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On youth, unity, and history

February 4, 2008


After focusing almost entirely on retirees last Sunday, this week’s “Outlook” section in the Washington Post happily greeted this readers with the more broadly appealing headline, “Talking ‘Bout Our Generations.” (Mom! Dad! We can read it together!) I was even more invigorated (both positively and not so positively) by what I found in the two op-eds that followed.

I first read “The Boomers Had their Day. Make Way for the Millenials”. Why did I read this first? Because I’m a touch self-absorbed and interested in my own generation. I enjoyed this essay because it was hopeful, well argued, and laid out a methodical analysis of American history. The authors argued that “idealist” generations alternate with “joshua” generations in American history. The former comes at problems with ideals and moral arguments, unwilling to compromise them to solve disputes. “Joshua” generations come in after, more interested in pragmatism and reconciliation, and make way for the change that the idealists demanded but ultimately couldn’t deliver. While this is perhaps an overly simplistic view of how history unfolds or society functions, it resonated with me.

I am at the elder frontier of the”millennial” generation, defined as people born between 1982 and 2003. We are the people who couldn’t vote in, and maybe not remember, a world before 9/11, and who have come of age during the Bush administration. We have only known a world view shaded with impending disaster, war, and terrorist attacks. And yet — I feel that my generation is not apathetic, is not overly combative, and is more open to solving the problems that have been dogging our country since our parents were our age. We’ve been hearing about the divisions in U.S. society forever — from the mouths of our parents who attended Woodstock and learned how to protest with Martin Luther King or Malcom X. Just as our mothers and fathers threw off the proprieties and restraints that bound their parents, we are ready to take a step away from the concerns of ours.

The other essay was entitled “Getting Past the ’60s? It’s Not Going to Happen.” and explained why nothing is really going to change in American politics, not even after the upcoming election. It was poorly explained, and though it brought attention to the forgotten histories of the 1960s, did nothing to convince me that we, the next generation, cannot move forward from the problems of our parents. The author, Rick Perlstein, apppeared to have a case of sour grapes for not being part of a protest generation (He was born in 1969) and a misunderstanding of what matters to millennials. He argues that we must come to terms with the ’60s before we can move past them. I don’t . My greatest wish is to become a historian, and even I understand that the power held by the boomers is fading. They can retire to think about what the ’60s meant — those of us with whom those divisions don’t resonate can focus on fixing the important problems the last generation drew attention to.

Please, let us move on — why would we want to wallow is the problems of the past?

(Unless it’s your job — attention to history departments looking for grad students — I’m available)

In other corners of the web: Even apathetic Gen Xers can get into the act.

Note: While some of the pieces I linked to may endorse political candidates, I, and FCNL, do not necessarily agree with those endorsements.

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