5 Tons of Flax

What the deuce!

Ezra Klein: Generation Overwhelmed

Posted by Jon on 23 October, 2007

Ezra Klein: Generation Overwhelmed

The discussion at Ezra Klein’s blog is about an article on my generation’s apathy/cynicism/etc. I do think that the combination of consumerism and the dramatic expansion in both type and quantity of media is one root cause of the lack of political activism among people I know (and me). Through media, particularly the internet, the flow of data regarding problems is so great that it’s difficult even to keep track of, much less focus on beginning to solve, the various problems in the world. Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of political/social/economic issues that I consider critical or at least very important. Some of these are more specific issues, and some are larger trends that touch on many areas and interrelate. This just makes everything more complicated!:

  • Peak Oil, and the resulting risks of supply shock. Essentially, the entire technological-economic structure of industrially developed societies needs to be fundamentally overhauled. Fat chance. Root cause of much of the war and social injustice on an international scale in this era.
  • Global climate change.
  • Suburban sprawl/Car Culture. Among other results, produces a loss of wilderness and agricultural land in close proximity to urban areas and destroys the social and economic fabric of urban areas.
  • Surveillance culture. The loss of privacy/anonymity in public spaces; the monitoring, by government and commercial concerns, of private behavior (including but not limited to things like warrentless wiretaps and consumer “club cards”).
  • Debt, both consumer and national. Among other effects, large scale debt acts as chains restricting adaptability and freedom to choose new directions.
  • Decline of the Nation-State System. This is a long process and not necessarily bad, in itself, as the nation-state is responsible for much of the suffering in the last several centuries, and for suffering at larger scales. But we are entering a period of increasing social and economic instability as the world shifts to some other method of organization – multiple alternative systems will be competing for dominance. And periods of similar instability in the past have been bloody and unpleasant for all concerned (see, e.g., the 17th century).
  • More specifically, the Decline of the American Empire. The biggest problem here is that no empire I can think of has ever passed away into old age gracefully. See, as a small example, the mindset of all the “viable” candidates for the 2008 presidential election: attacks on Iran (which would make Iraq look like fun) are “reasonable” to consider. More to the point, consider that widespread use of American force, and the expectation that America should and is capable of bending others to its will is, perhaps more than anything except a large campaign chest, the defining criteria of “viability”. Anti-imperialists need not apply.
  • Theocratic and anti-intellectual/anti-rational tendencies in American citizens.

This is a partial list, and I’ll post additional factors and issues as they occur to me, and then perhaps begin delving into them with more detail and structure to my arguments.


  • Soil and water degradation and loss
  • the so-called Culture of Corruption, which is, I’ll argue, far more widespread and pervasive than generally discussed. More broadly, much of American culture today seems to provide incentives for behavior that is counter-productive, destructive and sociopathic.
  • Income and Wealth Gap (and concentration of wealth at the top), now growing towards (if not at already) Gilded Age proportions; economic and power hierarchies more generally
  • Consumerism, as a driving force behind much of these problems
  • Specialization/professionalization/industrialization of more and more of life. Legalization (in the sense of dealing with an issue through law/rulemaking), not the making of something, previously illegal, legal. Related to the tendency of the rate of change to accelerate and everything to grow towards being incomprehensibly complex over time.

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