Leak against the machine

Young people are threatened by some of the structural systems that define society today. They are flawed, unchangeable, and viewed as an obstacle to a fruitful future. Baby Boomers would be wise to tone down the lecturing and instead be part of the solution.

It’s easy to be dismissive of Occupy, WikiLeaks, the NSA files, etc. The characters playing out these episodes have been accused of being immature, unaware of what they’re doing, unorganized, vain, etc.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote condescendingly about them as you would an annoying younger sibling who doesn’t understand the world, yet:

“Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.”

Similarly, Thomas Friedman suggested that we ought to be more thankful that the government is as forgiving as it is already:

“If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.”

These people argue that the price of being an American means trusting the powers we’ve elected and those we’ve employed to protect us. Fair enough. Their incentive to protect the status quo is both professional and personal. They’ve worked hard to shape the systems we live with today.

It’s increasingly clear, however, that those voices are part of a geopolitical system that is fading, something that is being replaced.

I can’t remember which of my history professors (maybe Robert Dallek) taught that the conditions installed after war tend to overcompensate for its causes. The features of that strategy have oppressive effects which in turn inspire subversive and even revolutionary reactions.

Perhaps the Patriot Act and its proponents (a significant majority of Americans) overcompensated for the 9/11 atrocities. Intelligence, the weak link in US security, was reinforced with law, budget, access, and, most importantly, full public support.

Superscale surveillance was born, a fair trade in the eyes of many.

The road to this position is not about whether you are for or against Obama or whether or not it’s George Bush’s fault. It happened because of fear and unkowns, a generational obsession with the remaining runway Baby Boomers are left with now.

Conor Friedersdorf said it well in his Atlantic piece:

“Americans are generally good at denying al-Qaeda the pleasure of terrorizing us into submission. Our cities are bustling; our subways are packed every rush hour; there doesn’t seem to be an empty seat on any flight I’m ever on. But as a collective, irrational cowardice is getting the better of our polity. Terrorism isn’t something we’re ceding liberty to fight because the threat is especially dire compared to other dangers of the modern world. All sorts of things kill us in far greater numbers.”

The arguments for protecting the American people from terror attacks can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But some day soon there will be a generation of grown up and capable people who have no connection to or recollection of 9/11.

Being a young twentysomething or, worse, a new grad trying to start a career in a world where all the infrastructure society has created to support its existence is both flawed and unchangeable sounds really depressing.

Like every generation before them, they won’t stand for the current state of play. They view the obstacles to change, progress, independence and a fruitful future as oppressive, threatening and potentially enemies. Their fight against invisible and amorphous powers including communications surveillance, out of control banking systems, and unregulated lobbying practices is only going to increase in intensity.

What will happen if the current systems fail to make obvious and tangible positive differences in young people’s lives?

Baby Boomers may look back with fondness on the days when the only damage being done was the release of the occasional secret here and there. Before that happens, the columnists and their ‘voices of reason’ need to recalibrate and use their power to support healthy change instead of speaking on behalf of Big Brother himself.