Just over half a century ago, college campuses across the country were erupting in protest and indignation over issues such as the Vietnam War draft, Civil Rights, and corruption in politics. Anything that made them angry or that seemed unfair, up they went to the hill with their torches and pitchforks to face the monster terrorizing their freedoms and securities.
The youth used to be the voice of social consciousness, far more active in their communities and global issues than their parents, who were more likely to shrug off the problems of the universe as someone else’s issue and go back to their cigarettes and Jack Benny after reading the news. Students not much older than us, on the other hand, were thinking about how these issues affected them—they were grabbing picket signs and bullhorns and guitars and getting involved, sometimes even giving their lives for a cause (think Kent State).
Today, it seems the opposite is true. Millenials find it easy to dismiss the issues they see flicking across CNN at lightning speed and quickly return to playing 2048 or to the arduous process of choosing a filter for the picture of their caramel macchiato to post on Instagram. Our music is no longer filled with anger about injustice, but with apathy or simultaneous self-pity and self-praise. That does not mean the injustice itself has gone away—just our drive to do something about it.
Maybe, deep down, we know something that previous generations didn’t. Maybe we’ve finally learned that the world is terminally ill, and that no cure can be found by yelling and singing and pleading and fighting our way to being heard. But is it too much to try? That’s the real malaise—that we’ve stopped caring, that we’ve retreated into ourselves and our own cosmically unimportant lives, hiding from the pure realness that is shimmering across our numerous devices like some slide-show a friend brought back from his trip to hell.
Yes, it can be scary and difficult to face, but without that confrontation, without that spirit, we just become what everyone labels us anyway—“narcissists.” What we need is a cause, something to stand for that entails more than just signing a Change.org petition. We needed to get angrier about Bush when we learned how phony his war in Iraq was; we needed to be arriving in hordes at the Capitol steps demanding gun regulations after Sandy Hook; we needed to be rioting in the streets after George Zimmerman was acquitted. What we need is something to rally behind, something bigger than ourselves. What that will turn out to be, I don’t know. But judging by our apathy in the recent past, it’s going to have to be something pretty huge or tragic. Only then might we glance up from our LCD mini-verses and realize, jaws agape, that our world has crumbled around us.