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Jenny said when she was just about 5 years old/
"You know my parents are gonna be the death of us all/
Two TV sets and two Cadillac cars/
Well you know they ain't gonna help me at all"

- Lou Reed, "Rock and Roll" from Loaded, 1970

nihilism:

1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
2 a (1) : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility (2) capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination
(Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary On-Line)

I was thinking about this recently, and coincidentally enough, an opinion piece on the subject appeared shorty thereafter in the local weekly newspaper. Essentially, my thoughts boil down to this: why are so many people apparently more concerned about living in an enormous suburban house, driving an enormous SUV, and generally "enjoying" a comfortable middle-class existence than with making the world a better place for their future selves and their children? I'm not a wealthy person by any means, but I have a fulfilling job, and I can afford to pay my student loan, live in a small apartment, look after myself and my cats, enjoy the occasional night out and save some money for my future, without going into so-called "consumer debt". It constantly amazes me that so many (well-paid) people are willing to live from paycheck to paycheck, paying off their Visa with their MasterCard, racking up debt just so they can enjoy the illusion of material prosperity.

Do these people believe nothing matters? Are their lives so hollow that "two TV sets and two Cadillac cars" are their only possible source of succor?

I can understand materialism. We all, rich and poor alike, like to have nice stuff. But in these times, when the evidence for global warming, wilderness destruction, exhaustion of the oil supply and the health hazards of industrial and motor vehicle pollution is becoming impossible to ignore, WHY GOD WHY? A few years ago, here in Ontario, Mike Harris' Conservative party came to power on a platform (warning: oversimplification ahead) of "Common Sense", meaning, apparently, tax breaks for industry and the middle class, financial gutting of socialized health care and the educational system, and stripping homeless persons and welfare recipients of their dignity, human rights, and ability to improve their lives. As far as I can tell, this platform basically boils down to "I've got mine, sod you Jack!" - the belief that if you aren't able to afford private health insurance, a comfortable suburban home, and a big gas-guzzling vehicle, you aren't deserving of anything other than being demonized by the government for political gain, coupled with having any chance to better yourself stripped away. Did all the people who voted for this really believe that an extra couple of hundred dollars off their taxes was worth increased waits for everyone at the hospital emergency room? Is there no understanding of the idea of the "common good"?

The future that will be inherited by our children may be a bleak one indeed. Cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer or Snow Crash exaggerate the trend for dramatic effect, but if the (increasingly behemoth) personal motor vehicle continues to rule the road, if personal debt continues to skyrocket, if government continues to abdicate the role of protector of the vulnerable, we may very well end up in a future where the "common good" has been abolished, buried beneath a torrent of personal and corporate greed; where the skies are dark and the only safe water comes in a bottle labeled "Dasani".

It scares me that so many people apparently believe in nothing greater than the rules of their Homeowner's Association. It scares me more that so many members of my generation, and so many teenagers after us, are starting to buy into this attitude as well. There were thousands of protestors at the "Battle of Seattle", but for every hemp-wearing, fair-trade-coffee-drinking anti-corporate idealist there seem to be 10 trendy logo-sporting materialists desperate to emulate the sins of their parents.

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