Are the prospects of the future a great depression?
With all that’s going on in the world today, the issue of living out one’s life well has become as difficult as deciding how to start one’s career well.
As I approach my day of graduation, I realise it will not be in the same decade. Growing up used to a barrage of impending disasters and political avalanches that never seem to end, it is hard to see that final year students will be graduating into their own roaring twenties.
What does this entail for us? Will we see solutions to our present concerns, or should we be prepared to face more? Where do we go from the post-truth era? What new technologies and changes await us? All these questions are reasonable. But the most urgent one concerns us most: are we looking at the near future with a clear perspective?
Try to imagine the new decade: what will you be talking about once Brexit is over and Trump is no longer in office? What will be most urgent topics? Will you be dressed the same, speak the same, think the same? Will you be a socialist or become a conservative? Will you still be on Facebook? Will you be better off or worse? The last question is what intrigues, and is what confuses most of us.
We currently live in a very stressful and chaotic period. The constant barrage of information and misinformation has clouded our judgements, whilst the ongoing events and disasters have made us lose hope and obscured our vision for a better future.
Perhaps Donald Trump has coined the perfect term for what we currently feel: “Make America Great Again.” Make the World Great Again. Or Make Humanity Great Again. Make Nature Great Again. We feel a sense of nostalgia for the past and a sense of dread for the future. But perhaps 0ur feelings are not the whole side of the story.
Perhaps this aspect of nostalgia needs to be analysed; how exactly do we make something great again? What is that ‘great’ness that we’re looking for?
It’d probably be easier to go to the 80s, or to the 60s and 70s. They’re closer to us and easier to imagine. But even those decades find their echoes somewhere else; hence, it is best to look at a decade and at a generation strangely similar to ours: a decade we think of in moving images, the 1920s.
100s years ago, in a world far, far away…
“It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess and it was an age of satire.”
This is how F. Scott Fitzgerald described the 1920s; a decade which came after a disastrous World War and saw radical changes, both good and bad, all across the world.
It’s been nicknamed the roaring twenties, the Jazz Age, the Boom, and many other terms; it saw the decline of old social standards and the rise of others, the advance of technologies like radio and cinema, and the surge of dictatorships and new theories.
Freudian psychoanalysis was in vogue, alongside the rise of Jazz bars and clubs; art was changed with new movements and theories, and science was in a midst of exploration.
It was the decade of the ‘Lost’ generation; the men and women who came of age during WW1 and saw the destruction of empires, of traditions and of human life en masse.
They came in an age where everything around them was shaken; in hindsight, this gave them greater freedom to express and establish themselves.
It would be very hard to categorise the generation in any other way: they were communists, they were socialists; they were conservatives, they were capitalists, fascists, imperialists, feminists and so many others. They engaged in political discourse, subverted Prohibition and sought to revive the old Germany; they became artists and thinkers, activists and conspirators; that the era will end in a financial disaster and subsequently lead to a future global conflict is unfortunate but true; our romanticisation of the 20s eludes the consequences it had on the rest of the century.
Much like the “Lost” generation, this generation has grown up in a stressful, albeit less bloody, period: a chaotic political climate laden with questions relating to everything from national identity to societal and moral values, a constant barrage of bad news about everything from climate change to the neighbour next door, and a general atmosphere of apathy coupled with a nostalgia for the past.
Much like 100 years ago, we have a greater freedom to express our values and craft our society. The internet, the device you’re on right now, the resurgence of theories and new movements, the vast polarisation on any topic; it will be interesting to see how each of these will play out into the new decade.
Will we see a different outlook? It is very hard to think that we will somewhat be better off soon, but how easy was it in 1919 to think that there will be anything good anymore? The war to end all wars happened, after all. Age-old heroics and bravery died against machine guns. Countless empires and monarchies have fallen. Centuries of work were laid to waste in 4 years.
That isn’t to say the 1920s were always happy; in many ways, they were an era of escapism as well as aspiration. But the fact that there was such a resurgence of hope and belief in redemption speaks volumes for how it might happen again. Perhaps after seeing that everything’s not going well, all you’ve got left is to hope.
This shift in perspectives was aided though by the coming of new opportunities. And in the case of our times, there’s plenty.
The New ‘Age of Miracles’
With all that’s being said, one can still point out that the negatives still outweigh the positives. The advance of technology cannot prevent the increasing problem of mental health. Neither will the end of Brexit and Trump stop the negative attitudes of the risk society. All the same, if threats like climate change aren’t dealt with immediately, then we might not see our ‘jazz clubs’.
However, another thing to be observed is that desire for change is something that we can all agree on. From “Make America Great Again” to “Let’s Take Back Control”, to Green New Deals and People’s Votes, opponents on both sides of the political spectrum can agree that we cannot go on in the present way. Further evidence is youth activism; the problems of society are becoming visible even to the youngest. Whilst much blame is put on corporate interests, it is important to note that these interests may not be profitable anymore in the long run. Ethical capitalism may only scrap the surface now, but in a few years we may see major investments in sustainable enterprises.
For many students, some of these topics may not come across their time at university, although their lives may be impacted by them. Whilst all this may seem wild speculation within a year or so, it is important to trust that solutions to many of our problems may come with new people, and that the prospects of our future may not be as bleak as they seem.