The Problem of My Generation

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Safe Space

We’ve all heard the story of the baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple because he or she cannot in good conscious support something they do not believe is moral. Because of this decision, they are either brought into terrible scrutiny by the public and the media, or they are forced to shutdown their business.

In the town I live in, Orange City, IA, the public library is under fire by the conservative community for having multiple pro-LGBTQ books available for checkout. In fact, they are trying to require the public library to put these books in “safe areas” so that they will be out of the sight of children. This is particularly interesting to me considering the fact that these Christians who are creating the backlash have such a problem with the four pro-LGBTQ books but are completely fine with the books, movies, and T.V. shows available at the public library that contain graphic violence, sexual content, nudity, and language, such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

In other news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid remain unsigned by NFL teams following their protests against racism and police brutality, despite the fact that they are far better players than many signed players at their positions.

Campuses all around America are creating “safe spaces” where students can go if they do not feel comfortable with a certain point of view, teaching lesson, or discussion category.

Now, I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with the decisions of the baker, the library, or Kaepernick and Reid, or that a business does not have the right to hire or fire whomever they choose. But that is not the point here.

The troubling aspect of all these stories is that they reveal an alarming problem in our world today, that I believe has infested our young generation: We are so afraid of offending others, or of other people offending us, that we sacrifice a fundamental need to separate right from wrong. Unfortunately today, many of these lines are becoming more and more blurred.

Children are no longer tough because we shield them from anything we might think is wrong. When you grow up sheltered, you cannot formulate your own ideas about the world. You just jump into the boxes the world has created.

Also, when you grow up sheltered and you hear something that goes against what you believe you can’t take it because you haven’t been exposed to the diverse range of thought that exists in this world. This is why students at colleges now need “safe spaces.”

The thing is, this isn’t just an issue for conservatives. It’s not just an issue for liberals. It is a societal problem. We cannot speak our mind about what we believe is right or wrong because we are afraid of offending someone else. Because people get offended by virtually anything they disagree with.

And for those that are my age (22) and younger, I am afraid that that fear has created in us an inability to think thoughtfully and logically, and to have patience as we come to realize what truth is. And thus, the millennial generation, without this ability to thoughtfully process right and wrong, and the overall concern of saying something others might not like has rendered us completely void of thought, nuance, and patience. This leads us to be a people absorbed in consumerism, technology, virtual reality, and social media where we can take away all the depth of what it means to be human and replace it with a pretentious, shallow, “fun” version of ourselves.

The reality is, we have lost in ourselves a certain depth. A depth that we were made for. Unfortunately, this has largely projected itself onto my generation.

I believe we must regain this depth. This contemplative spirit. As Richard Rohr (an American Franciscan Friar) says, when you are embodying the contemplative self, you are not offended. Because the contemplative self does not get offended. The deep self, the true self, the contemplative self is patient with those who see differently. It is unafraid because what matters is not the ego, it is the truth. It is resilient. It has a keen sense of where the problems are and it is unafraid of addressing the systems of injustice that exist.

The reality is, there are a lot of bad things in this world that need to be called out for what they are. War is terrible. Racism, poverty, greed, pornography, consumerism, militarism, are all so destructive to so many people in our world.

These are all systems that I believe are corruptive. They all move us to become a fast-paced technological perversion when there is so much beauty in our natural selves. I want us to regain the beauty of what it really means to be human. Not what it means to be products of technology, media, and “success.”

All of these things are that which I believe are detrimental to becoming our true selves. I know many people will not like me saying that it is an egregious sin to spend almost 1 trillion dollars of the U.S. budget on a violent military force. But I will. Because it needs to be said. We essentially are saying the only way to stop violence is with violence. I think Jesus gave us some pretty good advice with regards to war. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the early Christian church, Dorothy Day, Eugene Debs, Wendell Berry, J.R.R. Tolkien, Leo Tolstoy, Erasmus… they had really good ideas about how to address violence and war. But our egotistical selves cannot think of any solution to the problem beyond flexing our biceps of mass destruction and technological terror and stamping it with the name of “freedom.” Bob Dylan said we are “Masters of War”… He couldn’t have been more right. I believe this needs to be resisted. Whether we offend someone or not.

The same goes with many other things I mentioned. And many more which I forgot. And certainly others which I have yet to open my eyes to.

Let us rediscover our deep humanness. Let us think outside of boxes. Let there be logic. Let there be mystery. Let us not get offended by someone’s opinion. Let us explore it and have patience as we discover the truths of ourselves and the truths of others. Let us be resilient. Let us be courageous. Let us be willing to fight the systems of injustice with a complete lack of fear.

Into the Wild

ReThinking Thinking

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.”

-Christopher McCandless

Chris McCandless

“Into the Wild” is a film that follows the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate whose plans on attending Harvard Law School are abruptly halted when he decides to donate all of his savings to charity, burn his social security card and all other forms of identification, and head west.

The film is an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book by the same name. Heavily influenced by famous radicals Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless becomes a radical in his own right.

His ultimate goal is to get to Alaska. To…

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Into the Wild

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit.”

-Christopher McCandless

Chris McCandless

“Into the Wild” is a film that follows the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate whose plans on attending Harvard Law School are abruptly halted when he decides to donate all of his savings to charity, burn his social security card and all other forms of identification, and head west.

The film is an adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book by the same name. Heavily influenced by famous radicals Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless becomes a radical in his own right.

His ultimate goal is to get to Alaska. To escape the bonds of society in the vast, uncharted northwestern wilderness. As he heads west, driving some of the way, hitchhiking and walking most of it, he realizes he needs to take some time to gain some extra cash and study up on how exactly to survive when he gets there.

He works at an elevator in South Dakota for awhile, kayaks the Colorado River into Mexico, and lives with a variety of different people in various places. The characters he meets are unique, as all people are, but always radiate something upon Chris.

Chris, who at this point has actually changed his name to Alexander Supertramp, eventually arrives in the Alaskan wilderness. He survives on berries, roots, and squirrels.

Living alone in the wilderness is difficult however. Nature is not always forgiving for McCandless. At one point he mixes up two very similar roots, one being extremely poisonous, causing starvation. He dies a slow death, yet in his final moments, he has a realization:

“Happiness is only real when shared.”

He changes his name back to Christopher McCandless. Yet, he does not regret the life he has chosen.

“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”

With this, McCandless passes away. Before we dismiss McCandless’s story as ridiculous, naive, or immature, I request that we try to make something of this fascinating man.

The story of Christopher McCandless does not resonate with me simply because it shows how a man tried to break the chains society had on him and escape into the wilderness, only to find that he desperately needed that very society in which he left. Nor does it resonate with me just because it is an inspiring story of a man that realized people are machines that society has guilefully formulated to fit the proper, the standard, the consistent.

I resonate with McCandless’s story because I feel like it is an exaggerated take on every man’s life. Society frustrates me. I want to be me. Not society’s projection of me. I don’t want the rules, the walls, the little boxes we all put ourselves in. I want the experience of life in its fullest. I want the spiritual. This was the desire of McCandless, and I believe it is deep down the desire of every person. Some of us have been or will be hardened over time by the mistakes we’ve made, the times we’ve been screwed over, or the times we haven’t lived up to expectations. But I truly believe this desire that so overwhelmed McCandless is in us all. I do not believe it is random. This desire is truth. Yet, as in all things, truth can go different ways.

While man needs the wild, the unstructured, he also needs community. He was made for community. Throughout his journey, McCandless meets people of a vast range of backgrounds and finds a certain beauty and truth in each one.

Each person at one time or another teaches McCandless a thing or two, and McCandless often returns the favor. He helps them, they help him back.

This combination of community, society, and structure with the wildness of life is not merely random desires that we have. It is what it means to be human. We are held in bondage to the structures of society. We are at the mercy of mother nature. But through each we can also experience the most breathtaking beauty that life has to offer. We can experience ourselves.

Society can be daunting and relentless. But we need it.

The wilderness can be frightening. But we need it.

McCandless’s story reveals this to us.

In all the suffering we experience in life, don’t lose sight of the beautiful. Because its here. Sometimes you just have to look for it.

Be wild. Break free from the bondage, the rules, the expectations, the norms of society. Explore. Experience the world in its most primitive form. Send yourself on a journey into the wild. Into mankind’s ancient past. See your relation to all things. To the trees towering up out of the ground. To the four-leggeds who walk on land. To the wings of the air. To the flowing streams teaming with fish. To the wind that rustles the leaves. Don’t lose sight of the wildness inside of you.

Be community. Do not let the suffering you experience, the pain that others may cause you, the expectations that others place on you hinder your desire to be brother and sister to all. Hear someone’s story instead of giving your own. Take some advice rather than give it. Share a laugh. Give a hug. Drop a task and be a friend. Work less, play harder. See the beauty in someone, rather than the ugly. Don’t complain about someone who annoys you, learn from them.

Be grace. Be love. Be beauty. It is the community of all people, and the wildness we each possess that allows us to dive fully into the depths of these three things, and ultimately explore our humanness.