In an age of standardized testing and centralization of education it is not hard to imagine why Americans are falling behind the rest of the world’s students. Teachers are more often pressured to produce tangible results than real ones at a time when our children are supposed to be testing their limits and coming in contact with the world around them in ways that they cannot learn in a classroom environment. Teachers, especially middle and high school teachers, are consistently to adhere to protocol rather than work with students where they are. The result is often an adolescent experience that ill prepares our children for the non-standardized world we occupy. That world is not simply what we find in the history books that gloss over the brutality of slavery and genocide, it is the touch of our feet upon the land and our relationship to it that cannot be centralized or tested except within ourselves.
I sometimes wonder what my son and his generation will make of their ancestors, myself included. When I think upon my own father’s generation, of how disconnected they seem to be at times about things like resource scarcity, the answer to that question begins to swim into focus. My parents grew up in an era of what seemed like inexhaustible natural resources and cheap energy. It is almost as if a child wandered into a fully stocked candy store and after a few nibbles of sugary treats, began to gorge themselves and invited others to help. The problem becomes when you get to that last corner. All the really good stuff is gone unless there is some hidden in that corner, but it will not be the unopened crates of confections you once found, it will be a few unopened packages or trial-sized versions. Meanwhile, we’re sending out people to frack the remaining chocolate from discarded wrappers in the vain hope that all of the time spent doing so will somehow be worth it. We’ve blown through our energy and my Father’s generation led the way in the name of Progress.
My own generation is a generation of general apathy. We have grown up in an era of nearly unprecedented privilege and it shows in how we live our lives. What we expect from our existence and how we live is often proclaimed as “better” than any group of people in existence have lived . I consider this a fallacy in many ways, something I may get into in another post but suffice to say that my negative qualification of that idea is grounded in the Earth and the gift exchange relationship.
It is important to remember also that we are not unlike any other organism on the planet that locates a wellspring of energy in the ecosystem. The fact that we have more or less staved off the natural filters of environmental resistance for so long is not a testament to our will to live, it is simply a stretching of the rubber band that will no doubt cut off our nose and spite our face whether we intend for it to happen or not.
Our parents grew up in an era in which anything seemed possible from traveling around the world to putting a man on the moon. Perhaps our descendants will look back upon this as the age of marvels, when we carried complex machines in our pockets and could talk over long distances with magical technology. The problem with this level of rapid technological advancement is that it is often done so at the expense of our peripheral vision. The effects of our speeding down the road are often missed as we are going too fast to see them and this is the issue with my parents’ generation that has inevitably affected my own. The conflicts fought and the ground won by such rapid technological expansion secured a future for our species that requires more and more resources and less interaction with the Earth in the manner of a gift exchange relationship.
Blaming my parents’ generation for the pickle we find ourselves in would be a wasted effort. As I have already mentioned, they grew up in an era in which growth, both economic and technological, seemed like a sort of manifest destiny that guided the expansion of their cultural identity. Like the kid in the candy store, the opportunities seemed limitless and much of the science fiction that my parents’ generation read envisioned a world where we had flying cars and interstellar travel by now. Even my own generation watched films like “Back to the Future II” with the expectation that our hover boards were soon to be gliding out of the factories. It is just that expectation and the slowing of “Progress” that is becoming the wake up call for our culture of easy fixes and high technology. In a hundred years, the smart phone will either be something that is reserved for the incredibly wealthy or non-existent and there is likely to be no middle ground between the extremes.
So what will the historians of the future say about our generation? If I were to guess, they would say that by and large we were the apathetic generation, if the centralized institutions that exist today manage to hold on long enough to ensure that the high school kids remain in their future cubicles. The future I tend to see though, is one where there is a necessary return to regional and local communities that have little or no central government. If this happens the way I envision it, we need do nothing more than sit back and watch as the government slowly and surely loses the scope and process of its authority while simultaneously learning to become self sufficient without centralized authority. If anything, this is why we will be called the “Apathetic Generation.” We will have stood by and watched while the Age of Wonders declined and disappeared and the disaffected high schoolers exit the classrooms into a world they cannot possibly recognize from the pictures on their laptops and smart phones.
It is in this context that we should be actively engaged in our children’s future and more to the point, I believe that Pagans, already people who feel closer to the Earth than many, are poised to craft a lasting example that may ease the slow decline into a post-industrial future. The years of our adolescence are critical to who we turn into and the experiences we have during that time become our history. I have often remarked that I have been out of high school more than 4 times longer than I actually attended it and yet there are few days that go by in which some memory of that time does not affect my thinking or decision making today. History is written by high schoolers and remains with us, as we approach becoming the elders of our own generation. To aid our next generations in crossing the bridge between what centralized authorities demand that they see and what they will actually see, it is inherent upon us to lead by example. Their stories and experiences will become their history and unfortunately, their history in large part will include parents, teachers and communities that rely more on the policies of an impersonal central authority than upon the sacred transaction of the gift exchange relationship between one another and the Earth.
A post-industrial future will certainly not be easy by the standards of the present. Paganism though, with little respect to one path over another, seems poised to craft a framework for knowledge to be passed to future generations through myth that will help our species maintain a gift exchange transaction with the land where our feet touch the Earth. History will be written by high schoolers. What that history looks like is entirely up to us.