Z is for Zeitgeist

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“Talkin bout my generation…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “zeitgeist” lately, and what it means for my generation. I remember stumbling upon this word in an excerpt of Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. He speaks of a lost world of “security,” Europe in those pre-war days. I write this in the year 2017, and I can only guess that this feeling of loss, of dread, will stretch well into my adult years.

Born in 1995, I toe the line between the Millennials and Generation Z. We are assumed to be materialistic and self-centered, but these stereotypes cannot be farther from the truth. When I entered college in 2013, I found myself surrounded by passionate individuals who were genuinely committed to making the world a better place. The Obama years, how faraway they now seem, only pumped optimism into the public consciousness.  It was easy to get swept away in the upward momentum. Our world was moving forward: Yes we can, yes we can.

And now? Foreboding. A doomed spiral. The imminent fall of Rome. The death of the liberal ideals that had been instilled inside me from a young age, beliefs that I still cling to, a vision of the way things should be.

Everything, an entire worldview, toppled overnight.

How to describe our generational zeitgeist? In a few words: resentment, blame, injustice. A sense of powerlessness having been screwed over by the Baby Boomers in everything from elections to climate change, again and again and again. We were born into a world of uncertainty. An eternal war on terror; fear that cuts into youthful invincibility. Historical atrocities on repeat.

The façades have begun to peel away. Generation Z doesn’t buy in. We say no to traditional advertising, to the 9-5. We mourn the American Dream. There’s a desire to become masters of our own fate, to define our own success (once we free ourselves from the debtors’ shackles, at least).

It’s freedom from delusion, paradoxically coupled with the fight for idealism. Just as we reject the established standards, we condemn the wrongdoing we see all around us. Because, despite everything, we still take to the streets. We still believe that humanity can be rescued from the rubble. There is still a part of us that is worth saving – whatever that may be.

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Protesting in Boston Common after Nov 2016 election
photo credit: http://www.Michie.ru Mirror mirror via photopin (license)

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