Over the winter break, my son and I had a number of conversations about his future and the state of the world in general. He is a 21-year-old student attending Ohio State University. Tyler is a bright and creative young man. But, he also feels a good deal of frustration in his life and sees few role models out there to mentor or inspire him.
Interestingly, we found that we agreed on many observations about 21st America, although our approaches to dealing with those problems may vary in technique and intensity. As one might expect from a young man, he is inclined to revolutionary change and abandonment of dysfunctional systems. I am still inclined to changing the system from within. The upshot of our discourse was that we would begin the process of drafting a manifesto for a new kind of revolution — one that creates a new type of society within the existing structure — and eliciting feedback from others. So here goes.
Why are so many people disillusioned with the current state of American society? Everywhere we turn, we hear people who have turned off the political discourse and, when they do vote, make their choices based on selecting the lesser of available evils. Many young people, after spending 16 or more years in institutionalized education, find themselves unemployable, unfulfilled, or significantly unprepared for the “real” world. Our daily lives seem filled with a bombardment of consumerism and the resultant unhappiness derived from debt and impossible expectations. Many adults find that they cannot give their children the quality of life they received from their parents, and must combat seemingly uncontrollable forces of substance abuse, over-medication, and over-exposure to sex and violence in our media.
Why are so many people disillusioned with the current state of American society? Because we are reminded every day that our nation is not what we thought it was. We are reminded every day that our nation is not what we were taught it was. We are reminded every day that our nation is not what it should be.
What does it mean to be disillusioned? Disillusionment is betrayal. Many of us are frustrated because we cannot live lives that make us happy. We feel angry because it sometimes seems that everyone in any position of authority is either a liar, a cheat, or a fraud. We sense hopelessness because we see no answers to the multitude of problems that beset us. Many Americans feel that their country has in many ways fundamentally betrayed them. That is the negative view of disillusionment.
Is there a positive meaning of disillusionment? I believe that there is. Disillusion means that we are being freed of our illusions. Disillusion means that we have the capacity to make change and to define our nation. By embracing disillusion, we can shed ourselves of outmoded ways of being and create a new society. In my next installment, I will begin to discuss our illusions in 21st century America.