This is not the worst period of history

2011-07-26 00:00

CONTRARY to what many say, we are not living in the worst period of history, or the greatest age of immorality. But I do think we are one of the most ungrateful generations, and very unwise, and good at procrastinating.

The problem is that for a generation with information at our fingertips, we are horrifically self-absorbed and ignorant of history.

We talk about economic recession as if our world is ending, when all we have to do is cut back consumption a bit. Or at worst, live like Third World people have lived for generations, without massive complaint, and very cheerfully. Yes, I am mainly addressing you spoilt people in the First World countries and First World suburbs of Third World nations. We are not telling you to eat your offspring. We are only asking you to cut back on your creature comforts. Or sell one of your mansions.

Everything is bad, people say. Bad like being arrested by the local inquisition and then burnt alive after a farce of a trial? Bad like being killed in one of Europe's many religious wars bet­ween different Christian sects? Having the local village burnt down, the women raped and disembowelled, the babies dashed against walls, and the men just killed? Having a life expectancy of maybe 20-something? Bad like no vote? No electricity? No television? No education? What are the "good old days"? What exactly do we want from our present? If you complain that life is too materialistic, don't go off on a tirade about modern life. Give away your possessions, go live like Henry David Thoreau. Do something. Don't complain and talk about a past you don't know about.

I think if you are living in a First World country today, you are a spoilt brat. No generation has had it better. Stop squealing about your taxes. Be grateful you don't have an emperor who arbitrarily seizes your business when he sees you are too successful. Stop complaining about slow Internet or bad cellphone reception. At least you see your family every day, and not once a month after travelling over the local mountain range to hunt and gather.

Is this the most immoral age we live in? Certainly, if you think promiscuous sexual relationships in the open are more evil than promiscuous relationships in the dark. What do you really think Socrates was hanging round with so many men for? Philosophy?

But we have our dreary reality to get back to. We are surrounded by reality TV. In the West, there is no great revolutionary agenda. Revolutionaries get jobs at universities. Not much changes. It is the meaninglessness, the tedium, that is the horror of First World existence. The reason is that complacency is just too comforting. Most people don't want meaning. They want to disappear. They view work as the curse of the devil, not the chance for revelation. And really, our immorality is our apathy.

If you are in a Third World country, you have some grounds for complaint. You will suffer the worst effects of global warming and not have the structures to fight it. You had your resources taken free of charge to kick-start the industrial revolution that has made the West the powerhouse it is today and now you are made to feel bad about every donation you receive from the generous West. If you live in a South African township, in a country whose Constitution proclaims equality for all, you will feel aggrieved at life occasionally.

The disappointing thing about my generation is the power at their fingertips and the inability to use it wisely and effectively. People have forgotten the meaning of silence. This generation multitasks so well it gets nothing done. It saves Brazilian rainforests on Facebook, while the real ones keep falling. It expresses outrage at everything, and changes little. It is people with less, in the Third World, who understand more of the future. They know Walmart is not the fruit of liberation. They know the price of freedom, and food, keeps rising in a careless world. They know Rihanna is not the devil, but the man in the suit who kills people on paper, and goes home to a suburban house and feels nothing. The devil is our ignorance.

They know this is not the worst generation, but it is not spiritually the best. They know those who are forced to walk long distances do not lose the way to the heart.

• Kyle Allan is a 24-year-old

poet, writer, businessperson and festival organiser.

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