Everyone's a rebel and it's never been more pedantic. I get the chance to make lots of visits with people my age or just below it. Let's charitably call us all millennials. The paradox that has emerged from these conversations is that there seems to be a strong desire, even desperate need for a flavour of the unique, of distinction in a culture of simulated sameness. We want authenticity. We want reality. Never has that rebellion been more poignantly screen played than in The Matrix.
But here's the interesting part: all the stories I hear from students, church members, up-and-comers, well, they're mostly the same: long reflections on finding ourselves overseas, and being critical of the system, its excesses and consumptive urges, needing perspective and balance in our fast paced urban lives. It turns out we're a lot more like sheep than lone wolves. We might always be protesting something, but we protest in packs. David Adams Richards calls us "the mob."
In God Is: My Search for Faith in a Secular World David Adams Richards talks a lot about the mob. He talks about how his wife's Catholicism was belittled and targeted my progressive minded people. He talks about how the packs who did the belittling,
. . . never spoke like this when they themselves were alone or outnumbered—always, the people I am speaking about were intellectually brave in a crowd—at a dinner party they were invited to, and many like-minded people were at the table. Then they could pontificate, then they could be courageous . . .
They still needed to belong, and for the sake of personal prestige, they needed to scapegoat those who didn't belong. They were like high school jocks. (God Is, 25-26)
My generation seems no different in chasing the comfortable pew. I spend a lot of my time in it. Imagine this story that Richards tells,
... I met a bicycle messenger the day after 9/11. He seemed delighted at what had happened. I do not need to agree with American foreign policy to be disheartened by his reaction. His glee toward this catastrophic event, which he felt to be justifiable, has bothered me ever since.
"Yes, it is terrible," he said. "But this is the result of terrible U.S. foreign policy." Then he added, "But no one in Canada will say so, because are far too conservative and conditioned." But I knew this was not true at all. Many people in Canada couldn't wait to say this, and he was saying what many people his age were... From all parts of Canada, and on many university campuses, some were saying this very thing" (God Is, 83-84).
Every sin, Stephen Crane wrote, is the result of collaboration. Every rebellion sounds the same, when you've heard enough stories from emerging mellinnials, but then we all work in and look for this kind of belonging. My rebellion may be very different—indeed it may not be properly labelled rebellion at all. But it also is a kind resistance, a kind of living, a kind of ritual that is not lived out of context. Every sin may be the result of collaboration, but couldn't every virtue be too?
I am not so pessimistic about the mob and its censures as David Adams Richards is. But then, I have not endured the mobs' scorn and derision as fiercely either. Still, in this I think he is right. We are not so novel, we youngsters, in what great resistances we ploy in culture and politics. No, our parentage and our peerage is never far behind. "There is much to learn from another generation, even if that lesson is just to listen more closely."