Thursday, March 8, 2007

Waiting On the World to Change?

As my mother likes to remind me sometimes, the values of my generation fly in the face of her good, old fashioned, "hippie" values. I find this somewhat absurd from time to time, especially since I view my parents more as hippie dilettantes than full blown hippies. They picked through the prevailing values of their time, and came up with their own plan for how to live, much like most young people.

Sure, they lived in San Francisco and Berkeley during the height of the free love movement. (My mother lived in the Haight-Ashbury district for a time, and my dad lived in Castro.) Additionally, my mom once ate too many pot brownies too quickly at a party - her first, and last, experiment with drugs. They wore hippie clothes, but they also bathed. My father did alternative service instead of going to Vietnam (he was a Quaker growing up), but he didn't run away to Canada or bomb government buildings.

Despite my mom's insistence on their "hippie values," my parents were clean-cut youth. However, they did believe in freedom, justice, peace, and love (though not the free kind). And I know from stories that they had impassioned discussions about Vietnam with my mom's family (all three of my mom's brothers were servicemen, at least for a time).

Because of my parents, I have always admired the romantic ideal of fighting for what you believe in - I guess I've absorbed some of those hippie values. I do not believe in sheer materialism, I believe in equality (or at least equity) for all, I believe in loving the essence of other human beings. And, I suppose I believe in pressing for change, if you count the one peace march that I've participated in, my attempts to use solar energy to dry my clean clothes, and trying to walk everywhere that I can, instead of driving my car.

I am not an activist, the way many in my parents' generation were. And I think this is a general trend among people my age. I was especially reminded of this while listening to Steve Inskeep interview John Mayer on NPR this morning. Steve Inskeep was comparing the message of Mayer's song, "Waiting on the World to Change," with the messages found in 60s' songs. Mayer, who at 29 is only one year older than I am, told Inskeep that the messages found in the 60s would not fly with young people today:
"Look, demanding somebody to do anything in this day and age is not
going to fly...Kids don't even like being talked to like kids anymore, you
know. 'Just give me the option and I'll think about it.'"

At a fundamental level, I think that Mayer is right. We are in a holding pattern - a waiting game. And, as I see reflected in my students' and sister's attitudes, some of us highly object to being told what to do. Most of them (us?) are the product of the 80s (and they're primarily Mayer's audience). This is the next generation of policy makers, folks.

This attitude is a seachange from the 60s. Although there was much hedonism in the 60s, the main focus was on the external - on changing the world from the inside out. Now, the question many young people are asking is, "What have you done for me lately?" (Seriously, read the lyrics of Mayer's song, if you don't believe me.)

Ultimately, if we really did care about the state of the world, we would do something, not just wish that things would change while we sat idly by. Political figures and the media have often made comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. There are many similarities, but the mindset of the young is definitely different. I'm not so sure that my parents' quasi-hippie values weren't preferable to what we have today.


Drek said...

Then again, maybe this change reflects an internalization of some new values? Perhaps the new generation is simply less conformist than the last one. Oh, I know that hippies were "non-confortmists," but the very fact that we all know what a "hippie" is, shows that they were conforming with their own group.

Maybe today it's just much more skeptical and individialistic.

Drek's Officemate said...

But isn't this new group just as unified by it's "what have you done for me lately" ethic? We may like to think of ourselves as more heterogeneous but is this the case? My generation is then just as unified under the label of "lazy bum" as the past generation was under the label "hippie"--except more of us bathe.

Which brings up my real problem with all of this, which is well summed up in the Mayer lyrics that are quoted. This problemitization of forced action really bothers me. This shouldn't be a problem! This SHOULD be what our goal is--whether it's in our case and doing it through normative social science or through a more direct activist perspective. When we give up on directly changing things, and then enforcing those changes, society runs into problems.