The Dramatic Backdrop of the Rising Generation

The Dramatic Backdrop of the Rising Generation

26 January 2024 Nathaniel Williams 610 views

A particular dynamic that influences countless young people today who are striving spiritually is showing up most strikingly in the use of both digital media and psychedelics. This dynamic consists of two powerful processes, one of contraction and urgency, and the other, a kind of expansion and liberation.

These two movements are familiar to everyone. They were aptly portrayed in Ready Player One, the book by Ernest Cline that became a well-known movie. In the opening of the book, the main character introduces his story, the situation of the world, and his wish that someone had leveled with him when he was young. He wishes someone had told him that the stories about God were fantasies, millennia in the making—elaborate variations on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. He wishes someone had described how:

After fighting a bunch of wars with each other over land resources and our made-up gods, we eventually got all our tribes organized into a global civilization. But honestly, it wasn’t that organized or civilized. And we continued to fight a lot of wars with each other. But we also figured out how to do science, which helped us develop technology. For a bunch of hairless apes, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things: computers, medicine, lasers, microwave ovens, artificial hearts, atomic bombs.(1)

He wishes someone had given him the bad news: this civilization had a cost; it was built on technologies and energies that were almost used up. He wishes someone had told him that the polluting gases that were released had the side effect of raising temperatures on the planet, leading to rises in sea level, mass extinctions of plants and animals, and human struggles with homelessness and starvation. He wishes he had understood that people are now fighting over the remaining resources and that prospects for the future seem bleak. Luckily, he has an escape hatch, the Oasis—a portal into a virtual world that offers him sanity, a playground, and a preschool, an enchanted place where there are still possibilities. In this world, he can create an avatar that is not limited by earthly realities.

In recent meetings with young people around the world, variations on this theme have emerged again and again. There is a feeling of contraction and urgency in relationship to the outer, shared world of the planet. It is felt in the climate crisis, the ecological crisis, the growth of population on a finite planet with finite resources, and all the issues of economic justice that are connected with this. The outer world is felt to be dispirited or un-spirited—it is a contracting world of necessity where stories of enchantment are fiction and wishful thinking. The world is on a tragic and definite course toward strife and catastrophe. Its course is calculable and proven.

In step with this, many young people are engaged in a relationship with digital technology, which has paradoxical significance for them. It is connected to great hope and optimism, but also to dissipation and distraction. Regardless of whether one is pessimistic or optimistic about the effects of the new technology, one thing is clear: it offers a type of expansion, of liberation—a kind of freeing oneself from the pressure of being a creature on the earth. Young people describe it as a kind of release valve that can support self-development and connection, but that, at the same time, is a menacing distraction and temptation to escape from reality. Today, this powerful technology has reached a level of affordability for widespread use, and because of this, many of the limitations faced by the rising generation 50 years ago are radically altered for young people today.

This excerpt comes from an article originally published in the (online exclusive) English Edition of the Weekly ‹Das Goetheanum›. You can read the full article on the website of ‹Das Goetheanum›.

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(1) Ernest Cline. Ready Player One. Random House, 2011.

Photo (Title image) Elizeu Dias