Our lives are in discord. We are in conflict with ourselves. We have money and generous parents, friends and smartphones, we travel and speak foreign languages. But there is one thing we lack: hope. How on earth is that possible? In the last year, two books attempted to get to grips with this situation. It’s about time for a detailed portrait of the generation: German magazine Der Spiegel called generation Y 'crisis children', and the newspaper Die Zeit 'sad status seekers'. We stand silent before such accusations.
German writer Meredith Haaf offers nothing more than a shrug of the shoulder. Her book Just Cry Then ('Heult doch'), is about 'a generation and their luxury problems'. In We Have No Fear: Group Therapy Of A Generation ('Wir haben keine angst') Nina Pauer sends us instead to a psychologist, where we stutter and weep about our problems. We end up being diagnosed with personality disorders and depression. In a way, both writers are right, agreeing on the basic facts: yesterday, everything was better. Now, every day could be worse. There’s climate change, destruction of the rainforests, terrorism, youth unemployment and demographic change. We know all that. We’re not okay with it. It’s just that we can’t change things, and we are afraid.
The only thing we can protect is ourselves. We set our own pace and end up as perfect cogs in the machine. We simply don’t believe that it’s worth the effort - not that this doesn’t disgust us. We’re aware of the contradictions. When we’re alone and the noises stop, sometimes we feel dejected - or we post a protest video on facebook. Everyone copes in their own way. We are to be pitied, as Nina Pauer puts it. Anna, her representative of our generation, cries on her mother’s lap in the evenings. There is so much pressure at work. She hasn’t been sleeping well since she got that new job - it’s so stressful at the office. Meredith Haaf scolds us instead: 'It’s not that we should not make an effort, give our best and so on. We just shouldn't believe that the only possible model is individual performance rewarded with nothing more than a few extra consumer options.' The crux of the matter is that most of us do believe that.
We’re afraid of long term contracts, we don’t want to commit ourselves. We know it’s the age of post-materialism, yet we shop even more. We want to save the world, but we don’t know how. If we try, we soon give up, because in Africa even more children are starving, and the ice caps are melting faster still. So instead, we optimise ourselves. Always, everywhere, incessantly. 'Sick world, huh?' says Nina Pauer’s protagonist, her final word of wisdom.
'We are missing a utopia, solidarity, political conscience'
Why is it actually that way, asks Meredith Haaf. Obviously the future looks gloomy, but the system is not responsible for us – we are. We are missing a utopia, solidarity, political conscience. It’s for that reason, Haaf recognises, that the world can do nothing. 'It could be said of us that we allowed our world to become so bleak because we were too afraid to save it.' Where Nina Pauer’s portrait is so self-pitying that you can’t bear to look at it, Meredith Haaf’s writing is so ‘in your face’, that you could believe there is nothing good about us.
What are we like, really? In truth, we are the smartest of our time. We can do anything and we have been everywhere. No mountain is too high to climb, no person so foreign that we can’t get to know them. It's how to harnass that capacity that is lacking. We have never given it any thought. We have always followed the road set before us. The fact that it’s taking us nowhere is slowly becoming a certainty. 'I don’t believe that it needs to be that way,' ends Meredith Haaf. 'If we start to practice being critical and stop trying to fix everything, change will follow.' Most likely, at the last minute, our bosses will pass by and comment, 'What more do you want? You have everything.' And they would be right.