A realization

dark storm clouds looming over path in the arboretum

Sometimes I think, my generation is fucked.

And then I realize, in ten or twenty years, we’re going to be even more fucked: when many of us are raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time. So much shit is going to hit so many fans–and that’s not even counting the havoc climate change will be wreaking on the world. Or the civilizational collapse that’s hanging over our heads.

Sometimes it’s really, really hard to feel hopeful about the future–my own or the world’s.

The only thing that helps is enjoying the present moment: laughing with my friends, singing along to every song in Frozen, celebrating Pi Day with an apartment full of friends and pie, feeling my feet firmly rooted into the ground in warrior pose, petting my various furry neighbors, getting completely absorbed in a book, wearing pretty twirly dresses, taking in the silence that blankets the world when it snows.

Right now, that has to be enough.

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It’s time for a pro-life economy (no, not that kind of pro-life)

From the tragic story of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko’s death to my own adventures in job insecurity, everything I’ve read and experienced has convinced me that we need a pro-life economy.

Not in the traditional anti-abortion sense (ugh), but in the sense of putting human lives first, and profit second. And since our lives are inextricably tied to the health of our planet, we need to prioritize that too.

We need jobs. Green jobs, well-paid jobs, jobs with benefits (or government systems to provide those benefits).

We need an end to the ideology of infinite growth–which, in a world of finite resources, is quite literally unsustainable–and a focus on human health and happiness.

We need an end to the casual cruelty of corporate capitalism–the callous profit-seeking that allowed an adjunct professor to die penniless, near-homeless, and uninsured while the university’s president received a $700,000 salary.

Bill McKibben succinctly summed up what’s wrong with our economic system in his 2007 book Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future:

Alongside the exhilaration of the flattening earth celebrated by Thomas Friedman, the planet (and our country) in fact contains increasing numbers of flattened people, flattened by the very forces that are making a few others wildly rich.

His observation is even more true now than when he first made it, back in the less-shitty days before the Great Financial Crisis.

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Quote of the day: how millenial-bashing hurts the most vulnerable among us

My friend Becca made this observation on Facebook the other day. There’s so, so, so much truth to it:

“What I hate about these blanket ‘Young people are idiotic narcissists because they’re been made to feel special just for existing’ pieces is that they are unlikely to affect the people who actually are idiotic narcissists. They are more likely to affect the people who already have low self-esteem, who have been treated badly by others merely for existing. Those are the people I want so fiercely to protect, because those people realizing their self-worth are so crucial to maintaining love and compassion in the world.”

The post-employment economy and its discontents

First, a blog note: My Friday Links post will probably be late this week (again). It’s been an exhausting week, and I have a busy weekend planned–so I’ll get to it as soon as I can, but I’m not sure when that will be.

With that out of the way, here are some reflections I’ve been having on the issues I started exploring in my post about millenials and the terrible economy we’ve inherited: one that I’ve best heard described by writer Sarah Kendzior as a post-employment economy.

On a message board discussing both my post and the millenial-bashing one to which I was responding, I read a comment (which unfortunately I can no longer find)  that said, basically, money doesn’t buy happiness–that it’s possible to be happy and have a good life without making much money.

On one hand, there’s a lot of truth to that. On the other hand, in our society, money can buy a lot of things it shouldn’t.

Like the ability to follow a career path that interests you.

To a certain extent, money has always been able to purchase opportunity; but as Alexandra Kimball discovered, it’s a lot more extreme now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Entire professions are closed off to all but the wealthy, as she experienced firsthand: after years of trying to start a career in journalism, she was able to break into the field only after receiving a surprise inheritance.

Or, say, compassion.

Take this incident that Adam Weistein relates in his response to the original piece.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

Or kindness. As Molly Crabapple points out in her brilliant, beautifully written, must-read piece about the relationship between art and money:

So much of the difference between the experiences of rich and poor comes down to kindness. Kindness is scarce. Kindness must be bought.

If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here’s your gift bag, madam. Often, you don’t have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.

Meanwhile, we treat the poor with casual cruelty. Single moms on welfare have their homes searched by police to make sure they’re not hiding a man in the closet. But it’s too much to ask bankers to justify the bonuses they sucked off the public teat. The poor get stop-and-frisk, drug tests, and constant distrust.

In our current system, money doesn’t just buy things. It buys the right to be treated like a human being.

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Why is Generation Y unhappy? It’s the economy, stupid.

At the Energy Exodus earlier this summer

If I read one more piece like this, I’m going to scream.

No, my generation isn’t unhappy because we’re entitled special snowflakes who want rainbow-barfing unicorns on our lawns. We’re unhappy because we’re facing crushing student debt, a terrible job market, the downgrading of most stable jobs to contingent work, falling wages, and widening inequality. We’re unhappy because we’re working longer hours for less pay–or getting our hours cut to the point where we can barely survive. We’re unhappy because so few of us have health insurance or paid sick days.

We’re unhappy because we’re coming face to face with the reality that we might never be able to afford to own a home, or have children, or many of the other things we want to do. We’re unhappy because we see our dreams and opportunities vanishing before our eyes. We’re unhappy because we look around and see so many of our friends struggling–so many bright, talented people faced with shitty options. We’re unhappy because we’ve learned first- or secondhand that intelligence and hard work don’t guarantee being able to pay the bills, let alone personal fulfillment.

Not to mention that we live in a world where our government shamelessly spies on us, where corporations have more rights than people, where there’s a mass shooting every few months, where the environment is being destroyed at a stunning and possibly irreversible rate.

Of course, this isn’t to say we’re all unhappy. Happiness is a lot more complicated than jobs and money and ambition. Happiness is also about friends, family, community, art, music, dance, nature. It is entirely possible to find happiness in the midst of suffering and injustice–people always have. There is so much love in our world, so much beauty, so much connection and fierce resistance and hope.

Generational divides, too, are more complicated than many make them out to be. Millenials aren’t a stereotype, and nor are our Boomer parents or our Greatest Generation grandparents–or our Gen X friends, or anyone else who doesn’t fall into the millenial/boomer/gg taxonomy.  We are all shaped by our times, by our opportunities, by the social and economic landscapes we navigate–but we’re also so much more than the sum of our years. We’re all human. We all have our struggles and our passions. We all have our stories.

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