from A Squandered Life / Prologue
But slowly we realised our fathers were caught in economic netting, the filaments of which cut into their lives in ways we hadn't been able to see....
We were supposed to be the generation of hope, the boomers, the babies who sprang from the wombs of mothers enjoying their first freedoms from the terrors and constraints of war. This feeling was perforce more pronounced in Europe where those mothers had been much closer to the front line, but in North America too, there was a clear spirit of having come through some terrible times and a sense of now lets get back to the basics of family life and comfortable consumption.
We grew up on the front lawns of these hopes and dreams. We were largely protected from the grim knowledge of what the world had just been through. We embodied the aspirations of the war torn preceding generations. We carried the standards of their desperate search for peace and meaning. Trouble was, we didn't know we bore these responsibilities. We just grew up in peace and assumed our rightful place in the “normality” we encountered. We were told “you've no idea” and “you've never had it so good” and “you're the lucky ones”, but to us, it was just normal. We didn't need the context provided by recent history. Weren't interested. We were already more caught up in the cult of the individual - with “finding ourselves” and being “unique”.
I now feel particularly gifted.
As a Euro-Canadian, I was never required to go war.
How lucky is that? How many generations of males of the species can claim never to have been to war. I have rarely been in fear of my life. I've managed to get through most of my life without even having seen a dead human. Throughout my life (so far) I've had food and shelter and civil rights. I've been living a life most of my ancestors would have dreamed of as being the apotheosis of their inter-generational achievements; the life they made sacrifices to secure for their descendants.
Regrettably, it took some years for me to realise all this. Cocooned by a relatively gentle upbringing, I hit the streets looking for what was best for me, for number one. I didn't have or didn't buy into a sense of duty to my forebears. Of course the education system to which I was subjected must take much of the responsibility for this. They managed to package history and everything else into lifeless unattractive parcels which they proceeded to shove down my throat. I wasn't ignoring my forebears so much out of wilful self-interest as out of an instinct for self-preservation in the face of this soulless packaged onslaught.
Nevertheless, the fact remains. I emerged out of a generational door filled with comforts and opportunities the like of which no other generation had ever seen.
So, what did I do with my life, this blossoming of privilege and grace?
In short, I squandered it. I spent most of it trying to figure out what was going on, and by the time I'd figured some of it out, I didn't have the wherewithal to do anything about it. I'd manoeuvred myself into a position of powerless knowingness. I think I am not alone in this. I think others of my generation feel the same. We inherited shares in a planet which we already knew to be heading towards ecological disaster. We castigated our fathers for their ineptitudes and undertook to improve things ourselves.
But slowly we realised our fathers were caught in economic netting, the filaments of which cut into their lives in ways we hadn't been able to see. We'd inherited political systems which we blamed our parents for not using properly – only to discover that the real levers of power were in the hands of the economic masters.
And then we began to notice that even in our generation the sense of “solidarity” was evaporating. There were people among us connected, directly and indirectly, to these economic power mongers and their career paths took them in vastly different directions and to vastly different levels in the economic hierarchy. They now find themselves ensconced in the very positions against which we were pitted all those years ago; observing their past and our present with a detached and psychopathic amusement.
With our generational "solidarity" in tatters, we fragmented off into different channels of self-indulgence - ranging from personal spiritual awakening to perfect homes and/or careers to private jets and power-mongering and debauchery on a scale unimagined even by Roman emperors. And as we did so, our third world cousins died in their millions and the planetary ecosystem disintegrated around us.
On a personal level, in an effort to make at least some amends, I undertook to write this story – the story of how I squandered this life. Although I cannot help but feel that this life, including the writing of its story, will be nothing but a profound disappointment to the great majority of my forebears as they spin in their graves, I feel I have to do something. Maybe my descendants will appreciate this and perhaps be more careful in the squandering of their own lives.
But ultimately I am laying the blame for missing the last opportunity to halt the juggernaut, the plague of western industrial consumerism, squarely on my own and my generational cousins' shoulders.
We fucked up.
Couldn't organise our way out of a paper bag.
© 2012 Deacon Martin