Are young Americans more interested in selling out than changing the world? Daniel Brook's new book argues that 20-somethings are forced to choose between living by their ideals or making a living.
By Astra Taylor
Before I begin, I should confess to being one of those people prone to bemoaning the state of the world and wondering what's wrong with my generation. At more than one antiwar event, geriatric radicals have far outnumbered young ones, which has left me feeling demoralized and forlorn. Dedicated young activists exist, but they're a minority; my cohort's general quiescence on Iraq and nonchalance about climate change -- not to mention a zillion other issues -- don't reassure me about the future. (And don't tell me the kids are all off organizing online. The median age of the average progressive blog reader -- the backbone of the netroots -- is my mother's age.)
We're accustomed to thinking of young people and students as the barometer of social change, so explaining this youthful inertia has become something of a national pastime, one that's made it all the way to the opinion pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune. Theories abound. Many point out that the war in Iraq is being fought by an all-volunteer army (which has even inspired some frustrated progressives to call for a reinstitution of the draft to invigorate campus activism). Others claim my peers' cynicism stems from a lack of contemporary examples of successful collective action. But more often than not, the problem is conceived as cultural. Members of the emerging generation -- post-Watergate, post-Monica Lewinsky, weaned on irony and satire -- expect the government to deceive them and are hardly surprised, let alone outraged, when their expectations are met. Insulated from the suffering of the offline world by the virtual universe of Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, some speculate that kids today are just too narcissistic, materialistic or distracted to care.
Daniel Brook, author of "The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America," would bristle at these descriptions of his age group. Instead, he provides ample evidence to back up another popular theory. Young people aren't particularly self-absorbed or apathetic -- they're overworked and indebted. Today's 20- and 30-somethings are so busy struggling to make ends meet, they simply don't have time to take to the streets.
For anyone who read Tamara Draut's "Strapped" or Anya Kamenetz's "Generation Debt," two excellent descriptions of the perilous economic realities assailing young people today, Brook's primary point will be familiar: Compared with our parents at the same age, we're working longer hours for less money, reduced job security, slashed benefits and fewer social services. Over the last four decades, as the income gap has exploded, opportunities for social mobility have declined -- dramatically. But Brook, more than the other authors, is concerned with the social implications of this transformation. Given these unpalatable truths, what's a youthful idealist to do?
Διαβάστε ολόκληρη τη βιβλιοκριτική της Astra Taylor στο βιβλίο του Daniel Brook, "The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America".