Starting locally, it’s important to ask: what are our values, and how do we protect them? This question recently came to the fore for me when Robert Murray, a lawyer for Cullion Concrete plant, a concrete plant trying to insert itself in a residential neighborhood on a flood plain, criticized residents of the city who do not live close to the concrete plant for speaking out against it. Geoff Schoos provided an apt response to Mr. Murray’s remarks in an essay in The Cranston Herald:
[…] I would also like to address something that one of the Cullion attorneys, Robert Murray, was quoted as saying in the Providence Journal. He stated that, while he could understand why residents close to the plant site might have concerns, it was confusing to him why people in other sections of the city were concerned about this issue. The answer is fairly simple, Mr. Murray. I live in the Stonehill section of Cranston. Although I will not be directly impacted by the resolution of this issue one way or the other, I am a resident of this city. The people of Eden Park are my neighbors. What directly affects them impacts me, at least indirectly. When the quality of life for some of us is threatened, all of us are threatened. We are a community of many parts but we are still one community. If we donâ€™t stand next to our neighbors in the city, no matter where they are located, who will? Thatâ€™s why a woman from Garden City, mentioned by Mr. Murray in the Journal, was concerned about this issue. And thatâ€™s why the guy from Stonehill is concerned. Itâ€™s our city. [full text]
You see, in Mr. Murray’s view, we are not supposed to care about something happening in our community if it does not directly affect us. In an effort to silence people, Mr. Murray is tapping into social norms that were spawned in the ’80’s and that continue to hold many of us hostage to this day — the norms of apathy, self-centeredness, and material gain above all other values. He reminds us that it is socially unacceptable to be concerned about the community as a whole. We have been conditioned to shun those who take an active role in protecting their rights and the rights of others. Rather, we should all continue to toil in quiet isolation — working overtime to earn enough to make this month’s Visa bill and spending our scant free time reading the Wal-Mart circular to see what new jewel we might be able to add to our collection of electronics or yard chachkis. Caring about other is just not cool.
Michael Nystrom has a provocative essay today about “The Fourth Turning” — the new era to be borne of our young people in the coming years. This Millenial generation may bring on the antidote to what ails us:
America is aging. Recently, considerable analysis has been devoted to the financial impact that retiring Baby Boomers will have on the American economy. Books such as Financial Armageddon, The Great Bust Ahead, and The Coming Generational Storm ponder such questions as: Have Boomers saved enough to retire on? Will there be a tremendous stock (housing) market crash as Boomers liquidate their assets in preparation for retirement? How will the government manage to make good on their implicit promises to pay Social Security and Medicare benefits to a growing elderly population? Who will take care of the aging population?
These are serious questions, but they are only half of the story. The other, almost completely ignored half, is the story of a new generation coming of age and ready to reshape the world as Boomers lose their cultural relevance. This generation, alternately known as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation (born 1982 â€“ 2002), is an emerging force â€˜that will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,â€™ in ways that we have not seen since before the 1960â€™s. In many ways, this generation has already begun to make its cultural mark, though this remains under-reported in the mainstream media. [full text]
There is no guarantee that the new generation can prevail over the self-centeredness of our times. Further, the tools of change and transformation — a democratic society where civil liberties are valued and protected — may not be available to the new generation in the way they were available to the movers and shakers of the ’60’s. Naomi Wolf describes the 10 steps to fascism that are taking hold in America, in this recent essay in The Guardian:
As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.
Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree – domestically – as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government – the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens’ ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors – we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don’t learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of “homeland” security – remember who else was keen on the word “homeland” – didn’t raise the alarm bells it might have.
It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable – as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise. [full text]
Our civil liberties and our democratic government in which civic participation is valued, need to be reinstated. Only then can the Millenial generation take hold of the reins and steer our country in a better direction. This will take courage, cooperation, and hard work. Stay tuned here and elsewhere as we struggle to put our government back together again and lend support to a new generation of leaders.