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Your Generation of Hypocrisy Begat My Apathetic (!?) One

BY Cameron Russell | Monday, March 23 2009

My generation (sometimes “Y”, sometimes “Millennial”) has been getting a bad rap. Just look at the Adbusters article that has 4039 comments (adbusters) and declares the hipster movement the "end of Western civilization," or the Thomas Friedman article in the New York Times that dubs us "Generation Q," for quiet (nytimes). These articles (15 thousand Google hits on "Gen Y apathetic") usually miss the essential characteristics of our generation because the writers can't seem to imagine the world from our perspective. Things older people find novel and amazing --the Internet, cell phones, mass media, international culture of consumerism, American hegemony -- are second nature to us. While these writers are distracted by the fact that we all dress alike, write daily blogs, and are more educated and privileged than any other generation, they don't understand that these are relatively unimportant side effects of the phenomena listed above.

We have been called "a lost generation...[not] giving birth to anything new" and "too quiet, too online." In fact the opposite is true. There is a deafening roar in cyberspace. If a presidential election can be won through the support of an online movement, if articles and ideas can reach tens of millions of people overnight, and create a four-thousand person discussion, if YouTube can receive 200,000 new videos a day, then being "too quiet" and "too online" is the opinion of someone who doesn't understand what it means to be online. Not creating anything new and not being loud enough are not our problems. So why the disrespect from the famous 60s generation? Because we aren't doing what they want us to do.

Most of us were born after the end of the Cold War or were too young to remember it. The political climate we grew up in was one of supreme hypocrisy. One President nearly got impeached for a superficial sex scandal and then another later broke international laws to preemptively start a war without UN support and was re-elected to serve 2 full terms without so much as a breath of legal retribution.

The problem my generation faces is inheriting a world that baffles us: a world of hypocrisy and crisis; a world on the brink of collapse yet at the height of human civilization.

Imagine for a moment being one of us. Taught in school that all people are created equal, that all countries are sovereign, that freedom, democracy, and capitalism are embraced by all people and nations because they are ultimate ideals that allow us to prosper and live as we choose in the pursuit of happiness. Old enough to read the New York Times online and blog on Huffington Post, we see a very different world. Equality? Not for the poor, not for LGBT. Capitalism? It appears to have been a house of cards recklessly constructed by greed for the benefit of a few. Sovereignty? Not for resource-poor or oil-rich countries. Ideals? Not for the media or our political and business leaders.

Now we must navigate a world where a concentration of power, wealth, and media often conflicts with every ideal the Western world is supposed to stand for. If you think we are too quiet and too online you should consider that we have two choices. One, to accept the values we were taught to believe in and totally redefine and reconstruct the way our government/economy/society works so that these ideals match reality. Or two, to accept the world we live in and think up a new set of values to justify our lives.

Neither is easy or obvious. Hopefully we pick number one, and figure out how to sort out the hypocrisy. But for now we are faced with nearly insurmountable problems and need the cooperation of the untouchable elite. Friedman says global warming is our problem and we ought to be screaming for our leaders to do something. Perhaps you don't hear our screams because we gave up long ago on a having a government that listens to citizens, or on the ability of that government to take on big business by kicking it out of the bed. Friedman should be shouting at his own generation. The ones who own Halliburton and run the White House, the Rupert Murdochs, the Robert Rubins, the Bernard Madoffs, the lawyers and the doctors he wants us to aspire to who haven't done much to change the 60 million uninsured Americans, the declining rate of high school completion, the 10,000 who die every day in Africa, the much needed CO2 emissions reductions, or publicizing Ban Ki Moon's 3 year window.

Take global warming, perhaps the biggest issue our generation faces. If worldwide CO2 emissions don't start coming down in the very near future, my generation will be saddled with the "catastrophic effects" predicted by the IPCC: more starvation and death in Africa and elsewhere, resource wars, mass immigration, mass extinction, and many more unimaginables.

But the example that the generation in power has modeled for us is that it doesn't matter. Being an American is having the opportunity to buy that huge house and oversized SUV, become an investment banker, and get huge annual bonuses with no basis in value creation. And the consequences for everyone else? Irrelevant. That’s how you defined freedom and success.

The problems and the contradictions being left to us are so big that there are no easy answers. It appears that everything has to be undone, before it can redone. So let us figure out how we want to proceed. Let us "waste" our time like Mark Zuckerberg building a 150-million person online network because it may be the only hope we have. Your generation doesn't know what it means to be a global citizen the way our generation will have to. And those values you taught us, they seem pretty empty when you don't act on them yourselves. If you want us to change the world, don’t look at your sixteen-year-old listening to an iPod while writing on Facebook and watching YouTube and yell at him that he's wasting his privileges. Instead, start cleaning up your own messes. Lead by example. End your own hypocrisies. Start caring about the rest of the world and not just yourselves.

Meanwhile, let us figure out how we can use these tools that enable mass distribution and organization of ideas. It's likely that these will be the tools we need.

Cameron Russell is the founder of Interview New York, a model, a writer, and an undergraduate studying economics and math at Columbia University. This post originally appeared on her blog, Funny and Interesting, and is reposted here with her permission.