The older I get, the more increasingly concerned I’ve grown at the utter lack of concern, empathy and motivation in my generation. Now, of course, there are those among who care about the issues confronting society, and who are motivated enough to actually do something about those issues. The problem is, though, that not enough of us have the passion and drive needed to actually make a dent in improving the ills of society.
Recently, an article by Chris Hedges in Truthdig, a progressive Web magazine, highlighted the lack of original thought in society today in his article, “Retribution for a World Lost in Screens.” He explained that in today’s world, logic, thought and imagination are forced aside in order to make room for our consumer and image-based culture. As Hedges explained it, we have moved away from a society of empathy and of intellectual thought toward one full of “reality” television, celebrity worship, consumerism, and blind following of propaganda in order to ignore the true issues confronting us for the world of fantasy found in television and popular culture. Hedges said in his article, “It is a world where commercial products and electronic images serve as a pseudo-therapy that caters to feelings of alienation, inadequacy and powerlessness.” In other words, we see the issues confronting us in the world and, unable to cope with the immensity of all that is wrong with society, we turn to false realities that offer banal entertainment in exchange for peace of mind.
This motion away from the written word, away from critical-thought processes and away from any form of uniqueness has led to a generation that can be referred to only as the “Whatever” generation. This attitude, this absolute disregard for the issues confronting our society is, to me and many others, the biggest problem confronting us today. Global warming, the bleaching of coral reefs, melting glaciers, species extinction, America’s growing financial deficit, worldwide economic collapse, sexism, racism, consumerism, homophobia, overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, religious fanaticism, government corruption — all of these are important issues that society must confront, yet it seems that none is more important than the sobering fact that most of the population, especially in America, don’t care.
Even at my university this issue is evident. The lack of involvement in student groups, for one, is astounding. To give an example, the local group for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club that serves Berks and Schuylkill Counties, the Kittatinny Group, meets monthly at Kutztown University’s Rohrbach Library. The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States, meets in the Rohrbach Library and not one student cares enough to attend or get involved. I attended one of the meetings last year, hopeful to find some of my classmates right there with me. What I found were a few dedicated members, none of whom where students of Kutztown. If the 10,000 students at KU have so little interest in the environment — a major issue confronting us today — the numbers do not look good for the rest of the country. I’m certain that this trend proves true for many of the other student groups on campus suffering from low membership and low involvement.
The worst of it all is that there seems to be no way to change this trend. Every day, people are subjected to an onslaught of propaganda that reinforces this complacency and escape from reality. Our consumer culture is powerful. Advertisers and those in power are constantly trying to sell us a lifestyle. They tell us what food to eat, what music to buy, what clothes to wear and what ideology to adopt, but we are rarely told to think and discover these things for ourselves. The arts have been degraded to fashion, math and science have become something “just for the dorks,” literature has been replaced by magazines like Us and People (touting facts about this or that celebrity’s love life), all in the name of keeping the population in line with the interests of those in power and creating a homogenized society that is easier to control and manipulate. The inane has become the mainstream, and the intelligent of society — the thinkers, the doers, the innovators — have been reduced to something “outside,” something strange and different, something that must be either eradicated or ignored.
And where do we go from here? When those of us who consider ourselves thinkers and doers have so little a voice, so little influence on those around us, how do we persuade and motivate the rest of society to take action and come out of this fantasy world that has been manufactured for us? If we speak louder, if we confront society with reality, then we are written off as downers or conspiracy theorists. Yet if we keep quiet, we are no better than those who have never questioned the state of the world at all, and no progress can be made. It is in this catch-22, this trap, where so many lose the will to fight and succumb to the slobbering television drone that has been pressed on all of us. I can only hope that the few of us left who have yet to give in can hold on to our rationality, our imagination and our individuality for long enough to make a dent in the world of fantasy that has taken so many.