Sunday, November 14, 2010

Talkin Bout My Generation

The Disillusionment of Generation X:

In thinking more recently about the themes common to Generation X, we've started examining the ideals and values of our youth that have yielded to a harsher reality as we aged. We've "creatively" labeled this the Gen-X Disillusionment, and to follow are four examples of unrealized social campaigns that have played out through our lifetime, leaving us to wonder about their impact on leadership decisions, desires and methods.
Although we came of age during the vague but ever-present threat of nuclear fallout brought on by the Cold War, we were raised in a remarkably peaceful time.
But then, shortly after we entered adulthood, Iraq invaded Kuwait City in the summer of 1990 and our generation experienced its first war, one that could easily be justified because we were protecting tiny Kuwait from its neighboring bully, Iraq. Ten years later, the September 11 attacks occurred, and we rightfully sent our military into Afghanistan.

But a subtle shift soon followed--one where a main tenet of Just War Theory, where military action is a last resort, was rationalized away. We invaded Iraq in 2003 and have been mired in conflict ever since, even redoubling our efforts in Afghanistan in 2009.

They don't mention Vietnam, but since Vietnam was largely over by the time we came of age, the point is rather simple: peace seemed a relatively probable idea until the 1990's and 2000's. In many ways, the Cold War contained the world's aggression and kept things relatively simple. Once the Soviet Union disappears and Communism itself largely vanishes, all hell breaks loose (the irony, I know).

Worse, the American Exceptionalism that seemed so prevalent in our youth has given way to some stark realities as we've entered our 30's and 40's.

But today, we have slipped to 18th in secondary education, 26th in overall education, have a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, the largest budget deficits since the end of World War II, and have fallen to 6th in global competitiveness.

Additionally, new technologies that allow for effortless interaction (for example, Facebook) with other countries have drastically reduced the perceived size of our world--exposing other methods and ideas that are equally, if not more, effective than our own (Finland's educational system). While some have opined that the unstable leadership in America will lead to long-term stagnation, and others have flat-out refuted the idea of American Exceptionalism, many of our leaders are still insisting in shrill tones that we're the best. But to what extent is this unquestioning attitude obstructing honest self-reflection and progress? After all, if we continue to insist upon the reflection we want to see, we will never come to terms with what's clearly staring back at us.

Of course, part of the problem is that the Boomers are still in control. I'm not sure if Obama is a Gen Xer or not (1961?), but the rest of the political leadership in Washington and throughout the states is decidedly Boomer in nature. Generation X has never really assumed any political power, and given the demographics of the generation behind us (the Millennials, 1980-1999, close to 90 million strong) I'm not sure the power will ever be passed to us. It will probably skip from the aging Boomers (desperate to hold on to all things youth) to their grandkids.

And that will be typical of my generation, sandwiched in between the Boomers and the Millennials, lost in our own navel-gazing irony.

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