BLOGGERJelani Harvey is a recent graduate of Columbia University who received his degree in American History. After he spent his high school years raising money and awareness for human trafficking in...
Where do young people come down on questions of faith, values, and public life? How do they relate their values to public policy issues including education, economic inequality, and the environment? These questions, critically important for the 2012 election, are at the center of a campus conversation being organized by the Berkley Center and Georgetown University. This blog features an ongoing conversation about these issues between students selected as Millennial Values Fellows through a national competition. You can read and comment on their blogs here.
To learn more about the project, visit the Campus Conversation on Values page.
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AT THE CENTER
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Jelani Harvey (Columbia) on Millennials, Values, and America's Future
April 9, 2012
Millennials also wholeheartedly believe in equality for all. There is a belief that permeates among young people that every person in the world has a voice, and that all voices deserve to be heard. Equality for all is our motto, for we believe a world free of oppression and forced silence will enable us to solve the most pressing issues of today and tomorrow. We believe that this is our moment. This is our moment to show future generations that we got it right- a task, we all take very seriously.
So yes. We are the children of the 1980’s and 1990’s who grew up watching Hey Arnold, Doug, and Sailor Moon. We are the dreamers, the Facebook likers, and the Skypers, but you can just call us the Millennials.
Daniel Chen (UC Berkeley) comments on Jelani Harvey April 10, 2012
Jelani, your post is very interesting, because to me, it effectively flows from the Enlightenment’s emphasis on human progress. Your assertion that “we fix problems through our uncanny optimism and faith” and that “we honestly believe that we will solve all of these problems and solve them we shall” is certainly controversial and audacious, something that any good thesis aims to be. However, I would like to push back on this idea, because I think that history has shown that the Enlightenment’s belief in functional, historical progress is wrong, especially in the 20th century. How would you reconcile the discrepancy between increasing hopefulness while also recognizing that progress does not develop in a linear fashion? Or perhaps, does this seemingly intractable problem even need reconciling?
Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) comments on Jelani Harvey April 10, 2012
Jelani, I find your optimism so inspiring, especially because you're right—we do hear, over and over again, what a dismal world our generation is inheriting. It is nice to see someone combat those doomsayers with such a positive message. Yes, as Daniel comments, you do write with Enlightenment-style ideas of human progress—belief in the power of humanity, of the power we have to change the world. But I think that is what is unique about your argument is not just that we want to change the world, but that our worldviews are fundamentally different. You write that Millennials “wholeheartedly believe in equality for all.” And I think that this is what our generation is about: not just wanting to move forward for the sake of progress, but because we believe, with deep conviction, in making the world a ethically just place for all.
Brian Goldman (University of Pennsylvania) comments on Jelani Harvey April 10, 2012
Jelani, Abigail beat me to it, but I also really enjoyed the inspirational tone of your piece. I’m not sure why, as Daniel puts it, the assertion that hope, optimism, and good faith are essential tenets of our generation is a “controversial or audacious” thesis. Why shouldn’t we hope to solve all problems? Sure—why probably won’t fix every one, and more will arise—but if we don’t strive for a completely greater tomorrow than I think we do cut ourselves a bit short. This sentiment was not controversial when President Obama ran on “hope and change” in 2008, or when former President Reagan ran on “It’s Morning in America” in 1984. There’s nothing controversial about fueling progress with doses of optimism, togetherness, and faith. I’d posit that this might be necessary in confronting any great challenge.
I think the second idea advanced in the post, the “equality” ideal, is a good, solid observation. As Abigail put it, we want to make the world “ethically just” for all. I’d also add “freedom” to this equation. While the two sentiments often go hand in hand, freedom is as bedrock a fundamental right as any, and probably helps to spur equality and justice when realized. Unfortunately, most torn nations are neither equal nor free, so we really have our work cut out for us, but as Jelani notes, pessimism is not the answer.
Colin Steele (Georgetown) comments on Jelani Harvey April 12, 2012
Jelani, thanks for an inspiring and uplifting post. I just hope that our generation truly buys what you're selling -- and keeps at it when the going gets tough. This country has affirmed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and "liberty and justice for all" for a long time; it's not for lack of insistence that previous generations haven't been able to realize these ideals. It's easy for us as the generation-in-waiting to critique the hits and misses of previous generations (in fact, it's good that we do so), but few of us have assumed real responsibility yet. If history is any guide, some Jack Abramoff or Koch brother or special interest or earmark or whatever is going to apply some serious pressure on us to compromise our values once we start taking over in government, business and the academy. So: will we need to hope? Definitely. Will we need to change? Absolutely. But we're most of all going to have to become expert at knowing what our values are and where and how we can compromise on them.
What our generation needs to decide on most of all is its "moon shot." One of my pet peeves with the current political debate is the tropism of the actual moon shot: "If we could put a man on the moon, then we can certainly do this..." Trouble is, that was then, this is now. The Apollo program belonged and belongs to our parents; we need to decide on a national project of our own and a time-frame for it just as President Kennedy did for putting a man on the moon. Maybe it's realizing liberty, justice, equality and happiness for all, as you suggest. Maybe it's making sure every child in this country is getting quality post-secondary education within 20 years, as the emphasis on education in many of our blogs might intimate. Regardless, if we're going to overcome, we're going to need every bit of the confidence and technological prowess you rightly ascribe to our generation, but we're also going to need to decide on our task, roll up our sleeves and have the courage to live and lead according to our convictions even and especially when The System says, "No, you can't."
Jelani Harvey (Columbia) comments on Jelani Harvey April 13, 2012
Thanks for responding everyone! I am really glad you all got the sense of optimism from my post because that was my intention. I am really surprised by your thoughts, though, Daniel that you feel my post boasts of “Enlightenment’s belief in functional, historical progress.” I have heard this concept before, but the intention of my post was not to prove/disprove that the world is always getting better. It was rather to show that although we have so many problems in our world, that Millennials are still very hopeful about our future. In terms of your question, I think that one can be hopeful while at the same time recognize that history is not teleological; this however, is not something I necessarily agree with. I believe that both religious people and atheists strive to perfect the world for disparate reasons. Christians, especially, try to perfect the world, because the more they learn about it, the more they feel they will learn about God. Atheists seek to perfect the world because humans are seen as rational, curious, and the more we understand the world, the better we feel. But what is ironic though, as you mentioned, is that the 20th Century challenged many of our beliefs. There is now a fear among many people that the more we strive, the greater peril we pose to our planet and each other i.e. (nuclear annihilation). These threats are pretty scary, but as Brian mentions, hope goes a very far way.