for Tim and Teresa Strandquist
1. Air, thick with heat in the midst of the drought. Steam does not rise from the earth baking. The intensity is lower; an inhaled dullness saturates campus. Couples and books are everywhere. The extremes of staring at texts for hours on end and using one’s significant other for as much physical contact as legally possible do not just coexist on a continuum. They are tied together: there’s nothing else to do.
Eros is not merely a reaction to boredom. It is tempting to think that is the current problem. Certainly there is an appetite for knowledge as well as other things. Studying to survive school, though, is not an “appetite for knowledge.” Nor is pairing up because everyone else seems to have someone. The heat is disorder, from fear. These young people want to go somewhere in life. They’re imitating what they see others do regarding things they were told are important. And right now, as well-meaning as they are, as much as they’re actually learning, as much as they’re even loving – they’re going through the motions unwittingly.
2. If you ask me what the fundamental problem of American political life is, you’ll probably hear me say “There’s no sense of what is public.” Nearly everything is put in terms of a private good nowadays. Things like honor and decency do not matter as much as having a “brand.” Our individual success matters more than our behavior, absolutely more than the content of our minds. “The Situation” and his abdominal muscles command far more attention than this blog ever will. Even things that are good for all of us are defined in terms of personal interest: “Army of One” was no accident.
It should not surprise us, then, if young people are fearful and acquisitive anywhere. They’re defensive about what is theirs and not really in the mood for asking questions about what is appropriate or good. This is how they’ve been conditioned; the older generations, for all their virtues, aren’t terribly savvy about what needs to change. We could very easily lose a generation of thoughtful, imaginative, determined young people because we’re overloading them with our paranoia. A sense of entitlement pervades American life more deeply than Left or Right could ever admit.
3. To know a young couple dedicated to serving others while making a life for themselves is an enormous privilege. That the couple in question isn’t scared of things like poetry, crafting, hospitality, sharing their knowledge and experience, and exploring the outdoors just amazes me. I do know couples where fear of the future, even fear of other people, “unite” the two. I know couples lost in their fantasies, ones I hope will never discover just how deluded they are. The real work of American life is true unity. You two work for it without a second’s thought. You both seem to know we are our gift to each other, that we are the public good itself.