When I drive around downtown Philadelphia, I often pass by historical icons like Independence Hall and the Constitution Center. I often wonder what the founders of our country would have thought about us today. Would the members of the Second Constitutional Congress ever pictured looking through the window of the boiling hot room to find air-conditioned skyscrapers, billboards for Miller Lite, taxis whizzing to and fro, and elevated rail lines grinding along the tracks above their heads? Did they ever think that white girls carrying macchiatos would be struck by said taxis while Instagramming a picture of the Liberty Bell with the little American flag emoji? Probably not.
Hillary Clinton recently appeared on The Daily Show, in which she described the reason why America is losing its global influence, citing the reason as a failure to export meaningful culture abroad. Many of the older among us whine about the current generation’s need for self-expression and lack of steady employment. We have the world at our fingertips on our iPhones and Androids, but instead of using that knowledge to learn Korean or brush up on the French Revolution, we’re all guilty of using it to Tweet and Snapchat, writing short blurbs such as “Ugh fuck traffic… #tired #late” and Snapchatting pictures of our balls to our friends. (Seriously, I’ve gotten several in the past month.) Opinions are like assholes, they say, and the mere fact that this has been published alone is tantamount to the fact that we may share our opinions, no matter how useless and arbitrary, to whoever cares to read them. So are the panem et circenses of our generation a signal of a culture in decline?
I’d say yes and no. One might argue that our generation is human history’s spoiled middle child. We have near instant communication, access to the breadth of human knowledge as preserved on the Internet at all times, and incredible access to healthcare and education. Even the poorest among us need not die in the streets from hunger. Our country is fraught with problems like racism, income inequality, poverty, a failing school system and pervasive commercialism that has turned us into consumers rather than humans. However, our culture is still young. We neglect the fact that our nation is less than 300 years old, while civilizations in China, Iran, and Africa have existed and preserved their ways of life despite a rapidly changing world for thousands of years. History is not taught there by decade, it is taught by the millennia.
Our generation has its struggles, and in them we grow, adapt, and find meaning in what our lives here mean. 200 years ago, the average American child would have grown up on a farm, toiling in the fields until supper time, growing up to marry by age 20 to produce more children as a source of labor. Marriage was a business transaction rather than a spiritual commitment. Religion was the centerpiece, providing meaning to those who lacked the ability to self-actualize on their own. One may argue that people were happier, and it may be true that in simplicity, one finds happiness. However, we meet the struggle of living in a world where there are no uncharted lands, no “exotic” destinations, and no ultimate meaning. We understand that we are not the only ones who matter in the world, we understand that the places that our ancestors explored are other peoples’ homes. We create our meaning through art, we share our experiences through social media, we connect with human beings across the planet in seconds and grow to understand that our differences are what make us brilliant. We take what we are given.
They argue that we are desensitized to violence in video games, yet we still find outrage in injustice, no matter how small. We find contentment in our own form of simplicity, in the time we spend trying to make our lives better for ourselves and our loved ones. We have a lack of opportunities afforded to our elders, having no car but finding happiness over a beer with our friends in the small apartment that we can barely afford. We are history’s middle children, and though we may be spoiled, we understand each other better, we love more spiritually, we adapt and change, and we grow. I’d venture to say we are more human than our ancestors, finding meaning within ourselves, and finding happiness in our own ways. We have the freedom to say what we want, love who we want, and express ourselves in our own manner. We are still learning, and we are learning more about ourselves than they ever did.