A generational shift

Despite the fact the current administration has been in place for less than four months, the calls are out, the alarms sounded about the dire threats faced by citizens and, yes, even the foundations of our society.

Meetings are being held to express outrage over tax and spending programs that will allegedly undo our way of life. Comments are heard from extreme proponents of a fear agenda that mass incarcerations are possible, that socialists are taking over the society.

Where were most of these terrified beings the last eight years and why did we not hear from them? Eight years ago, the federal government had a budget surplus that was then devoured and replaced by a massive deficit. During the last eight years, one war of dubious character, with shifting justifications, was waged while another, more valid, was increasingly ignored — all at great cost in terms of money and lives. During the last eight years, a number of vigorous moves were made against basic rights. Less than a year ago, a huge amount of money was thrown at a bailout of financial institutions with few clear standards for determining accountability.

We imagine the majority of attendees at these get-togethers will average 55-60 years of age, and older. We see two things: first, fear among some older members of the society that their money is in jeopardy. This is legitimate: To be near retirement age or beyond, to see one’s funds eroded by an economic disaster, to ponder the possibility that taxes and government spending will increase, causes authentic concern. Second, we sense a fear (often unexpressed and, perhaps, not fully realized) of a sea change in this society —a generational shift.

The old ways are not going to make it any more. Denizens of the “old world” are not going to retain power and control.

For this nation to ensure that a standard of life comparable to the one enjoyed by its mature citizens is enjoyed by their children and grandchildren, a new generation of leaders with new ideas is going to have to succeed in ways unimagined even a short while ago.

They must succeed in a society in which educational systems have eroded compared to those in other parts of the world. They must succeed in an economy that has become defined by consumerism and debt, rather than production — an economy in which people howl about menial jobs lost to foreign concerns and about the need to preserve industries and institutions a half-century behind the wave. They must succeed in a system burdened by entitlements, yet desperately in need of certain entitlements (universal healthcare, for example) that engender a positive social environment.

They must succeed in the face of a stunning lack of recognition of the next economic frontier —the development of energy technologies – and an environmental crisis that will dwarf the current economic meltdown. This nation led the way in the creation of industrial technologies, then led in the development of information technologies. Our only hope of retaining a front-runner role in a world that is changing more rapidly with each day, is to deal with environmental problems and to develop ultimately profitable means to reshape the ways we create and use energy. This will require continued risky, expensive and unsettling transformations. And, perhaps, government assistance.

Yes, our way of life is going to change. It must change. Gatherings should be held to consider this change in light of considerations broader than taxes and spending. They should be held to consider how a “new generation” can deal with the problem of keeping this society alive and flourishing, while maintaining the basic ideals that have carried us to this point.

Karl Isberg