Millennials facing the apocalypse
“Not all who wander are lost”.
It’s a beautiful adage, and sometimes — on better days, I believe that to be true. This, however, is not one of those days. Today, as someone who is a wanderer, I feel lost and all that I thought I knew or at least understood to some degree seems foreign. It is as if everything, including my native language has become unintelligible, and the skills I have, the abilities and talents have disappeared and I seem to myself incompetent and incapable. These feelings are not new and they are not exclusive to myself or my experience — and the more Millennials and the 21st century turn against the degradations of capitalism and the enduring legacies of colonialism, racism and all other -isms the more we are at least learning to see that these feelings are directly tied to the capital obsessed, deeply unequal societies we in the west come from.
“I was going down and with that came a tremendous sense of knowing nothing”. These words were spoken by Joni Mitchel while she was being interviewed for a documentary being made about her life and work. She was referring to the period surrounding the making of the albums Blue and For the Roses. Last month Blue celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and its once intimidating level of vulnerability — something that had drawn criticism at the time — is now being celebrated. As I face the challenges of life in a pandemic, coming as they do with unemployment, uncertainty, the politicizing of common sense and common decency, struggling with separation from loved ones and the effects of prolonged isolation, I am at least heartened by the strength and wisdom I see reflected back, especially by Black and Indigenous communities, who more than any other are able to see the perils of our society and the sense of alienation and knowing nothing. These communities are expressing not only their vulnerability, but their courage in standing up to systems of genocide and oppression that continue to intrude upon their lives in the most personal ways — and those lessons in survival, while excluded from mainstream platforms, are exactly the lessons in survival that would serve all of us at this time in history. It is the insights into racism and capitalism, and what facing that would mean form otherwise comfortable white communities, what actual reparations and dismantling of these institutions would mean, that keep them out of the mainstream — relegating them to the edges of discourse, labeled radical and extremist and violent and even, in sickening irony, racist.
The forests are burning, the oceans are getting so hot they are cooking the animals in them alive, methane spews from the Arctic while the Gulf of Mexico glows with toxic fire, and we are struggling to make ends meet in a system designed to embolden oligarchs and criminalize those who would steal a loaf of bread. Every generation has its struggles, every era seems to think itself on the verge of collapse — but there is no time to have existed like this one, where we are literally watching the world burn while counting the molecules of carbon that have spelled the point of no return since I was finishing high school. Going down is a deeply personal feeling, a sense of total powerlessness — as powerless a feeling as confronting the scope of what must be done to have any hope for the future. Tonight, I cannot content myself with much except the knowledge that, while I feel I am going down and know nothing, I am not alone, and the sanest among us feel the same way and still know what must be done, and do their part.