You ask what our generation believes in. I'll tell you: Video games, keg parties and pornography. I know I do. But then I catch myself slipping, my conscience kicking in.
What am I contributing to this master plan, this rolling ball of friendship and fury bouncing through space?
Yes, we have no arch enemy to disdain, no Hitler to unite against. Our tired, ill-armed and uneducated grandfathers brought the best organized war machine in modern history to its knees, simply by hurling themselves against it, corpse after bloody corpse.
Can you imagine what we're capable of with our lofty ideas and our collective omniscience? We're smarter, stronger, more organized, better informed and greater in number. We could do ANYTHING we set our minds to: eradicating hunger, ending poverty, improving literacy, rebuilding the fucking pyramids stone by stone.
Despite the lipservice we pay to such causes, none of them are particularly popular. And by that I mean none of these activities are going to get you laid, buy you a flashy car or put you on the cover of a magazine. Fame and fortune is where it's at. Everybody wants the bucks, the recognition. And you just don't get it by being useful, charitable.
Even the WW II veterans you and I speak so highly of were not completely selfless. It was a death pact of sorts built on camaraderie and, more importantly, popularity. That's right. The American men who signed up to fight did so nobly but not without their own reasons. They were looked upon as heroes as soon as they enlisted, with USO girls waiting in line for a dance.
So what is our equivalent today? As you mention, today's battles are too muddled for anyone to be declared heroic. The closest we come is in sports. Score 40 points in a basketball game and you are Da Man. Why isn't there an Activists Illustrated, in which social leaders are held in the same esteem as professional athletes, if not better?
I recognize such magazines exist (check out Utne Reader if you haven't), but have you looked at their circulation numbers? If you get in the tens of thousands, you are monolithic. Yet hundreds of millions of people, myself included, tune into the Super Bowl every year to watch 20-odd men play around with a leather ball shaped like a loaf of bread. And our neighborhood associations can't get more than 10% of us out to any single function.
We pay light homage to the people physically involved in worthy causes. Some of us may even donate funds to them. Fair enough. We're all busy people, so give from the heart.
But who knows how much of that money actually gets to the front lines of your fight? Administrative costs are a bitch, ya know, and there's all that overhead for stamps, envelopes, Mercedes. Oops, did I say that or just think it?
As the axiom goes, if you want something done right, get up off your ass. If that park down the street is looking a little rugged, slap some paint on it. If the road beside your neighborhood is trashed, stop and pick some up. If the fatherless kid next door is having trouble learning to read, lend him your time.
I know it's work and, by definition, work is hard. But so are a lot of other activities that bring us great joy. Skip the latest sitcom about neighbors being neighbors and be one yourself. Your fingernails might get a little dirtier than if you merely witnessed other folks living, but I can assure you your soul would feel cleaner.
Neither Gandhi nor MLK were born to change the world. They were humans who faced plenty of setbacks and were often scared to death. If it helps you to think of them as something more than that, something special, so be it. But you could be special too.