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My Generation Is Afraid to Live

“We are inheritors of incredible cultures, yet we have no appreciation or understanding of them. We have more informational resources than any generation prior, yet we are as ignorant as ever.”

“There is but one choice: to rise to the task of the age. Very soon, only too soon, your country will stand in need of not just exceptional men but of great men. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts. Find them in the depths of your country.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

The lives of Generation Z (Gen Z) rest on the edge of greatness—toward a future of cultural redemption and spiritual renewal. This is to say that we are well-positioned to engage in the necessary and difficult work sidestepped by the most recent preceding generations. Given our unique plight caused by an ongoing meaning crisis and the accompanying explosion of the culture wars, my generation is—in many ways—in uncharted waters. There is a coming inflection point at which our characters will be tested and the fate of the culture will be our judge—when we will be given responsibility for how (and if) the world continues to function. I fear we will not be ready for it.

The Tragedy of Wasted Potential

Thanks to a widespread preoccupation with safetyism and mediocrity, thinking of oneself as a potential, valuable contributor to a culture or to the world is an alien concept to the average Zoomer. Without an independently recognized obligation to suffer, to endure hardships for the sake of sharpening one’s personality and character, we are led to a state of endless misery, as detailed by writer (and fellow Zoomer) Freya India. For too many, the routine of school or work (top-down instruction), binge-watching vapid television or pornography, endless partying or marathon gaming sessions, and mindless Reddit or Tik-Tok scrolling in the time outside of said obligations predominates. 

What if we began replacing such impulsive, immediately gratifying activities with deeper, more meaningful ones, including perhaps ones from a forgotten past? This might include reading great books, listening to and learning beautiful music, shaping and sculpting our bodies into exceptional representations of the human figure, or simply enjoying reflective leisure. What if we resolved to live straight—narrowly, righteously, with purpose and intention, strength and courage?

We are inheritors of incredible cultures, yet we have no appreciation or understanding of them. We have more informational resources than any generation prior, yet we are as ignorant as ever. Our lives, I believe, hold the most potential of perhaps any prior set of people, yet we are bored, hollowed out, and dead inside.

Indeed what we need is not to remain coddled by a sad womb of comfort, protection, and uniformity but instead to become formidable individuals, capable of assembling our own lives and solving our own problems. India, to this point, poignantly writes at Quillette:

“Few consider that my generation may be yearning for something more—desperate to discover the depths of our character, to test our resolve and prove our worth. Incessantly we are reminded to relax, slow down, love ourselves as we are and shield away in safety. But, for a whole raft of us, this is the cause not the cure.”

Gen Z’s greatest challenge, its call to adventure, is to find itself amid the mass of the ignorant and the passivethe fearful, and the hedonistic—to seek out and discover what matters most and to live in accordance with it. India goes on to describe the exercise of being fully human as being intimately tied to embodying “courage, strength, [and] fortitude,” yet we, Zoomers, are instead “encouraged…to enjoy our paltry existence.”

The human being is capable of so much more than being just another face in the crowd, another tool of a domineering system or ideology. What is seldom communicated to young people, especially Gen Z, is the fundamental truth of our obligation to culture. The idea that one may be able to contribute to an academic field, write a great novel, or become a highly successful entrepreneur is not something our corrupt education system, or our leading cultural figures and institutions, present to young people.

Instead, leading cultural narratives have become obsessed with identifying the ways people can be made uncomfortable by their circumstances. One’s particular intersection along identity groups has superseded the true spiritual needs of the human being as comfort, safety, and so-called “justice” have become our highest values. But man and his culture do not become beautiful by trafficking in comfort and uniformity—quite the contrary. He becomes beautiful by being forced to his uppermost limits of mind, body, and spirit. 

A Better Way

If a young person allows himself just a moment to think about the ways of living most often presented as adequate and desirable by the dominant cultural generations (millennials and baby boomers alike), he would find at least half of it exactly backward. There are questions that need to be asked: Will following the masses through the education system and job market really make one fulfilled, or even financially secure? Should career really come before family? Can sex truly be a casual activity? Is the pursuit of competence merely a cover-up for the will to tyrannical power? Can utility supplant beauty? Can the world change before you and I do? Do one’s present and past circumstances actually determine the possibility for the expansion of the mind or the flourishing of the soul?

Courage is what is most missing from our time and our generation: courage to live our lives on our terms, to dare to dissent against any and all prevailing forms of dogma and prescribed behavior. Indeed, we live in an age when attention and conviction are most often bought and sold and time is purposely killed. We have no sense of urgency—of our obligation to the reinvention of culture, our inescapable pregnancy with the future. We continue to allow others whose futures are secure, whose stories are nearing the finish, to define our own. 

When Jordan Peterson speaks about the patheticness and boringness of rights, he is not only emphasizing the need for personal responsibility. He is also stressing the importance of burdening oneself with the whole history of culture—its complicated yet underappreciated past, oft-crumbling present, and potentially fruitful future.

Abstract conceptions of natural rights are rendered meaningless if not grounded in something more substantial than the perceived freedoms of whim or desire. (This is the fundamental insufficiency of freedom alone as the highest ideal.) The aim of a more beautiful world made through our actions—one with a culture more aligned with our deeper humanity—is a much nobler and resonant ideal. To belong and to contribute to efforts worthy of the person—and not merely to accept and appease ones which he is meant to arbitrarily serve—that is what members of Gen Z, and every human being, truly long for.

Although the problems of our suffering can only be solved through our own volition, the situation we find ourselves in is—in many ways—a result of generational neglect and the foolishness on the part of Gen Z’s predecessors. It cannot be easily denied that baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials left a broken world in their midst. Many of them see the stability of their place in society as justification for stagnation (consciously recognized or not), and, as such, they need not pay attention to the reality of a crumbling civilization. As Roger Scruton once said, “Societies endure only when they are devoted to future generations, and they collapse like the Roman Empire when the pleasures and fancies of the living usurp the inheritance of those unborn.” 

This is precisely what is happening today. Between the hoarding of wealth and resources (and the politicization of their remaining distribution) and the comfortable ignorance of much of the boomer elite, visionary youth are finding their ambition unwelcome, save for those petitioning for universally acceptable, high status, “luxury” beliefs, as Rob Henderson has so eloquently described them, which are void of authenticity and originality. Indeed, it is perfectly possible, even likely, that the very people who should be in the spotlight (who are willing to bear such a burden and who hold the wisdom and courage to reinvent culture) are not being allowed in because they do not serve the old order or the demented vision for a new one

This is not to say older generations should simply give their riches to the young or  capitulate to their any and every demand. Instead, I am suggesting that the youth ought to be better enabled to create their own lives and effect the kind of change they wish to see (that is, through engagement in genuine work and, perhaps, disciplined study). It is undeniable that some access to resources is required for such tasks to be facilitated with any longevity and impact. Moreover, it is the opposite of the depressive passivity expected of Gen Z, with its rampant digital escapism and narrow paths to universal action. It calls forth a more adequate restoration of a relationship of mutual respect for and from both elder and youth, professional and amateur—that Gen Z be treated like adults (as they are, by university time), capable of taking on the world and its troubles.

Previous generations, who hold the majority of power and influence, might be reasonably blamed for quite a lot, but I maintain the best way forward is for our generation to assume the responsibility of resolving their missteps, even if this extends to making their problems our own. By no means can we sit and wait for assistance, and we cannot allow ourselves to project our misfortune onto their shoulders entirely. The institutional corruption resulting from their lack of foresight, however, has not been without dire consequence. One look at the multivariate crises and near-certain coming collapse of higher education should be evidence alone. Perhaps it is our duty to fix it, and alone, if we must.

The Call to Greatness

Gen Z was born in the desert. We search incessantly for a fountain of meaning to pit against the misery of its existence. Our generation wants nothing more than a reason for suffering that is not simply to satisfy an institution, to submit to some false god constructed for them by others. The real remedies, the answers most vehemently sought, are to be found in the depths—in ourselves. 

It is in the least likely places and from the now most commonly maligned sources that we can and will glean such self-understanding. It is no coincidence that classical education is being discarded at precisely the time when young people are most starving for the fruits of its exploration, when it is perhaps the last and single most powerful defense we have against complete possession by ideology and the sort of institutional slavery Big Education desires for it students.

We desperately need higher values and a deeper purpose. To begin, there must be a shift from seeking careers toward seeking vocations, from mere education to illumination, from the pursuit of status to the pursuit of personality. Efforts like that of Ralston College open up this sort of possibility for a wider cultural shift.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung provides an inspiring articulation of the obligations of the individual in youth, in conversation with his own soul:

“Never forget that you are a man and therefore you must bleed for the goal of humanity. Listen, you are still juvenile for your age. You should get older, the years are dwindling and yet your work has not been accomplished. Practice solitude assiduously without grumbling so that everything will in time become ready. You should not die unfulfilled. Your years are numbered and many years are still needed for your fulfillment. You should become serious and your work sink heavy as iron into the ground of mankind. Let go of too much science. There lies the way that is not the way. Your way goes toward the depths, toward the rarest and deepest.”

The question of exactly how to live the life one is meant to live, day by day, in our culture of conformity is no easy task, though I believe Aristotle’s words best befit an answer: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

Hope for my generation rests on the following truths: One can self-actualize and lead a meaningful life. One can resist the Oedipal mother of modern institutionalism. One can accomplish what is thought impossible by his fellow man, to transcend the meekness of the herd. It only takes some courage and the ability to say “No” to coercion of values, of truth, of life.

Jordan Stout is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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