It’s graduation season, which means if you’re bedecked in a mortar board and tassel everyone older than you is about to offer advice. Which is fine. It’s exciting to see graduates. Your smiles are indelible. Your gowns pressed so neatly juxtaposed with that look in your eye, like you know something the rest of us don’t. It’s irresistible.
Whether stepping across the threshold from high school, college or grad school you have lived in the shadow of 9/11 your entire life. That includes the three ensuing endless wars; a nativist culture of terror that thinly masks expansionist foreign policy; being re-confronted with the ever-growing threat of engaging in nuclear war; drone strikes on the innocent and inability of your politicians to find a real, actionable solution to send even a small fraction of humanitarian aid to the region of the world we have destabilized and set into a tailspin. Instead, what happened over there was children your exact age watched their families get torn apart and sometimes blown apart in front of them and eventually became radicalized. Right now, as you sit here, someone half a world away wants to kill you.
These are the wars you are inheriting.
Politically, the age of neoliberalism, Ronald Reagan to present, has favored only the ultra-wealthy in this country. Everyone else, from minorities to the white working class, has been fucked slowly like Vivian Ward. They’ve been fucked out of jobs, fucked out of healthcare, fucked out of security and fucked out of their homes. All this fucking is like one of the orgies from Eyes Wide Shut: They served to benefit only the few and in the end, weren’t too interesting.
The few = the financial services sector which has controlled the tempo like America’s point guard for the last three decades. They have been allowed—because of Clinton’s 1999 signing of the Financial Services Modernization Act which repealed the key components of FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act—to function as algorithm-based gambling machines. As a result, your parents’ retirement, mortgages and credit were commoditized and, in the case of mortgages (so far), devalued to the precipice of sending the world economy into oblivion.
Nobody to date has been punished for profiting on what amounts to using insider information and faked numbers to fuck the trusting masses out of their actual money. As a result, today’s economy, even though it has the appearance of the fine sugary crust of Crème brûlée, is a heaping, stinking turd just beneath the surface.
The world’s economic woes are beginning to manifest in places like Brazil and China and it is a only matter of time before the wave crashes again on these shores. And that will likely be within the first half-decade of your professional lives.
This is the economy you are inheriting.
You have an increasingly right-leaning and bereft-of-ideas two-party system. Today’s mainstream Democrats have bought into the notion first propped up by Reaganomics, that the top one or two percent earners of this country’s success will somehow trickle down to lift up the bottom. That’s not true. It hasn’t happened over the last thirty years. It won’t happen in the next thirty. If anything, this form of governance has polarized the country and marginalized, sometimes radicalized those who have been left behind. New conservatives have abandoned the parliamentary system that our founding fathers imagined. They have said, directly, that they will impede or in some cases stop all government from running—and they have acted on it too. Whether it is through not passing simple rubber-stamp legislation like, I dunno, annual budgets or refusing to replace a Supreme Court justice with a sitting Democrat in office, their singular goal has been to stand in the way progress—of any kind. Their definition of doing their jobs is not doing their jobs.
This is the government you are inheriting.
The planet is a mess. Technology has driven a stake between people. Steve Jobs, a sociopath who was a stickler for good design, has convinced you that staring at a screen is a preferable mode of communication, of living—that it’s better than a handshake, a kiss on the cheek and a look in the eye—lingering drinks with friends, making something with your hands…going outside.
In the meantime, the greatest minds in this country have been farmed out to code, so there can be more candy to crush, more head shots to swipe right, more bathroom mirror selfies to post into the ether.
All this tech has fixed nothing. The planet is fucked. There is a drought so massive in India it will lead to the deaths or mass migration of more than 300 million people. The ice caps have melted more in the last 20 years than they have in the last 10,000—combined. Man is very quickly and swiftly trying to kill off itself as well as all other species for good. Ignoring opportunity to enact meaningful regulations to control fracking, drilling, mining, air and water quality and refusing to dump federal resources into renewable energy have led us to the edge of oblivion. Your grandchildren likely will be the last generation of this species.
This is the world you are inheriting.
So, what can you do?
Well, first off, you are lucky.
That’s right. You are lucky.
You are lucky for three reasons:
- Those who inherit disasters have a chance to clean it up and be heroes. Yes, you can be a hero.
- There are 80 fucking million of you. You and your contemporaries are the largest single cohort in human history. There is strength in numbers.
- You are hyper-aware of your importance. You have been told you’re the fastest, smartest, most agile, most nimble, most facile and quick-to-learn-and-digest-information generation in human history.
…And now you get to prove it.
Time will tell. You’re either going to rip the tablecloth out, break all the plates and start over or you’re going to be schlepping the dishes into the kitchen for a final spray before lighting a cigarette and watching it all fade to black.
The choice is yours.
Advice sucks, but here are some specifics that will get you from this junk show to delivering us where we need to be.
Remember, you are The Ones:
- Do not trust anyone who starts a sentence with “Honestly.”
- Beware those wielding PowerPoints and headsets, they are just trying to sell you something.
- Everything lives better in memory. Those who are nostalgic are fucked. Remember that when someone’s telling you how things used to be.
- Never buy anything sold as good for the environment. Nothing you can buy is good for the Earth.
- Wars can end.
- You can end wars.
- Assume, right now, that nobody gives a shit about you or your problems. It will help prevent you from being constantly disappointed in people.
- There are no longer barriers to being creative. Making money at it is a different thing entirely.
- Open concept floor plans are a fad. So is subway tile.
- Corporations have become too powerful and only have their own best interest in mind. Remember, a corporation is trying to make itself seem human, trying to constantly shove what they have in your hand. Friends are real, so is family and trees and rain and snow. Go seek out and preserve the real while it still exists.
- If someone invites you to dinner, fucking go. It means they have something they need to say to you in person.
- Physical labor, try it.
- If someone invites you to drinks, fucking go. It means either they’re lonely or they’re going to fuck you (or both.)
- You are not as funny as you think.
- Prince and Bowie are gone…so that’s two vacancies right there.
- Like all civilizations nearing their end, we’ve been complacent for a long, long time. Get ready—physically and mentally—for a fight.
- Bees. It is all about the bees.
- Reject leaders who tell you what you want to hear. Know the facts and seek the truth.
- Not all ideas are good ones.
- Read actual books, it is better for your eyes.
- Pay for music.
- Netflix is OK for a break. It’s not a surrogate for interaction. Ditto everything else you see on a screen.
- Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.
- Money is the cheapest thing.
- Our society rewards narcissists. Real people doing real work don’t have time to ‘share’.
- Sometimes it is OK to tell a racist joke or a sexist joke or a joke nobody gets—that doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a person.
- Steer clear of those who pretend they have never had an impure thought, or act or action. They are lying.
- Make mistakes, learn from them. Do not repeat them.
- Study history.
- Having a sense of humor means having the ability to laugh at yourself.
- Most of the devices and medications you use are the invention of your parents’ generation in efforts to control you. Resist.
- Do not grow tired or weary or cynical. We’ve been auditioning cynical since Kennedy died. It’s not working.
- No generation before you has been dragged through so much by the time they come of age. And at the same time, no generation has been so sheltered. Educate yourself as much as you can so you know the difference.
- And, oh yeah…wear sunscreen (SPF 50 or above this time.)