writing in a recent edition of Time magazine, columnist Roger Rosenblatt laments the absence of great issues in America these days. Other than the soaring price of petrol, most denizens of the United States, it seems, have little to exercise their sense of outrage. Whatever happened to poverty, racism, inequality and the other great causes, Rosenblatt writes.
What a luxury to live in a land where you have to look really hard to find a good cause. They are, of course, out there-just like the truth in the X files. Even the most developed socieities still have pressing questions of poverty and exclusivity that have yet to be fully resolved. It's just that the vast middle classes, and people who define themselves as such, are more numerous now than ever before. Incomes have kept pace with aspirations, or at least access to credit has created that illusion.
Contrast this great comfortable muddle-who can't find anything meaningful to get excited about-with South Asian countries, or Africa. These are the places where Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" is a users' guide to daily life. Here in Nepal it's bandhs and corruption and revolution in the hills. Over in India it's population, Pakistan and, yes, corruption. South Africa worries about AIDS, crime and race relations. Israel and Palestine have each other. Boy do they ever. Pick your cause. Hone your outrage, get to work.
In the past, idealistic youth from the developed world used to do just that. Remember the hordes of sandal-wearing, dreadlocked children of the suburbs who picked coffee in Nicaragua when President Reagan was waging proxy war against the Sandinistas. Never mind that the Nepali Maoists make the Ortega brothers' politics seem Thatcherite by comparison. No one is paying much attention to such things anymore. And I wonder why. It isn't for lack of trying by the media, although I suppose we could be doing better. It isn't because diplomats in foreign capitals don't try to make their patch seem significant and meaningful back home. After all, that's the path to success. Even much derided national governments in troubled lands labour to put their plight across, even if it's only for a bagful of development aid, or a trade concession.
It's been apparent for some time now that most industrial countries are in the grip of unprecedented complacency. And I think I know why. It's we forty-somethings. We're in charge now. The baby boomers are here, at the top, and we're very, very pleased with ourselves. It's the Blair-Clinton revolution - steal the economic policies of their political enemies and cloth them in faux-trendy youth-speak. No left turns allowed, but occasionally you can check the rear view mirror and see what's out there on the sinister side. Keep the bankers and the markets happy, and let bread and circuses soothe the masses. Those hairy monsters who thrive on tear gas and television cameras at various global trade fora - Trotskyists, recidivists, publicity seekers, scum.
Our smugness, it seems to me, is self-induced blindness on a grand scale. I wonder if what I call the crises-to-come aren't just around the corner. A short - and by no means complete - list will suffice. The oceans have no more fish. Global warming is a generation away from hitting us hard, very hard. Our food is poisonous. A thousand ethnic or communal conflicts are on the boil. The legions of the world's poor know just how rich we are, thanks to satellite television. Big places like China or Indonesia could face social mayhem, even implosion, as the world watches helplessly. It's never been so easy to find child pornography or buy a slave. We're all addicted to data and how long can it be before hackers and terrorists make common cause.
Call me Cassandra, but that's not the point. All I'm saying is that there is a lot to get exercised about, causes abound and we forty-somethings are past it already. Our children are coming, and I think they're already smarter than us. My daughter has been listening to Bob Dylan. The times they are definitely a-changing... again.