Category Archives: People & Society

Making the Millennial Dream

I just finished reading a fascinating article on CNN this morning, about the jobs market as it relates to millennials. The writer, Ruben Navarrette, Jr., suggests that millennials like myself simply aren’t cut out for the rigors of modern work, at least not as most of us are now. He writes that, “In a competitive global economy, which is not interested in catering to anyone’s sense of self-worth, these young people may learn the hard way that their needs and expectations don’t match reality and that jobs are hard to come by.” Tough outlook, isn’t it?

Some may be unfamiliar with the term “millennial” as it’s used here. Millennials are, broadly speaking, a group of people from about age 18 to age 30, the sons and daughters of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials have been raised during an incredible technological boom, a time during which the internet, cell phones, social networking, and an endless supply of other technical marvels have redefined the way life is lived, in first- and third-world countries alike. They tend to be very well-educated, and have an incredible sense of self-esteem and self-worth. They’re also the age group I’m a part of.

Navarrette is blunt and unapologetic in his assessment of millennials. But what he seems to see as negative traits in this up-and-coming generation might be seen instead as assets in building a brighter future.

RN (Ruben Navarrette; one can only type “Navarrette” so many times before one’s fingers fall off) cites millennials’ self-confidence as a drawback in terms of their future success. His argument is that this confidence leads young people to be too optimistic about their job prospects, and ultimately causes them to turn down “perfectly good” opportunities when they come along. Millennials, he says, expect too much and are unwilling to accept too little when job-hunting. There’s some truth to this: Many people around my age have pretty lofty goals and expectations for their lives, especially when it comes to work, which often makes them/us less eager to take less-than-desirable jobs if they’re not connected to those goals. RN puts it this way: “Many millennials have been known to hold out for the perfect job at the perfect company with the perfect salary and a clear path to the vice presidency, even if it means crashing with mom and dad well into their 20s.”

But is this self-confidence really a bad thing? Sure, it can lead young people to be unrealistic about employment. But at the same time, the many huge problems we face in the modern world aren’t going to be solved by timidity. Many millennials (myself among them) bring this confidence into their vision for the future, and aren’t afraid to have big dreams that match their admittedly large opinions of their own abilities. But this should hardly be called a disadvantage! We’re now in a day and age in which great ideas and innovations can go far, no longer restricted by borders, distance, or language, so it follows that as many people as possible should be creating and voicing great new ideas. Facebook wasn’t started by a baby boomer, after all!

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Another Victory for Equality

A map of the US depicting the laws regarding same-sex marriage in states across the country. See post for details! (File taken from Wikimedia Commons)

On June 24th, the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the sixth state in the US to do so.

Notes on the map accompanying this post: Dark blue indicates states in which same-sex marriage is completely legal. The slightly lighter blue indicates states in which couples may be in a union that gives rights similar to marriage. The lightest, cyan blue indicates states in which legislation grants limited rights to same-sex couples. Dark gray indicates that the state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Light gray indicates that the state neither specifically prohibits nor recognizes same-sex marriages. Salmon indicates that the state has statutes banning same-sex marriage. Bright red states have constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages. Dark red indicates that the state’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriages and some or all kinds of same-sex unions. Big surprise that the 6 “Tornado Alley” states have this. Sorry for the long-winded explanation! All this information and more can be found here.

This is another big step forward in the fight for marriage equality in the US for same-sex couples. 6 states have fully legalized same-sex marriage: Iowa, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and now New York. This trend began around the year 2009, in which four states, all in New England, legalized same-sex marriage. The first fully legal gay marriage to take place in America occurred in 2004 in Massachusetts, and was a huge victory in the fight for LGBT rights.

Since then, things seem only to be speeding up for gay rights. After a lot of vacillating on the issue, President Obama has begun to take a stand over the last half-year or so, first pressing for the successful repeal of DADT in December of last year, the military policy barring gays from military service (which will finally go into effect on September 20), and later announcing that his administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

These events, along with the most recent news of New York’s wonderful decision, is a powerful sign that the public is moving inexorably toward a positive attitude toward marriage equality and homosexuality in general. Though there are still many staunch opponents of gay rights, and will be for years to come, the real momentum seems to be on the right side in this debate, and that’s not going to change.

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The Peoples’ News

The news industry is one that is undergoing a constant evolution. From word of mouth to the printed press, and on to radio, televised, and digital media, the art of spreading the word has changed enormously throughout its lifetime.

Nowadays, another dimension of news has come to the fore: The social dimension.

Most Americans, and indeed most people with access to news coverage all around the world, are most familiar with a type of news reporting that is presented in a kind of lecture-oriented format. Stories, at least those sent to press by major news organizations, are usually very factual and objective, and tend to follow a common pattern. Now, these are good things to have in such a crucial and informative media source, don’t get me wrong. But if you look at the broader, grander scale of the news industry, this kind of media is something of an anomaly.

Back in the 19th century, and even well before, news was spread by gossip, word on the street, and pamphleteering. One could make a case, as Tom Standage, business editor at the Economist does, that early American revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were essentially low-tech bloggers, using pamphlets and propagandistic methods to spread the news. Before such technology as the radio or television emerged (making competitive news creation prohibitively expensive for most), news was communicated largely by coffee shop conversations and pamphlets handed out on the street. News then was much more partisan and was fully conscious of this fact.

Surprisingly enough, technological advancement seems to be bringing the news back to this kind of media, and away from what 19th century press developed into. In other words, moving forward in tech is bringing us back in time.

That’s not to say that this is a bad thing! As the internet becomes more and more pervasive, and more and more people begin using it to discuss and spread ideas (as I’m doing now), the news will gradually be taken out of the hands of the few and become produced by the many. Already, sites like Twitter and Facebook (both of which can be linked to this article at the bottom of the page) allow people of all kinds to share events and discussions with friends. In fact, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden was first publicized accidentally by a Pakistani man tweeting about the events unfolding near his home.

This is very reminiscent of those 19th century times when pamphlets and common people were the main vehicle by which news traveled. Things are also becoming more partisan, as they were then. As news becomes more dominated by and dependent on the power of the internet, people are more able to weigh in and voice their opinions about stories of all kinds. In fact, social networks like Facebook allow people to almost create news stories, forcing the larger media world to pick up the story. If enough people take up a cause online, the industry has no choice but to notice.

All of these things lead me to one simple conclusion: The until-recently monopolistic news industry is quickly and inexorably shifting to a social one, and it’s up to the industry to jump on this bandwagon or be run over by it. The potential for an amazing new era of news is enormous. Which side will they end up on?

For more on this subject, and to see some of the writing that inspired and informed this post, check out this Economist discussion.

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Read On: Prothero on May 21sters

Whether or not Christ is returning on May 21st, this op-ed by Stephen Prothero is provocative and insightful for any reader. (Source: eurweb.com)

This is the first in a new category of posts I’m starting called Read On. These are short posts that include a brief introduction to a topic followed by a link to an article, op-ed, video, or other piece on that topic. I’m starting this category for two reasons: First, this will allow me to continue writing and encouraging discussion about interesting and provocative topics and issues, even when short on time (which I have been of late). Second, there are many pieces to be found online that I feel merit more discussion, so I want to share these with my readers.

As many of you have likely heard, the world is going to end tomorrow, May 21st, at 6 pm. Well, that’s the story at least.

Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, made a prediction about the end of the world, declaring that it is to come on May 21st: tomorrow. This isn’t the first time Camping has made this prediction, and after 6:01 passes without incident tomorrow, he’s likely to come up with another.

Now, the idea of this world crashing down around our heads tomorrow seems unlikely at best to the vast majority of us. And while I would agree that this theory is pure lunacy and fantasy, perhaps this kind of unfounded belief is not as far from home as we would think.

In the article I link to below, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, discusses the idea that we all have our pet irrational beliefs, and perhaps we’re not all that different from the May 21sters.

My Take: Doomsdayers not so different from the rest of us

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 2)

Will we finally let go of our differences? (Source: scu.edu)

This is the second part of an earlier post, which you can find here. If you’re a bit lost, give my earlier post a read!

Sadly, we’re nowhere near as far toward this as we could be, or should be, and I must admit there’s a long way to go. But progress is being made, and in no small way! A great example of this is in the steady advancement of gay rights over the past years. Public opinion is moving toward favoring marriage equality, DADT has been repealed (nominally at least), 6 states allow gay marriage, and Maryland will soon join them. To add to this, the Department of Justice is no longer upholding DOMA, a strong step that shows that government is moving with the popular opinion. The long run for marriage equality is looking even brighter, as more than half of voters under the age of 30 (55%, to be exact) approve of same-sex marriage, and the media generally treats it as both normal and acceptable.

Of course, this is by no means the only place we’re moving forward! Huge strides are being made across religious, social, cultural, and linguistic barriers, as people all around the world are connecting in new and incredible ways. Even just in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many new and amazing people, and talk with them about some of the most important things in life, and we’ve been able to do this across entire oceans!

This new century brings incredible new potentials with it, unlike anything in centuries past. Just as the 20th century brought about amazing new developments and turning points in our collective history, the 21st century is bringing a new kind of change, one that brings understanding and peace, instead of division and strife.

Maybe this is just the optimistic musing of a young mind, but as I mentioned above, this seems to me to be happening in a variety of very real and tangible ways! I’m finding more and more people who are willing to reach out and understand others, no matter what their differences are. People seem to be slowly becoming more willing to accommodate the different ideas of others, without feeling the need to be right. In schools, more children are being taught the value of acceptance and tolerance, instead of the value of winning an argument. There seems to be a greater and greater need and desire for interfaith dialogue, and prominent religious leaders (Feisal Abdul Rauf, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many others) are standing up to try and bring greater peace and unity between religious traditions, without sacrificing diversity.

As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done here, but a lot of progress is being made as well. Though we’re only a tenth of the way through it, I can see this century being a bright one, a time when people will slowly but surely realize that all of our differences, all of our outward appearances and supposed differences can be left at the wayside. This 21st century will be, I’m sure, one of Common People.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 1)

I watched a fantastic documentary tonight, for the third time. It’s called FLOW (standing for For Love of Water). The documentary discusses the privatization and pollution of the world’s water, and highlights the growing problem of water shortage, and what we must do to prevent it. I wrote a brief post about this a few months ago, and it’s certainly something I’ll explore more in the future.

But what really caught my attention this time around was a very short quote, from an elderly Indian Gandhian. The venerable man said, shortly and simply, “Twenty-first century is the century of common people.” Now, I apologize if this doesn’t strike you in the same way as it struck me, but this really made me start thinking.

A little interjection here: As far as I can tell, the phrase “century of the common people” is based on a speech given by Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice-president, in 1943 on the goal of the Allies in the Second World War. In the speech (which you can find here), Wallace says that the 20th century can and must be the century of the common man, not the century of America. I assume that this is what the Gandhian based his idea for the 21st century on.

I tend to think of the future in pretty optimistic terms, and I think that the world is generally getting better, albeit slowly. But a number of events over the past few years have really called my view into question. As I’ve grown up in the US, I’ve seen a terrible economic crash, horrific terrorist attacks, natural disasters compounded by human error, a plethora of wars, arguably one of the worst presidents this nation has ever had, and a whole host of other terrible things. So it’s been hard over the past few years to convince myself that things are getting better on the whole.

But! There are still many things that make me think positively about the future! And this is one of them.

Now, I can’t claim to know exactly what the gentleman in this film was referring to when he said “the century of common people.” But I can certainly tell you how I interpreted it! This phrase has helped give form to an idea I’ve been having for quite some time now, about the ways in which the world is improving, and that idea is this: Even though there is still great suffering and division in the world today, people are becoming much more willing and able to understand each other, help each other, and grow closer to each other, even with oceans of water, difference, or disagreement between them.

I see much greater understanding between people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs (political, philosophical, religious, or otherwise), and lifestyles looking past their differences in an effort to understand each other more, and this is what the Century of Common People looks like. We’re moving into a time when we can live with and even love the differences in other people, and regard them in a deep and loving way, no matter how dissimilar we may be.

I’ve decided to break up this post into multiple parts, as it’s already becoming fairly lengthy and will keep growing. Check back soon for the sequel!

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Suspend Your Belief

Note: This article has been edited and republished in an updated form on Viewshound.com. You can find it here. Thanks!

September 11, 2001. The Holocaust. The 1969 moon landing. The Federal Reserve. Peak oil. Lizardmen.

You’re probably wondering by now why I could possibly be listing all of these things together, and you’d be right to do so! What do these bizarre, disparate things have in common? They’re all features of conspiracy theories.

Chances are that you’re already familiar with some of these theories, and hopefully you’re familiar with how ridiculous they are. For those not in the know, a conspiracy theory is, according to Dictionary.com‘s definition, “a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.” Alternatively, it is “the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.” People also often have their own personal demons of conspiracy. The idea that “everyone’s out to get you!” is an unfortunately common one.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of all the various conspiracy theories currently floating around, nor am I going to write about the validity of such claims. I’m not even going to give reasons these theories are (almost certainly) false. What I think is most interesting about these is not the content of the theories so much as what may be the reasons for belief in such seemingly wild ideas.

So why is it that some people think that 9/11 was staged by the US government, or that the Holocaust never happened, or that a clandestine race of lizard people controls world politics? (You’ll have to ask David Icke about that one.)

The first reason that comes to mind is perhaps a rather obvious one: Paranoia. A surprisingly large number of people seem convinced that someone is out to get them. Of course, this someone usually isn’t the entire world, but is more often just one person or group. In the case of some of my relatives, “someone” is the IRS. For my (somewhat unstable) roommate, “someone” is his Ethics professor. But no matter who “someone” is, many people are paranoid for often ridiculous reasons. This sort of paranoia can lead people of all kinds to be suspicious of everything around them, just in case it might be “out to get them.”

The second reason is probably somewhat less apparent, at least at first reckoning. What is this reason? The internet, and the community it provides. Of course, conspiracy theorizing existed long before the advent of the internet. But the incredible establishment of this nearly worldwide network of connections allows people of all kinds, with the most unexpected and unpopular beliefs, to come together, even if there are oceans between them. Online networking capabilities have allowed people all over the world to connect with others who share their views, feelings, and ideas. In fact, even this blog has helped me connect with and learn from people as far away as the United Kingdom (I live in Oregon)! The internet allows the conspiracy theory diaspora to connect with each other, discuss ideas, and receive validation of their ideas, which are often rejected by those immediately around them.

Finally, and most importantly, conspiracy theories exist as a form of explanation. Great tragedies and human suffering often seem unexplainable to us, and horrifically tragic events such as the September 11 attacks and the Holocaust tend to give rise to conspiracy theories, as a way to explain the unexplainable. Anguish and misery are difficult things for us as humans to deal with and to understand, and conspiracy theories provide an explanation for these things, albeit a flimsy one. No one can claim to truly understand the thinking behind the horrible massacre of Jews in the Holocaust, but these theories allow those who believe them to convince themselves that there was some sensible reason for it.

This also permits absolution. Of course, the suffering of the Holocaust or the 9/11 attacks was the work of a (relatively) few. But it’s difficult to think that another human being could do such a thing, and it leads some to wonder if they could ever do the same. Conspiracy theories offer freedom from this collective guilt by placing blame on a very few people of almost supernatural levels of evil. They allow one to draw a thick line between the “us” of normal society and the “them” of conspirators.

I must say that I’m almost universally skeptical of conspiracy theories, of any kind. But after giving this some deeper thought, I can honestly say I’ve come to a better understanding of where these theories come from, and why they appear. I hope this can help you say the same!

My apologies for my recently sporadic posting. School, classes, and other such obligations have been cutting into my time for creative writing. I hope to post more regularly (and more coherently!) after I’ve taken care of all my academic duties. School’s out soon! For now, I’ll post as frequently as I can. Hope you enjoy!

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