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Our static lives

BY ZACH WAHLS | DECEMBER 15, 2010 7:10 AM

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Sunday evening, while strolling through my Facebook newsfeed in an attempt to briefly escape the looming battery of finals, I encountered an interesting piece titled "The Organization Kid" my friend had posted. As the author recounted his interactions with Princeton undergraduates and painted a picture of the Organized Kid, I couldn't help but be shocked at how similar my own experience — and my friends' — has been.

The kicker wasn't that we go to the University of Iowa instead of Princeton. It wasn't that this is the Midwest instead of the East Coast. It was that the article was published in April 2001.

In our "fast-paced" world, this story was supposed to be an anachronism. The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.

The thesis of the piece was as follows: "[The students] are responsible. They are generous. They are bright. They are good-natured. But they live in a country that has lost, in its frenetic seeking after happiness and success, the language of sin and character-building through combat with sin. Evil is seen as something that can be cured with better education, or therapy, or Prozac. Instead of virtue, we talk about accomplishment."

My immediate inclination was to say that in a post-9/11 world, in an America that has for nine long years waged a war on terror, this assessment was no longer accurate. But as 2011 approaches, it seems to be an accurate description, at least as it applies to me and most of my peers. After all, when we went to the polls last month, most us weren't concerned with the morality of the ongoing wars but with trying to make sure our accomplishments thus far weren't for naught.

The author continues: "Maybe the lives of the meritocrats are so crammed because the stakes are so small. All this ambition and aspiration is looking for new tests to ace, new clubs to be president of, new services to perform, but finding that none of these challenges is the ultimate challenge, and none of the rewards is the ultimate reward."

The passage reminded me of sentiments echoed in my favorite film, Fight Club: "We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't."

Perhaps it is our understanding of this fact that explains the angst that lurks just beneath the surface for so many of our generation. Maybe it explains why, come Friday night, we drink away our egotistical nightmares of the truth and confine ourselves to either high or drunken stupors until the fantasies have wasted away on Sunday morning.

But instead of dragging ourselves to church in search of penance, we simply dust ourselves off and get back to work — whatever that work may be — resuming our self-serving climb.

The author however, seems to have confused causation. Our lives are not, as he puts its, "so crammed" or conversely, so empty, because the stakes are so small. We do not realize how high the stakes are because we are either working ourselves into a misguided oblivion or wallowing in an alcohol-fueled denial of the painfully obvious.

While I was not on a college campus in the early 2000s, given the otherwise to-a-T description of today's students, I have little reason to doubt much has changed, even though we enter 2011 with a vastly different national zeitgeist than we entered in 2001.

We all had play-dates. We all had classmates tamed by Ritalin. We were all told we that could be anything we wanted to be.

Ten years later, we grind ourselves away on finals, and we take pride in it.

I wonder what 2021 will look like. Not much different, I think.


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