The entire framework into which you were born was constructed around a very specific set of assumptions. The idea was that if “the plan” was followed without deviation—if the ideology was obeyed with proper zeal—then a paradise would follow as a divine guarantee.
We might say that you were born into a new Israel, with a new covenant, a new Law, and, most importantly, a new promise. The new covenant is called the “American Way,” while its promise is called the “American Dream,” and these two combined will lead one to a life of peace and joy in the land of milk and honey.
The formula really was foolproof: work at least 40 hours a week for 40 years (or was it 80?), get a house with a mortgage, own a couple of cars, go to church, pick a political party, vote for your guy, hate the other guy, be patriotic, fight in whatever wars come up, buy stuff—do all of these things and the Heavenly City will descend upon you. This is faith and the great hope of our parents, and it is the inheritance of my generation.
But then there came something of a great catastrophe. The milk and honey didn’t so much dry up as it began to lose its flavor and become tasteless, unsatisfying: foreclosures, perpetual war, divorce, unemployment, appalling political candidates, education that just makes children dumber, and on top of all that an undeniable feeling of aimlessness spreading through the entire nation. The people became surprised, and then confused, and then terrified. They began to look around for what—or who—was to blame. Like the sailors on Jonah’s ship, they knew that only a great sin could have called down such a wrathful storm.
In a crisis, men will have their heretics. Contemporary society has chosen young people as the heretics of the New Covenant. Isn’t that something? We are not only unwilling Messiahs, but also unwilling heretics! But I suppose the Messiah himself was a heretic, so our story may turn out alright after all. We’re the Jonahs on this ship called “Liberty, Justice, Etc.” The fact that we were born right on the ship’s deck, long after the storm was already blowing, matters little to the confused crew.
But that’s what happened. We came walking into the Promised Land just in time to see the milk go sour. We were as shocked as anyone else. Why wouldn’t we be? We were following the program—we hadn’t doubted the faith, most of us. We had no ill intent. We even went to college and got our degrees! We’ve got bills to pay too. But the catastrophe came, and the nation grew confused. We turned to our elders with questioning eyes, looking for guidance, and it was then that we realized our circumstances. The promise was failing and a traitor had to be found.
That is the heart of it—that is our great shame. We’re marked as destroyers of a faith because we were born when that faith was imploding on itself. If it were just our “lack of appreciation” for our material trinkets, we’d get over it, like any spoiled child. But when youths are accused of doing violence to the faith of their fathers—of preventing the earthly Paradise from coming—well that’s something a bit deeper isn’t it?
We were born at the collapse of a great edifice, and the weight of that collapse hangs over our heads every day. We hear about it in the news and on the streets. “Young people these days!” I heard it a thousand times before I was ever of an age to be considered a “young person.”
Our predecessors believed so fervently in an illusion, in that great edifice and its promise, and we are, thanks to bad timing, dashing their hopes on the rocks by our very existence. Our fathers and our fathers’ fathers clung to those chimeras so fiercely, and false hopes held that tight cannot be anything but blinding. The hope became the very identity of the nation. To question the hope was to question themselves—to deny the hope, well-nigh inconceivable. They simply could not accept any possibility that the promise was empty.
When the lookouts began crying “rocks ahead” they blamed the ocean, and now that the hull is tearing and the water rushing in, they are blaming the young crew. The course was perfect!—that was their great conviction—and so the blame must lie with the crew. That’s you and I, we are the incompetent crew of this great barge with no reverse and no ability to turn left or right. Why would a perfect ship with a perfect course need to turn? Turning is heresy, you lazy villain! So we scramble, we go to school, we try to find jobs, but we know we are headed for rocks with nothing to do but take the blame as the ship falls apart.
We are the disappointment of our fathers. That was our inevitable destiny—a destiny of disappointment. It has come to us to do what young people are never supposed to have to do: to prove that the wisdom of our predecessors was wrong. And even in this we are unwilling. Through all this we’ve made it clear we didn’t want rebellion. Rebellion belongs to the ages before us, from 1776 up to the 60’s.
We aren’t rebels—we are simply dealing with the consequences of rebellion. That is the source of our dismay. We aren’t trying to prove anyone wrong. Most of us are working our hands to the bone to keep the ship afloat. But it is sinking anyway, and we are ashamed. We are the crew that wrecked the Titanic, and live with that responsibility. It is like a scar on us, except that it isn’t something we gained through action—it is more of a birth mark. We’ve always had it.
And things will only get worse. As the ships sinks further, more and more will be placed at your feet by your elders, and by everyone. Even as the water rises to their necks they’ll be accusing you of mutiny. That’s the insanity of misplaced convictions, of zealous faith in a lie—it becomes hermetically sealed. Even if it starts off healthy and alive, it allows for no flow of air or life in or out. It just sits there. Your elders think you are destroying their hermetically-sealed faith, and you have to live with that. You only have one option, really. Leave them to their insanity.
Do you understand now why you might feel a tinge of existential shame, and why this can and must be discarded? You are giving the lie to the delusions of an ideological empire. You are a fantastic disappointment. But he who plays the role of revealing a lie may draw hatred on himself, but there is a second implication: he who reveals a lie can only do so by bringing out the truth. He is disappointment for the false hopes, but he is himself a new hope which can take place of the dead one. Along with your destiny of shame, you have a small spark of light that you brought with you into this world.