Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (ed. Harris & Gorenflo)

This is really three books in one.  "Share or Die" is the theme of several essays in the book, and you will find inspirational stories about how people pool resources, from housing to knowledge, in order to live better than they would otherwise.  You'll also find how-to tips about educating yourself, choosing a roommate wisely, and starting worker co-ops and housing co-ops.  Implicit in these essays is a critique of consumption as a lifestyle and of capitalism as a system that demands consumption to survive.

Another set of essays focus more on the "Get Lost Generation," the Millennials or Generation Y, who came of age expecting that a college education would allow them to do it all, have it all, and change whatever discomforted them in the world they inherited.  Society fostered some of these expectations.  Others seem to have been mass delusions.  In any case, the Great Recession dashed a lot of hopes and made young people re-examine the value of a college education, a job, owning a home, marrying (since none of them have turned out as expected, at least since the Great Recession). 

If you are white and from a middle-class background and a member of this generation, you will probably find yourself or people you know portrayed in this book.  For a late Baby Boomer like me, it offers a chance to listen in to conversations and soliloquies I might not otherwise hear.  I do think a limitation of the book is that it doesn't solicit the voices of Black, Latino, and/or immigrant youth.  I have worked with people from those cohorts, and I think they would have a whole different set of concerns (and express shared concerns in a very different way).

The least developed set of essays in the book deal with the "age of crisis" we live in.  When I was in my twenties and attending graduate school, I provided personal care to an old leftist who had suffered a stroke.  One day, I told him that the undergraduates I taught didn't know about Vietnam or Watergate. "They have no sense of history!" I exclaimed.  "Neither do you," he retorted, and reeled off a series of important events from the first half of the twentieth century that I had barely heard of.

So, I am not in any position to blame the writers of this book for exaggerating the unique quality of the age they live in--but that is what they do.  There is no sense that protest began before Occupy Wall Street.  There are no references to the long history of cooperatives in this country, let alone Mondragon, in Spain.  And few of these writers consider that some of the wonderful experiments in collective living, collaborative consumption, and political activism they are engaged in might not survive when they need enough income to raise a child, or health insurance for themselves, or money and leisure to afford to take care of an aging parent.  (The essay "Get on the Lattice" by Ahlander and Kofman is a notable exception.)

We should all read this book--and share it with others.  Then, we should invite friends and strangers to a potluck dinner and discuss what it means to each of us.  That way, we can take up the challenge this book poses and carry it further.

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