I first came across the Generation We video through my Twitter network. I think it was Alec Courous who posted it first. The video, while a bit overly produced and polished, seemed to have an urgent and authentic message. I followed the links to the website, and eventual I ordered the print copy of the book, although a PDF format is available from the website.
The book much like the video has its flaws, but over all the Generation We project appears to be a worthwhile endeavor. I will briefly highlight my criticisms, but I want to spend more energy on promoting the message, in hopes that more people will join the movement.
After reading the first few chapters, in which Eric Greenberg, identifies the make up of the Millennial generation, I found myself a bit insulted. The overly simplified generalizations, the slick use of stock photography, and the profusion of meaningless charts and graphs make the book appear to be more of a comic book than an important manifesto that will lead to any meaningful social change.
Greenberg spends too much time early on in his text, in my opinion, focusing on the importance of his project. The self-important tone early on in the book detracts from the powerful points he will later make. The overuse of colorful pull-quotes with words like “hopeful, optimistic, progressive, forward-thinking, and independent,” were a bit too much too handle for a cynical Gen X’er like myself.
I suppose that this sort of MTV-ifaction of his prose was meant to retain the attention span of a younger audience, but if Greenberg truly believes that this generation is as brilliant as he claims, then he should start by giving them a bit more credit, and simply deliver his message of hope and activism directly, rather than dilute it with shiny ornaments.
My second and final critique of this book is that we should always be skeptical of any one who so easily generalizes about large groups of people, making grandiose statements like:
Members of Generation We see their friend’s coming home from was with permanent injuries; they find themselves unable to afford healthcare, to save for retirement, or to fill up their tanks with gas. They blame the right for these problems, and they see the obstinacy and narrow-mindedness of conservatives as being antithetical to their own optimism and spirit of innovation. So they reject the failed solution of the right, even as they refuse to commit themselves wholeheartedly to any political party.
Chapter two of the book is riddled with oversimplifications like the statement above, but I suggest that readers simply skim the first chapter and get to the meat of the book. While Greenberg’s sophomoric style takes some getting used to, his message is a valuable one. This book would make an excellent text for any Global Issues class. Let us now explore its merits.
We are here to learn and evolve as souls, and this journey we call life is about having a higher purpose and meaning beyond satisfaction of our sense and accumulating possessions. Life is about working on behalf of others, taming our egos, and sharing our talents to make the planet a better place.
The book first outlines the pressing issues facing the world today:
- Environmental Collapse
- Health Catastrophe
- A Failing Educational System
- Economic Disaster
- Creeping Totalitarianism
- A World Ravaged by War
Each one of these bullet points is elucidated by sharp, concise prose like this:
Today’s mass media are effectively an instrument of mass consumerization. Commercials and editorial content both serve the same purpose: to brainwash viewers into choosing violent toys, processed food, fast food, and other poor lifestyle choices. They program us to spend our lives in front of a TV screen, video-game console, or computer monitor, where built-in tools for marketing, promotion, and habit influencing can work on us continually, making us sedentary, obese, diabetic, weak, and dependent on artificial stimulants. This then affects our cognitive ability and locks in spending, time, and consumption patterns. Before we know it, they own us. And if we are different and dissent, they marginalize us and ostracize us from society, abandoning us to lives of hopelessness, voicelessness, and poverty.
Suddenly Greenberg’s book is no longer a cute comic book, but a manifesto for a coming revolution. A handbook for a cultural lost in its own self-obsession and preservation. He goes on to say:
Simply put, Generation We inherits a planet in peril, in which plunderers who treat the world as their private property are exploiting institutions of government, society, and business to control resources, manipulate media and markets, and sell out the long-term interests of their nation and the world for personal short-term gain.
These hostile trends aren’t accidental, nor are they unconnected. They form a pattern by which plunderers and speculators seek to manipulate society so as to maintain and expand their own power and wealth. A former president and first lady used to speak about “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” Here, if anywhere, is the real conspiracy—collusion among business and governmental leaders, media moguls, educators, and religious leaders who have contrived national and international systems that serve to keep the people weak, fearful, helpless, and under control.
The goal of this conspiracy is not to impose ideological or political doctrine but simply to control the world’s power and wealth. These systems keep people sick and drained of energy through food that is non-nutritive, healthcare that is unaffordable, and an environment that is toxic. They keep people ignorant through an educational system that stifles dissent, stultifies creativity, and deadens the mind.
They keep people physically and psychologically dependent through reliance on illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals, other addictive substances such as nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, and addictive behaviors such as gambling, electronic games, and mindless entertainment. They prosecute and convict record numbers of youth, especially minorities, to keep them from exercising the power of their numbers in the political system. They keep people frightened through constant drum-beating for war, exaggerated threats of terrorism, and media-created bogeymen (from Islamist extremists to illegal immigrants). And they keep people helpless through out-of-control debt, brainnumbing work, and financial dependency.
Their goal: to create a world in which the majority of the population are like high-paid serfs, unable or unwilling to organize, protest, or assert themselves and capable only of serving their corporate masters.
Greenberg goes on to outline the opportunities available to fight these perils:
- The Power of Technology
- The Global Spread of Knowledge
- Environmental Awareness and Holistic Thinking
And a comprehensive agenda for what needs to be done. (This agenda can be found from the PDF book on pages 145-147)
Maybe you have a few other items you would like to add to this list. That’s great. Our goal here is to prime the pump—to start a national conversation, especially among Millennials themselves, about where we want to take our nation and the world. We are proposing an agenda—a list of items for discussion—not a plan. It is up to you, and every concerned citizen, to take part in shaping the strategy. Maybe you think some of the goals we’ve listed here are too ambitious—that we are being unrealistic in our dreams for the future. You may be right. But history shows that the human capacity to achieve great things is far greater than we normally realize.
The book ends with an impressive declaration and plan for action. You can find and sign it on the Gen We website. While I had qualms with the presentation of the content, I found this to be an important movement, and I recommend that teachers make the effort to connect our students to its message.
I plan on introduing this project to students on Intrepid Classroom. What do you think? How can your students get involved? Please leave comments with ideas about collaborarte, and let’s do some work on the ideas presented by Generation We.