A case for optimism

Lately I've been reading a lot about the "Roaring Twenties," a period of time when Western society and culture blossomed following what had been the scariest thing to ever happen to humans up until that point: World War I.

Some of the highlights of the 1920s:

  • Jazz became a thing
  • Aviation became a thing
  • Art Deco became a thing
  • People were partying...all the time 
  • Women were given the right to vote 
  • The Harlem Renaissance happened
  • Western economies were booming and people of all stripes got wealthier
  • New technology (the tv, the radio) dramatically changed the way people interacted with each other

"Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology." Probably such a stark contrast to the utter lack of agency most people felt witnessing WWI.  

I think it's fair to say that lots of Millennials have grown up with a pessimistic mindset. And why not? For fuck's sake, we witnessed a bunch of lunatics fly metal rockets into the world's tallest buildings live on television. If that wasn't enough, we graduated into the 2008 financial meltdown, witnessed an adult baby be elected as President of the United States, and to top it all off have been conveniently scapegoated by Boomers as the "problem with society" while that generation continues to squeeze the life out of anything they get their hands on. 

What were the post-WWI kids like leading up to the Roaring Twenties? Here are some choice quotes, pulled from the Internet:

  • "The Lost Generation was composed of young people who came out of World War I disillusioned and cynical about the world." 
  • "Lost" in this context also means "disoriented, wandering, directionless"—a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war's survivors in the early post-war years."
  • "This accusation referred to the lack of purpose or drive resulting from the horrific disillusionment felt by those who grew up and lived through the war, and were then in their twenties and thirties."

Telling Hemingway the story, Gertrude Stein added, "That is what you are. That's what you all are... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation." Rude! Especially given that Stein was about 25 years older than Hemingway and her generation was in power leading up to...you know....the biggest fucking world war in human history! 

Sound familiar?

So here's my point: maybe all this current chaos in the world is a necessary evil leading to something truly great. We've had some technological innovations (the Internet, social media, to a lesser extent cryptocurrency) that are completely de-constructing many of our cherished beliefs and institutions in real time, which is probably a very psychologically traumatic thing to see unfold as a generation. 

And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we'll turn today's carnage into a tomorrow's decade of skyrocketing prosperity, radical equality, and create new forms of art and expression along the way, led by technological innovations that have changed the way we interact with each other.

So I'll be putting off any big life events (marriage, having kids, etc) until at least next year. When I'm washed up, I want to say I was doing big things in the Twenties.