Idealism and Endurance | Letters | Chicago Reader

Idealism and Endurance 

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To the editors:

I found Julie Phillips's article ("Boomed Out") [July 31] very entertaining, and heartily agreed with it. If anything, I would only fault her for not going quite far enough.

Not only do the baby boomers seem to believe that they "invented coming of age and still hold the patent," they also seem to have invented idealism, and no one else can quite make the grade in the "high ideals" and "noble aspirations" department. How often in those articles about the sixties generation, do we hear moans that we, the eighties generation, are "greedy materialists," the "new fascists"? And this from the generation that Sold Out, that is now part of the Establishment. But of course there are idealists in every generation. Perhaps the eighties generation doesn't protest as loudly as they did back in the sixties, but does that mean that we have no ideals? That we are all crass materialists? Fascists?

Imagine if you will two prisoners. One is constantly shaking the bars of his cell and shouting at the guards about the injustice of the system. The other is quietly scraping away at the stone wall of his cell with a blunt instrument. The former, after a few years, gives up his ranting and just sits around his cell, occasionally muttering a few muted curses at the system. The latter is still patiently scraping away at the wall. Why? Because he entertains some crazy hope of escape by digging his way through the wall? No--simply because in what better way can he spend his time? He may resent the "injustice of the system" as much as the next guy, but as far as protesting, he'd probably say, "What's the use?"

This I think illustrates the difference between the idealism of the sixties and the idealism of the eighties. And it's not just a difference in approach, it's a difference in attitude. The sixties way of dealing with the problems in the system may look bigger and bolder, but it's based on anger, and one cannot sustain anger for very long. After a while it becomes simply bluff. Patience lasts longer. And we may not have much hope of finally breaking through the wall, but still I think this approach is better than nothing.

But is this perhaps futile gesture of chipping away at a wall idealism? Certainly you don't hear much about disillusionment and alienation from the eighties generation. You hear more about our cynicism. But then we probably don't feel a whole lot of disillusionment, alienation, and despair--those are rather overwhelming emotions. (Although today's youth seem to be experiencing what is called an "epidemic" of teen suicides.) No, I don't think that even cynicism is the common feeling among our generation. It's quieter than that. It's endurance. Usually without pain. Usually without hope. Simply endurance. But if you were to ask me, I'd say yes. If idealism is the pursuit of what you consider a worthy goal, and breaking through that wall is worthwhile, then that patient scraping at the wall, that ability to keep going without hope, is my definition of idealism.

Martha Foster

W. Pratt

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