Our History

For Young Activists, Sept. 11 Was Starting Point

Friday, September 10, 2010

In this excerpt from the introduction to her new book "Do It Anyway," Courtney Martin meditates on the political consciousness of a young activist generation for whom Sept. 11 has been a defining event.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Social scientists and the media seem to have made an ugly habit in the last few years of labeling my generation (those 35 years old and under) as entitled, self-absorbed and apathetic.

Psychologist Jean M. Twenge, in "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before," argues that, largely because of the boom in self-esteem education in the 1980s and 1990s, young people today "speak the language of the self as their native tongue."

Tom Friedman dubbed us Generation Q, for quiet, in the pages of The New York Times, writing that "Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good and for the country's own good."

And morning shows can't resist a segment on how entitled Gen Yers are in the workplace and what their bosses can do to tame their positively gargantuan egos.

I think they've got it wrong. They're missing a class analysis.

And they've mistaken symptoms for the disease. We are not, on the whole, entitled, self-absorbed and apathetic. We're overwhelmed, empathic and paralyzed.

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The privileged among us are told over and over that it is our charge to "save the world," but once in it, we realize that it's not so simple. The less privileged are gifted their own empty rhetoric: American Dream ideology that charges them with saving, perhaps not necessarily the whole damn world, but at the very least their families, their countries, their honor.

Conscious of Complexity

We are the most educated, most wanted, most diverse generation in American history, and we are also the most conscious of complexity.

In "Let Your Life Speak," Parker Palmer writes, "Absolutism and relativism have ravaged not only the things of the world but our sense of the knowing self as well.

We are whiplashed between an arrogant overestimation of ourselves and a servile underestimation of ourselves, but the outcome is always the same: a distortion of the humble yet exalted reality of the human self, a paradoxical pearl of price."

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