economic ability to provide an aristocratic upbringing (or at least a bourgeois imitation) for its progeny.  What, you’ve never heard of T.S. Eliot?

Ms. Rosen continues:

Case in point: When I said to my parents, "I'd like to move home to save money to pursue my creative passions in Los Angeles," they said, "Good for you." (To be clear about my personal sitch: they did not also say, "And here's $10K to get you there!") Every single person I've told since then has reacted with some version of "Now's the time" or "I wish I'd done that when I was your age."

Yeah, no kidding everyone’s jealous.  Because the way you live is what has been traditionally known as “the privileged luxuries afforded only to the rich.”

Ms. Rosen lives in an unsustainable world.  When the people who make our pampered existence possible either give up or die, I worry that our generation won’t be able to figure out that there is a tent, let alone muster the boldness, courage, and sacrifice to hold it up.