My generation seems to believe our elders have an answer for everything. We take these answers as given and – without thinking twice – return to numbing our minds with the latest iPhone app. Rampant shootings strike community nerve-centers and we’re told it’s not the guns. Wall Street implodes, the taxpayers sponsor a bailout, and we’re urged to consider the cyclicality of economic crises. More recently, the greatest minds of my generation, many of whom willingly provide free labor for members of Congress, have been forced to watch in embarrassment as an incompetent group of partisan enthusiasts paralyzes Washington’s most famous corridors.
In a perverse reflection of the nation’s frustration, a shooter appeared on Capitol Hill several days into the government shutdown. Just weeks ago, we watched another part of DC succumb to unnecessary human-on-human conflict and moved on unfazed by the violence. If we’re not terribly surprised by the inefficacy of our nation’s “leaders,” why should the media expect us to take up arms in response to mass shootings? The more we tolerate inaction, the more we threaten ourselves as we reinforce images of our hypocritical democracy. America’s democracy appears so dysfunctional that one wonders whether Bashar al-Assad is onto something when it comes to governance.
As I sit in a library at one of the world’s leading political and economic academic institutions, I wonder how my classmates and I might make the best use of our time in graduate school. Are we well-served spending our days deciphering the most efficient way to get a degree, or would we stand to better help ourselves and society at large if we used this time to truly delve into the topics of what works and what doesn’t in the international system? Which path will allow us to more effectively channel our ambitions to leverage our careers to get things right? With so much misguided activism that results in many more empty-handed talking points than systemic changes, how can we avoid perpetuating a defunct system that hails free trade and democracy as the greatest – if not only – formula for success?
If the political market is more oriented by the perverse politics of profit rather than by concrete policies, then why should we believe that free markets necessarily yield the most efficient allocation of resources? Some people raise their arms and urge us to consider the role of social welfare in an “enhanced capitalism,” but have we lost sight of Thucydides’ well-known diatribe arguing that the weak suffer what they must? Patching the cracks in New Orleans-type levies is not sustainable. Although it would be best if our country took care of all its citizens, our leaders’ current decision-making framework has produced little to nothing in terms of welfare-enhancing social and economic policy.
As the political sideshow that is the government shutdown weighs on our collective conscience, and as we recall memories of crowds being ordered to un-“occupy” public squares, the frustration of discontented masses awaiting coordinated direction is palpable. Thursday’s tragic shooting is a reminder that some of us have simply reached our tipping point and have decided to value spilt blood over the hopeless wait for guidance. How can we channel such grievances toward the common good?