Follow the Soapbox
PictureStephan DaSung Wallace
by Stephan DaSung Wallace

It is the dream of a pompous and dreadfully short-sighted individual - the desire to become a voice for their generation. This is a letter to those idealistic egoists, who I can only hope will be able to express with total honesty that they have spoken for a boy like me, one day.

It is not the happiest days of our young life that determine our place in history. If you are a millennial, I hope to God that you have retired the delusion that we all ought to die young. I hope even that, by now, the desire to live a meaningful life, perhaps to live to a ripe old age and look back with pride at a life well-lived has become the dream of yours. I hope that the aggressive hubris and desire to be the best at things has subsided, and that, at least by now, serious contemplation of what it means to be a good person in this world has given you a new direction. This is important for the conventional reasons - one does not wish to look back at their life at the end and be crushed by total uncertainty of its worth.

For our generation, the meaning of a life well-lived has an additional criteria - we need a moral courage that we have yet to fully realize. Let’s generate a thought experiment, on the idea that we want to live an amoral life.

Imagine you go to University to become a historian. You do very well in your studies, and have researched the works of Samuel Huntington, Gordon Wood, Francis Fukuyama and the other standard histories of the United States - the great biographies of the Founding Fathers, and some of the works that touch on social movements in the United States. You may read, for example, The Fall of the House of Labor by David Montgomery. You do well in classes. Due to your reading on the side, a notable institution gives you a position which allows you to write freely about your perspective on current events in the political theatre. You begin to notice some things seem very wrong with our system.

You are compelled to act, but given your allegiance to this honorable profession, you are made immobile - condemned to produce reports with the static and unmoved presentation of a “neutral” entity.

The decades go by, and you have lived a good life. You are given a contract by a noteworthy publisher, for a memoir on your incredible career in journalism, or in historical analysis, or intellectual commentary, or for your in-depth work - extrapolations about Keynesian economics in American history. As the decades have gone by, and the reality of painful social conditions has chiseled away at your ideals - the decay of the institutions has given birth to a deep worry about the future of the rising generation. You decide to dedicate your memoir to the children of 2100:

Please do not make the mistakes my generation made.


In the political world, and in the world of conventional truth, we are told that compromise will lead to the best solution. But given the current social reality, one can’t help but think that that is a superficial truth - and today, such wisdom amounts to meeting in the middle of a broken system. It seems that the end result of surrendering so much of our moral core has only deepened the reality of inadequacies of bureaucracy, and tightened the grip on the levers of power by the financial sector of the world. Compromise did not mean meaningful co-operation between two opposing parties to agree to work for the greater good. Compromise, it turned out, meant compromise of our integrity.

The rhetoric of the active community paints a pretty clear picture. The idea, for example, that millennials are “saddled with debt” and the assumed degradation of one’s life is certainly true. Perhaps if we were historians from the year 2100, we would have said that this generation lived in a labor system of Neo-Indentured Servitude.

Assessing it from a systematic standpoint is important. It says something that the pattern of our life seems to be to dream of a life of freedom and then to be woken up by a reality of financial obligations. And again, it is conventional wisdom that will accept artificially-sourced misery such as this as “simply a part of life - the way things are.” Convention as usual serves to enable a network of powerful people to operate freely, at the expense of the majority of the population, which is standard institutional behavior. So, one comes to the conclusion that this process of ambition and soul-crushing burdens of work is not a product of natural order, but something devised, something planned. (There are reasons and a lot of details. It’s a long story, for another day. Here again, conventional truth is simply a falsehood.

Another obstacle to honest assessment is the immediate surrender to contrived gratitude - that we ought to be grateful for the work of our parents and grandparents for the work that has preceded us. Immediately I think of the statement above, that many of them carry a regret for the mistakes of their generation, for generating a cynical and disempowered culture, for not doing enough. And if there is not regret or reflection, then surely it is actually us who ought to be ashamed of ourselves and them - for allowing this to go on further. For this generation and the previous, surrendering to the series of convenient myths, and conventional truths. For reducing existence to a succession of static experiences.

If this generation is to truly send a message, and if we do not want to become lost - we must accept our responsibility - for ourselves and for those who have come before us. We cannot delay it any longer - the time to really act and build society is now. We have the clarity to think and operate on our own accord. We have perspective enough to resist replicating the actions of the hesitant, the tragically despairing, the ones who are ensnared by malaise, the ones who hold the whip over themselves.

If we are to hold to our capacity to dream, and if we are to bring those dreams to light, we must also avoid falling in love with ourselves. We must find a way, as artists do, to break our ideas out of the prison of our imagination. There are opportunities - it is not that we must “tear the whole thing down” - it is that there are already tears, holes, in the system - and as those cracks open wider, there is space for the new ideas to grow. This is how progress happens. This is how we will claim our place in history.

To be truly good in this world, we must not only treat each other with love and respect - but we must also treat each other with truthful assessments about the state of things. And the truth is that work individually, singular and isolated actions will only replenish
the individual, while the whole of the generation continues in its ways.

The way our generation will find itself, find itself in history - is if it truly generates its idea for the society it wants to inhabit. It is not just a desire but a need - to live in a fundamentally different, and fundamentally better world.



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