“Now there’s spiritual warfare and flesh and blood breaking down.
Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground.”
- Bob Dylan – “Precious Angel” (1979)
I’ve attended two high school graduations so far this season. One was a technical marvel, with a long video presentation of baby pictures morphing into the high school seniors seated before their adoring parents and friends. The graphics were slick and the message a bit subtle, but after a few minutes of reading and watching the tea leaves I got it. The educational system had done its job. We’d given it our children and it had turned them into young adults, ready to tackle the world. In keeping with the tenor of the video presentation, the two young valedictorians strung together a series of clichés worthy of a good politician or a Calvinist convinced he’s doing the will of God.
The second, which we attended last night, had less pizzazz, but matched the earlier event cliché for cliché. The valedictory addresses were short, with about half the time taken up with muted complaints about three years of school food and the other half with cuddly Winnie the Pooh quotes. Rural Kansas had done its job. Twenty-nine young adults from Olpe, Kansas had, as the saying goes, made the grade.
On the way home last night I mentioned to Nancy that graduation ceremonies had changed quite a bit since 1960 when I made my way into the world of adults. The tone of everything back then was serious. We were being confronted with the fact that we were now to be full participants in a troubled world. It was going to be, we were told, our job to build upon the foundation our parents and grandparents had laid for us. While they hadn’t secured every liberty or solved every problem, we recognized they had advanced noble causes. Now it was our time to shine, to make the world a better place. The clichés offered were far from being cuddly. The words of Lincoln and Walt Whitman, rather than Winnie the Pooh, were the rhetorical launching pads for our adult lives.
As I watched last night I had to remind myself to be gracious to the class of 2006. Most of them had entered the high school doors as open slates, ready to be educated. Unfortunately, most had left as budding nihilists. They’d come in empty and left empty, with only a few clever catch phrases to show for the time they spent in the lower levels of academia. A few years of college education will, for the vast majority, make their nihilism complete and socially acceptable. What else would, or should, we expect of the class of 2006? All they really did was cooperate with the indoctrination. It wasn’t all their fault.
What’s in store for this year’s graduates? Troubles, I fear. Have they been prepared to confront them? No!
I gave a lot of thought to this as I made my rounds this morning. The more I thought about it all, the worse it got. In the end, near the University, I came to the conclusion that this is a generation caught on the fringes of lazy populism and ruthless capitalism.
What do I mean by that? It means that this generation of graduates is armed only for self-aggrandizement. On the one hand there is a “whatever floats your boat” philosophy that allows them to be untroubled while the vultures gather. The peril is all around and this generation’s response is almost always the same. Osama’s still hiding in a cave near Tora Bora. “Whatever.” Kim Jong-il is drinking expensive cognac while his people desperately forage for grass to eat. “Whatever.” Musa Hilal and the Janjaweed are murdering hundreds of thousands in Darfur. “Whatever.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is close to having his finger on the nuclear trigger. “Whatever.”
On the other end of the fringe is the economics of this generation, which is an odd combination of greed and retreat from responsibility. The more this generation has been given, it seems, the more it wants. The operative language of America two generations ago was about responsibilities and earning one’s way in the world. Today, the language of the class of 2006 is about rights and entitlements. This is a generation with little interest in earning anything. It’s a generation that feels, rather, that it is owed.
Yes, the vultures are gathering. And, the class of 2006 refuses to see them sitting on the fence posts of the world. Most of this year’s graduates don’t even know where Iran is, or North Korea, or Darfur. If you were to ask most of them who or what they Janjaweed is they’d probably say something clever like, “It’s the next generation of marijuana, Dude.”
I wonder how close the fence posts will have to be to their homes and “stuff” to make them notice. Not long ago Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a scathing letter to George Bush, scolding him and proponents of liberal democracy. It was eerily reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev’s “we will bury you speech” of my generation. In his analysis of the letter, Hillel Franken, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, noted that:
“All of this can be seen partially but still somewhat dimly in Ahmadinejad's emphasis on Christian hypocrisy, which may in this context mean two things: violations by self-professed Christians of the standards and teachings of historic Christianity, or the violation by historic Christianity of the true teachings of the Prophet Jesus. The latter is a traditional Islamic view of the defect and even crime of historic Christians. In calling upon Bush, as Ahmadinejad does emphatically, to embrace the “teachings of the prophets,” he is calling upon him not only to abandon liberal democracy but Christianity as well--to embrace Islam, to which all the world must ultimately submit, and which is gathering momentum in our time.”
This is only one of the vultures the class of 2006 will have to face. When the time for confrontations with him and others inevitably comes, will they be ready to face up to them? When the time comes and the sound of the rattling of sabers is heard will their response be little more than a few cuddly quotes from Winnie the Pooh? If so, the vulture’s response will be sardonic laughter as the sword is raised. Or, when the devil’s at their doors, beating his way inside, will “Whatever” be the last words we hear from this generation? Based on what I heard over the past few weeks it just might be.
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Good versus Evil
The Class of 2006