My generation has faced its share of challenges. The past 30 years or so have seen the emaciation of the American soul in the name of material accumulation. Public education has gotten steadily worse for the many and better for those lucky few with the opportunity, or the ability to demonstrate the incredible capacity, to access it.Â Same with health care.Â Public discourse has somehow evolved into one of fear – we are told we are vulnerable at all times and should always be aware of the danger. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, the Swine Flu threatens to be an epic pandemic, but the flu vaccine developed may be unsafe – and we should all be worried because the government is in danger of running out of it.
The “bad things” about America aside, though, my generation grew up in a world defined by an all powerful United States. Despite troubles at home, most have not lost sleep about the effect that the actions of other countries might have on them. Many of my generation found themselves at universities around the country, sitting in political science and sociology courses, reading about a new “post national” world, the rise of global institutions and international law, reaffirming their beliefs that those who “have” should reach out and help to better the lives of those who don’t. These ideas were very palatable, even inspiring many a career in international development and in non profit organizations, because they were, in the end, for them, intellectual and academic exercises. Feeding starving children was a science, a knowable discipline that was studied and practiced in places like Africa. Economic development is something that needed to happen in countries emerging from long civil wars or failed socialist regimes. They reached out to the world, proclaiming their “internationalism,” often playing down their American citizenship in a desire to relate to people around the world. There was always the understanding that their country was still the most powerful.
Today, this generation becomesÂ consciousÂ of the real prospect of an America that has to play by rules not necessarily set completely by itself. What kinds of knee-jerk reactions are going to rear their head when our place of privilege is threatened? Will this “international” generation become increasingly xenophobic and nationalistic as they face the reality that they have to share and compromise? Or, I hope, they will become less xenophobic. The need to work with others around the globe will be the opportunity we have claimed we wanted to create a more just and peaceful world.