On History and its Symbols

History is a long and tortured story of hatred, violence, racism, starvation, and misery. There are no exceptions. There are few good guys. Gandhi molested young girls. Thomas Jefferson slept with [probably raped] his slaves. Martin Luther was an anti-semite. There might have been three celibate popes in 2,000 years of church history. Name a hero, and I’ll show you a flawed person. Show me a “great nation,” and I’ll show you a group of hateful bigots.

“A celebrated people lose dignity upon closer inspection.” -Napoleon

That’s because we are all hateful, bigoted people inside. We have inherited our bigotry from thousands and thousands of years. If there is anything that truly approximates “original sin,” it is this: the lack of compassion we have for other people.

Open-minded progressive types are bigoted against people of conservative religious views. They often seethe in their anger and frustration with the ignorant. The Russians hate the gays. The Polish hate the Russians. The Muslims hate the Americans–and the Americans hate them back. The Greeks hate the Germans, the Germans hate themselves, and everybody hates the French.

The world is full of hate. Every human symbol has been used as a symbol of hatred for somebody, somewhere, sometime. Every one of them. From the Cross to every national flag. Because people do heinous things in the name of symbols. They want salvation at other people’s expense. They think that if there is a heaven, there must be a hell, and it’s their job to send somebody to it–just to keep the universe balanced. Whether that hell is here on earth or somewhere after death is an irrelevant detail. Some want their enemies to live in both. Some express their hell-lust with insidious language of “love.”

In the Genesis narrative, the story that is told after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden is of Cain killing his brother out of envy–a grand metaphor for understanding our native impulse to react with violence against our fellow human–against our brothers and sisters for disgustingly trivial reasons.

I think envy is deeply misunderstood. It is simplistically conceived of wanting something somebody else has, but I think envy is more complex. I think envy also includes a desire to see somebody else involuntarily deprived of something they have–it may not even be a thing desired by the envious.

Historically lots of gods were involved in such envy. Some people had a god, other people wanted to take that god away. “No, no, ours is better.” Such attitudes are derived from a form of envy. People envy others’ freedom. They say “you can’t be free to be left alone to do something I won’t do because it makes me look stupid or wrong or I actually want to do it and am angry that I have imposed on myself arbitrary restrictions. So now you have to convert to my way of thinking–OR ELSE!”

Now we like to mix it up a bit. You don’t want to adopt my political views? To hell with you! [Literally]. We don’t like which piece of cloth you fly over your government buildings–you must die! You don’t eat vegan–eternal suffering to you! Your people have old symbols and remnants of something we despise–we destroy them! We have a dark spot in our history that you keep reminding us of–sanctions against you!

The thing is that the way I’ve written the foregoing paragraph, I could be writing about ISIS destroying the Palmyra shrines, the Confederate Flag controversy, the Armenian Genocide, or a whole host of other recent news headlines. Today, if you go to Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport, you can see the Enola Gay on display–a symbol of the worst single instance mass murder in all of human history.

If all of our symbols are so full of hatred and violent past, what do we do–destroy them all?

This has been the view of every radical project of Modernity–from the French Revolution to Fascism to Communism to ISIS. Destroy every reminder of the past. Replace everything with new language and new symbols. [It is ironic to see American Christians today bemoaning ISIS’s destruction of the Palmyra shrines, which were built to none other than the Old Testament idol Ba’al.]

This doesn’t seem to be a positive way forward. The cultural heritage of the past–regardless of what it represents–should be preserved in some way as a reminder of where we have come from, and why we don’t want to go back. There was no golden age in the past where people were virtuous and life was idyllic. None.

The Coliseum represents slavery too, and a brutality anathema to modern sensibilities, yet [I hope] nobody is calling for it to be torn down as an offensive symbol.

Here we arrive at our problem. Should we display the Enola Gay, but not the Confederate Flag? Should we tear down the Palmyra shrines and the Coliseum?

There appear to be no clear or easy answers.

If it were up to me, the Confederate Flag would come down, and the Enola Gay would be displayed with photos and stories of the evil perpetrated by the American government against thousands upon thousands of Japanese civilians. The Coliseum and the shrines, and the Buddhas in Afghanistan would all be preserved because we have so few old things left in this world, evidence and reminder that we humans have been doing things for a little while–a very short while admittedly–that we have been coping with this thing called existence in different ways, and we still haven’t figured it out.

Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe I’ve arbitrarily drawn the line in the wrong place. That’s the thing–it’s not simple to draw the line. There’s no right place to draw it. So wherever we draw it, we have to do so with humility and respect–especially respect for people we vehemently disagree with. Respect for precisely those people who in our genuinely honest moments we would say “the world would be better off without them.” Because we have to inhabit this planet with each other, and we aren’t doing a terribly good job of it.

But what we shouldn’t do is look at any of these past symbols of violence and bigotry and say “look how far we’ve come.”

We haven’t really. We are still so hateful to each other. So bigoted. So cruel.

I literally weep almost every day, scrolling through my Facebook feed because of this cruelty. From ISIS drowning people in cages to Baptist preachers lustfully envisioning the lake of fire for gay people to Donald Trump spewing filth about Latin American immigrants to the way people interact with one another in the comments to all of these things. I weep at the fact that I myself spent so much of my life with these same cruel intentions and feelings toward so many of my fellow humans. I weep at the fact that all too often I react with unthinking cruelty to perceived offenses.

There is a difference of scale between these things, but essentially they are the same, with the same roots, and can lead only to the same outcome–poisoning ourselves and each other.

“A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in truth called wise.” –Gautama Buddha

“A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.” –Lao Tzu

“O Almighty! May there be Peace! Peace! Everywhere!” –Ishawashya Upanishad

“Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.” –Rumi

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” –Jesus of Nazareth

My final thought is this: whatever we do with our symbols of hate from the past, let us strive to cease creating new ones in the present.

The Suffering Matrix

 

 

The following is my proposed lens through which to view suffering. The two axes are Voluntary/Involuntary and Legitimate/Illegitimate, forming four types of suffering. I will be writing an extensive exposition of this at some point (hopefully I will get around to it somewhat soon), but I wanted to go ahead and post this to start soliciting comments and thoughts on the subject. This is a by-product of the curriculum development I am doing for Exosphere.
Suffering Matrix

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

Nineteenth century evangelical preacher D.L. Moody once told the following story,

On a dark, stormy, night, when the waves rolled like mount­ains, and not a star was to be seen, a boat, rock­ing and plung­ing, neared the Cleve­land har­bor. “Are you sure this is Cleve­land?” asked the cap­tain, see­ing only one light from the light-house.
“Quite sure, sir,” re­plied the pi­lot.
“Where are the low­er lights?”
“Gone out, sir.”
“Can you make the har­bor?”
“We must, or per­ish, sir!”
And with a strong hand and a brave heart, the old pi­lot turned the wheel. But alas, in the dark­ness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shiv­ered, and ma­ny a life lost in a wat­ery grave. Breth­ren, the Mas­ter will take care of the great light-house: let us keep the low­er lights burn­ing!

I have no context for the original telling of the story, so I don’t know what Moody was subsequently using it to say (a safe bet I probably wouldn’t have agreed), but it is a powerful gem of a story. Contemporary Christians in the West are preoccupied with trying to manage the great light-house–“saving” society from the great “evils” that modernity and post-modernity have brought in the wake of social progress. They are busy being cultural warriors when we should all be resolutely committed to being humble servants. Yet we find little such service and even less humility amongst our ranks.

It seems that the reason for this is we have been wrongly led toward false vocations within our Christian life. Our job is not to save other people’s souls. We can’t even save our own. Salvation seems like a great light-house kind of matter to me.

Our job is not to keep society from “going to hell in a hand-basket,” the public life of billions of people around the globe sounds like great-light house stuff too.

But the lower lights, those we can turn on anew each morning. We can show kindness to friend and stranger. We can yield our own interests to the needs of others. We can humbly serve the people around us. We can be beacons of peace in a world torn apart by violence. Yet all too often we do not do these things, because as it turns out, keeping these lower lights aflame is a lot harder than it sounds. So we would rather give up trying entirely or else dress up in spiritual warfare fatigues that make us look like some sort of Christian Don Quixotes and pretend we are holy and righteous in the way that we wring our hands about the loss of God in society.

This is a grave hypocrisy, the gravest hypocrisy of the Christian today, and it is no wonder that the Church is being evacuated en masse in the West. The outside of the bowl is clean, but the inside is filthy. We must reconsider what it means to be a Christian, because our current Western cultural conception of it is bankrupt both spiritually and ethically.

We need a more humble Christian to match the humility of the suffering God we find on the Cross at Calvary.

We need a more loving Christian to match the sacrificial love of our Lord in his death.

We need a more accepting Christian to match the way Jesus kept company with tax collectors and prostitutes.

We need a more meditative Christian to match the Christ who withdrew himself from the presence of others in order to defeat the temptations of Sin.

We need a more giving Christian, one who can keep the lower lights burning as Jesus himself met the temporal needs of the hungry, the sick, and the lonely.

If we do not become this kind of Christian, the Church will fade from memory within another generation. If the leaders of the institutional Church led the way, much of the remaining membership would no doubt make their way to the exits. This kind of Christianity will run off most church-attending Christians in the West. But such a purge is urgently necessary. The dead branches must be pruned away. The demagogues and pharisees need to be shown the door.

Then, perhaps, the ear of the world will be open to the message of love, forgiveness, and adoption of the Jesus I know.

Sliding Back to Modernity

Nothing stings more than the end of a revolution, for in failure it brings a loss of hope, and in success, the bitter disappointment that the world continues to operate as before.

So the intellectual revolution of post-modernity has left us straddling between success and failure, with the twin disappointments of the end of a revolution. There has been almost nothing of profoundly new written in the realm of social philosophy since the death of Foucault. The critique of the post-moderns remains with us, but so do the Enlightenment institutions they were supposed to tear down. Instead of new, more functional institutions, we have the old, broken ones, but without the blind faith that previously gave them enough clout to function at a minimal level (albeit with ghastly discrimination).

In our cynicism we have abandoned the bold task of rebuilding society and Generation Y is content to lob snark projectiles as an emotional outlet for its frustration. In the realm of technology, where the media tells us people are “revolutionizing everything,” we see a lot of hype, but very little meaningful revolution. For all of the remarkable speed of Internet education, for example, it is just a more flashy, digitized version of the public library.

As a result, we have slid back into modernity, its categories, and its presuppositions, but with the ever-present knowledge that it’s all a broken mess. We know the University is screwed up, but we don’t know why, and we don’t consider genuine alternatives to reviving the sciences and the literary disciplines. We may not be content that our educational institutions have become credential-factories and that truly brilliant people have almost no chance of success in an academic career, but we have accepted it as an immutable rule of contemporary life. Wittgenstein not only wouldn’t be offered a teaching post at a major university today, but he probably would not have even received a Masters degree (much less a doctorate) for Tractatus–not enough sources cited! The same would probably be true of a Newton or an Einstein in the sciences.

The neo-marxists sit around complaining about neo-liberalism and the IMF-imposed world financial order. The libertarians sit around complaining about the Rothschild-Bilderberg global conspiracy in central banking. The conservatives wring their hands about a decline in morality because gay people want to live in committed relationships and raise children in a two parent home. The liberals are still fighting the Civil Rights movement of the 60s fifty years later. Our categories are broken, but we dare not discard them.

The French Revolution’s lasting victory was to eviscerate all of the non-State institutions of civil society. Given what most of those institutions were, it was a first step in the right direction. The post-modernist critics succeeded in completing this revolution. Not many Americans under the age of 40 are going to Rotary Club meetings, and most people’s relationship with church is as a consumer of religion. These institutions represented the perpetuation of a social and economic order that needed to be deconstructed, but once we finished deconstructing everything, we were too tired to build something new and better in its place. And so we are living in a society where we maintain mild attachment to hollowed-out organizations and empty notions because the void would be too painful to bear.

Western Conservatives want to rebuild the old institutions and claim that our contemporary anxiety and depression is the result of abandoning the old, “tried and true” ways of organizing society, and indeed of forgetting God himself. The left believes we still have deconstructing to do. It is a stale war with soldiers only feigning genuine interest in its outcome–but they fight on because they wouldn’t know how else to fill their time. Old culture warriors never die, and they apparently don’t fade away either.

In the face of the anxiety and meaninglessness of our existence, we have no context, no institutional framework to come of age and learn to navigate the actual process of living. The Western meta-narrative has been dead for decades, but it is still the closest approximation to a framework we can find. What has happened as a result is its continued perversion. Life has become hyper-atomized. Materialistic aspirations have morphed slightly, and subsequently become more acute. Status is still the most prized possession, but different things now constitute it. Even though my generation believes it is more spiritually and emotionally advanced than our predecessors, we are in fact moral and emotional midgets who have tacitly and unwittingly embraced the financialization of existence. We speak about the ROI on friendships, we are concerned about whether our romantic partners have a good enough credit score, and our careers have come to define who we are more than at any time in human history. Our parents were building families by their mid-20s and decentering their identities. We wonder if we can “afford to be in a long-term relationship,” or have children, or any other things we now continually delay out of financial concern.

We read of our younger members being a lost generation because they cannot find high paying jobs after college–as if the lack of cog-in-a-machine corporate serfdom is the defining nature of us as individuals or collectively as a generation. The alternative of founding a Silicon Valley start-up and raising venture capital is one of the few other options available to our status-craving selves. Starting a successful business just won’t do–we have to raise investment capital and get featured in TechCrunch. We need that invitation to speak at SXSW or TED to feel accomplished. Actually advancing the bounds of science anonymously or publishing a work of literature under a pseudonym is an unthinkable way to approach life more than a decade into the 21st Century. If you can’t take credit for something in the social media universe, why bother doing it?

This is not just a social malaise, it is a cultural cancer that is eating away at our core. We cannot imagine that we would be valued for our actual merit–we have to be sure to take public credit in order to be valued. We cannot believe that years of toil to solve a particular problem with no significant reward in the short or even medium term could possibly be worth it. This is because we lack new institutions to encourage, support, and frame such ways of living. We have thus far lacked the imagination required to conceptualize what an institution of such a sort would even look like, how it would operate, how it would persist into the future beyond our deaths. No, we can’t be bothered to think about these matters because they aren’t sexy, the don’t live up to the expectations of the zeitgeist to talk about how we don’t need institutions anymore and that the Internet is making them obsolete. Ignore all of that inner loneliness and longing, for a bunch of barely 20-something upper middle class white kids in Northern California are going to become multi-millionaires making photo-sharing apps and turning educational lessons into online videos!

The revolution is coming!

We were told something similar before, back in the 90s. The world is better off, no doubt. Technology has improved our lives, and its continued marginal innovations are empowering us to do a lot of things that we couldn’t do before. But we are not pushing the boundaries of technology in any meaningful way. Solar panels that are efficient enough to be at grid parity–iPad Mini–3D Printing–these are not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. 3D Printing has been around for decades, and while it is now becoming more accessible to more people, and there are tremendous opportunities that will flow from this, it is not a revolution, but an evolution. We will be as disappointed by it as we were by the bold claims of the Internet hype-sters of the 90s. Life rarely changes by revolution.

But like the religious zealots longing for the rapture or some other apocalyptic event to save them from their boring and absurd lives, the technology televangelists will keep preaching about the imminent appearance of their savior, one invention this year, some other invention next year, and the revolution will always be near, but not present. Repent of your Luddite ways, for the kingdom of Kurzweil is at-hand!

The Marxists promised salvation by revolutionizing the economic order. Not only did it not materialize, it produced disastrous results. So too will the techno-fascism that has become the religion-of-the-day in Silicon Valley and is being imposed on the rest of the world in our smartphones, our web browsers, our cars, and nearly every other electronic way we interact with the world. Technology can and does improve our lives, but it is not inevitable, and given the motivations of the culture driving the creation of most, it is growing more unlikely by the day.

If we remain (or grow more) hyper-atomized, alienated from each other, devoid of enduring relationships other than those that are mutually beneficial at the margin, without a framework for confronting the difficulties of existence, then we will be nothing more than the hapless victims of the Digital Robber Barons in Cupertino, Mountain View, and Menlo Park, their products rather than their customers, infinitely replaceable parts addicted to making money for them impoverishing ourselves in the process.

It does not have to be this way. No course of history is irreversible. But our slide back into modernity, its categories, its consequences, can be changed if only we find the resolve to push back against it, to battle the inertia in society and in ourselves and build from nothing with worn-out tools a foundation for a new way of living, a new way of thinking. There will be no sudden transformation of life from its current state into some euphoric utopia. Indeed, most of the benefits of the work will not even be ready to be enjoyed by the people doing it, but instead will be the inheritance we leave to future generations.

For me this is not mere idle chatter or navel gazing. This is what I have decided to give my life to doing. Exosphere is not an educational institution–it does fulfill that function–but it is exactly the kind of post-post-modernist civil society framework that I have been describing in this essay. We are doing the low-time-preference heavy lifting needed to make the world a livable place and we are creating a space where people can make sense of their lives through collaboration, innovation, and mutual support. If any of this resonates with you, please join us. We are creating an open community, not an elitist hang-out like most entrepreneurial “communities” that are being built on mountains in Colorado or beaches in some exotic location. We want to help you where you are in your life–to help you figure out what you can uniquely do with your talents and your passions, to learn the skills you need to do it, to provide you with a forum to find collaborators, to lift you up when you fail, to cheer you on when you succeed, and to empower you to help others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

Triviality Awareness

There are striking similarities between the core messages of Socrates, the Hebrew Prophets, and the prophetic message of both John the Baptizer and Jesus. The core message of all these spiritual men was essentially this: we are in grave error, we care about trivial things instead of the things that matter, and in doing so we are in ignorance and in the Judeo-Christian context, we are in sin.

Socrates went around Athens interacting with people he encountered in the streets, talking to the Athenian decision makers on their way to council, and challenging them on their basic assumptions about life. Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets essentially did the same thing. As with all prophets, they were all ignored by the vast majority of the people they encountered.

The awareness of our trivial endeavours (I resisted the temptation to say ‘our trivial pursuits…’), our own vanity and egotistical motivations, is the awareness of our sin, our fallen nature, our separation from the kingdom of God. Kierkegaard referred to sin as the “sickness unto death.” When we become aware of this, we are suddenly appalled at the meaninglessness of our previous way of living, our prior occupations and preoccupations. We are almost punished at every turn by the banal conversations and concerns of the majority of people we encounter, and yet it is from the bleakness of our death-bed that we can peer into the kingdom of God and see that it is within reach.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus frequently used the phrase “the kingdom of God is at-hand.” I find the use of this peculiar English idiom in the King James translation to be quite interesting. I was discussing this subject last night with one of my closest friends and asked what the translation was in Spanish, which he said is “el reino de Dios esta cerca.” Or, the kingdom of God is near/close. The essence, which is communicated in both translations, is that the kingdom of God is within reach. The continue usage of the phrase in the Gospels indicates that the kingdom of God is not far off in the starry universe, but is rather in parallel to us here on earth, and within our grasp. But if we are preoccupied with trivial things, we will never find it. Tolstoy wrote a famous account of this line of thinking in his non-fiction work “The Kingdom of God is Within You.”

Whether one is a Christian or an agnostic/atheist, or an adherent to some other religion, there is little doubt that we are all enriched by first becoming aware of the extent of our concern for the trivial and the questions of grave importance we overlook because of our trivial concerns. It is a painful process, but a cleansing one. We must extricate ourselves in most cases from the social circumstances to which we, by default, have dedicated our time and efforts. We reckon with the painful reality that most of our human relationships are predicated on such triviality and are injurious to our own humanity (and, if I am permitted to say, divinity).

What then, should we pursue that is opposed to triviality? St Paul, in his letter to the Philippian Church, gives us a pretty good starting point:

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others.”

Rooting the Unrooted

“Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents.”
–Italo Calvino

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”
–G.K. Chesterton

Generation Y is getting older, but we aren’t quite growing up yet. In just over 30 days, I will be observing my 30th birthday, and the flood of people who graduated high school and university with me will soon be having theirs as well. In generations past, it would not be uncommon for somebody of our age to be looking at the immediate specter of their own children emerging into adolescence. For us, it seems we have barely left it ourselves, for ours seems to have embraced an ethos that is an odd hybrid of Peter Pan’s and the fare that might be expected of a high school graduation speech about our power to change the world. We crave impact and indeed believe we have made it, even in spite of evidence to the contrary.

We craft our life stories in the best light, spinning every experience into a harrowing tale with just a dash of self-abnegation in order to avoid the disbelief of our audience. Genuine, true failure cannot be expressed unless it has been followed by great success. For all of the talk of a culture that embraces failure, it is hardly true. We love the comeback kid, but not the kid trying to come back. Even less the graying adult trying to do so.

If the Baby Boomers were the tragically vain generation, ours is the farcical one. We no longer collect material possessions or even monetary savings, but stories and experiences, and we believe ourselves in this sense to be superior to our parents and Generation X before us. It is a parallel to our transformation of the rest of our life from the real to the virtual. How convenient for our vanity, as stories and experiences can be so easily forged, embellished, crafted, and perfected through artful blogging, tweeting, and Facebook updating. The moment we begin telling one of our experiences is the moment the truth of it becomes obscured, especially to ourselves. We do not even realize we are doing it.

Perhaps this is why we are a generation of tourists, perpetually on-the-go, attending conferences, designing vacations that will have the most impact when recounted through social media, and even building a career around the vaunted ideal of “location independence” so we can become nomads, darting from one exotic location to another. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize the veracity of the Calvino quote at the opening, that there is nothing exotic, only other people’s familiar, that once encountered, is incorporated into our own. Ultimately, this should be the aim of travel–for all things to dissolve into the familiar, as it is what unites humanity in a mutual understanding. But to actually experience that is quite different from crafting a story about such an experience, and all but the most discerning audience won’t be able to tell the difference between the two.

As long as we are moving, we do not see the cracks in our own artifice, and as long as we are interacting with people doing the same, they won’t see them either. We have utterly lost touch with the Genuine. The more we talk about authenticity, the more meaningless the term has become.

None of this is to say that travel cannot be uplifting, inspirational, or efficacious. It can and should be all of those things. But we are not travelers, as Chesterton observed, we are tourists. We see what we go to see.

Even when returning ‘home,’ we view it as nothing more than a brief interlude between stories, a time to tell of our experiences in vapid conversations over drinks. We no longer even have a working definition of ‘home,’ and it most certainly is not a physical house where we expect to reside for the next 20, or probably even 5 years. Our loss of this sense says much about who we are as a generation, but it is an even greater predictor of what we will become–or fail to become.

History has few examples of generations as privileged as ours, even better highlighted by the Great Recession, rather than being disproved by it. In the 1930s the jobless and poor were destitute. Living at home or having massive student loans and no job may seem like a drag, and a dashing of dreams, but compare it to the life of our great-grandparents. My great grandmother, who to my great blessing lived until I was an adult, told me of carrying buckets of spring water for miles every day, storing milk in the river, and sewing a pocket in her slip where she kept the $1,000 that was all she and my great grandfather had to their name. They had three children to support. The government made them kill much of their livestock while prohibiting them to sell it as part of the policy to artificially raise agricultural prices. They had elementary school educations.

Yes, I’d say we have it pretty good by comparison. We have been given more than previous generations could imagine having at the end of their lives. But we are squandering our inheritance. We are not investing our talents and resources for the long term. Our time preference is so high that we are spending the ‘capital’ given to us on things that will yield short term results, for our selves. There are exceptions, no doubt, but not many. At best we are telling ourselves that the reason we are focusing on these immediate (and usually vacuous) projects or jobs is so we can make enough money to set us up to do what we want to do–inevitably something more noble–rather than making sacrifices today to pursue those noble goals for whom the payoff is somewhere in the distant future.

Ultimately, we have become incapable of this way of thinking. We are so afraid of the psycho-spiritual realities we would be forced to face if we slow down long enough to examine our priorities that we busy ourselves with an ever-more frenetic pace. In order for a seed to put down its roots, it must first stop blowing in the wind. Stillness is a necessary prerequisite to rootedness.

Rootedness is the frightening concept our generation must come to terms with. It is not mutually exclusive to travel, or taking advantage of new opportunities, but it does mean making some difficult choices. It means casting our lot with some place and its people–the ones who aren’t continuously moving around themselves. It means investing in a future generation that will be attending nearby schools. It means investing in the broader societal infrastructure that will support those children as they come up in life–clubs, professional organizations, etc. It means saying “this is my home.” Most of all, though, it means the conscious decision to invest in human relationships and genuinely intimate friendships that will grow over time, relationships that are not predicated upon their utilitarian benefits.

Generation Y will only be a lost generation if we allow ourselves to be one. We will only fail to change the world if we continue trying to collect experiences that we can repackage as stories instead of dedicating ourselves to often thankless work building things whose rewards we will only see in middle or old age. A mighty oak tree cannot grow from shallow roots. Neither can remarkable human achievement.

 

Meritocracy? Not Even Close

The middle class in every country really just wants three things: Liberty, Prosperity, and Dignity.

Socialism denies all three in the name of protecting them. Our current model of (Crony) Capitalism limits their accessibility to only a few people and declares that there’s simply not enough to go around and that ‘at least we have a meritocracy to decide who gets what.’ It’s a sham meritocracy, though. Yes, it benefits the people who got good grades in high school and made it into Harvard. But who gets into Harvard? The children of people who went to college, who could afford SAT prep courses, who had the money or time to drive their kids to extracurricular activities, children who could take that service trip to Honduras instead of working two jobs to help pay their families’ bills. That’s not a meritocracy. That’s a lie.

It’s a rigged system, rigged for the elites by the elites. Not maliciously. It’s just that they know not what they do. The system has been designed to make them feel good about themselves. As long as it looks like a meritocracy, they don’t feel bad about the inequality of opportunity. As long as there are a few token kids of extraordinary intelligence pulled out of the ghetto and given a free ride to Yale, they can suspend their disbelief about how the system they designed, the system they support keeps the masses from Liberty, Prosperity, and Dignity. They aren’t bad, they’re just ignorant, perhaps willfully so.

The worst are often the people who came from humble beginnings and ‘made it,’ who joined the Club, and now have an inflated sense of self-importance. These people are as zealous as reformed smokers–“If I can do it, anybody can. Everybody else is just not as smart or doesn’t work as hard as I did.” When in reality, by accident of genetics, they ended up with the particular kind of intelligence that the system measures, and they are the lucky ones ushered into the Club to prove that it’s really a meritocracy.

Unfortunately the defenders of the system are ruining the reputation of capitalism and discrediting the liberating and democratic nature of free markets. They claim it’s a level playing field when everybody else knows it isn’t. Until we reject the lie of the meritocracy, we will continue to feel the pressure toward more failed socialist experiments.

To the elites: It’s time to let go.