I feel a very real anger inside of me about all of the darkness in the world today. Israeli ground troops moving into Gaza. Russian separatists shooting down a passenger jet. ISIS tearing through Iraq and destabilizing what might already be the least stable area in the world. The Florida Bar Exam in 10 days. But all of the anger that I feel, and that I know is real, simultaneously does not seem legitimate to me. My anger feels so empty, and relatively meaningless, that I hesitate even to express it.
Just as positive passion for things has become the kid that apathy stuffs in the school locker, it seems that genuine discourse about the dark and scary things in our world is equally taboo for the hip and well-adjusted. It’s just so far away, in so many ways.
We may choose to blame social media, that overused buzzword(s) which started as a descriptor of the various platforms that individual humans would use to communicate with each other but is now treated as a single, autonomous being, a self-perpetuating beast of listicles and projected selves. We can say that cyber bullying, especially dangerous when mild and ubiquitous, is to blame for the lack of caring. But that would be too easy.
Our focus on social media is merely a symptom of something our generation too often leaves unexamined: our privilege. Now, before you puke in the nearest trashcan as I am wont to do when I hear someone utter that word in the college newspaper context, bear with me. I mean to say that our privilege, both as Americans and as a generation, tends to shield us from really understanding and empathizing with the losses suffered at the hands of the true evils of the world.
America, while carrying some historical baggage and still struggling with certain civil rights, is a relative dreamland when compared with the constant threat of missile attacks, suicide bombings, violent riots, and acid baths that plague many developing or even developed nations of the world. The fact that I don’t even have to wonder if I’m going to be slaughtered on my way to school, or to the mall, or to church/synagogue/mosque/library is hard to appreciate since safety is all I’ve ever known. In America, not almost being dead all the time is a given. And that’s AWESOME.
Further still, our generational privilege is even more insulating. Our grandparents, for many of us, were immigrants or the children of immigrants. That generation wasn’t highly educated, but struggled to pursue what back then still existed as The American Dream. My grandparents did not attend college, and worked hard to create financial security out of nothing, by starting a typewriter repair shop, trucking horses in California, and working for the Sheriff’s office. Then, our parents’ generation took another leap forward, most attending college for the first time in their family. They got degrees and pursued professions in business, medicine, or the law, stretching that American dream further and creating relative wealth.
And then, like a Phoenix from the ashes who had a kid without any generation-defining challenges, along we came, the generation of privileged ungratefuls, trying to strike a balance between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. We were born into financial security, and we faced no “world wars” in the common sense of the phrase. We had healthcare, education, and nuclear families (and weapons)! Our defining moment as an American generation, 9/11, happened when we were in middle school, eating dunkaroos and asking the Spanish teacher to leave the TV on so we could see what happened. And though that event rightfully sparked national mourning, political discourse, and increased domestic security, it has since been digitally relegated to the same status as 4/20: two numbers with a slash in between that fewer people post about every year. It has become a platitude, with kids posting “Never Forget” on their Facebook pages instead of engaging in meaningful reflection. What good is never forgetting something we never took the time to know, or understand?
But we are so insulated, both with freedom and privilege, that posting on social media is all we really need to do to feel engaged, for better or worse. In countries of extreme poverty, human rights violations, and the constant threat of death or worse, they can’t afford to rely on buzzfeed lists and facebook shares to spread movements and create change. But we can. They fight for their lives. We fight over sports teams. They fear for their children. We fear our taxes. They strive for freedom. We already have it. For that, I am thankful. But I am also angry.