Lesson 2 Four Choices for Young People
Shortly before his graduation， Jim Binns， president of the senior class at Stanford University， wrote me about some of his misgivings.
“More than any other generation，” he said， “our generation views the adult world with great skepticism… there is also an increased tendency to reject completely that world.”
Apparently he speaks for a lot of his contemporaries.
During the last few years， I have listened to scores of young people， in college and out， who were just as nervous about the grown world.
Roughly， their attitude might be summed up about like this： “The world is in pretty much of a mess， full of injustice， poverty， and war. The people responsible are， presumably， the adults who have been running thing. If they can't do better than that， what have they got to teach our generation？ That kind of lesson we can do without.”
There conclusions strike me as reasonable， at least from their point of view.
The relevant question for the arriving generation is not whether our society is imperfect （we can take that for granted）， but how to deal with it.
For all its harshness and irrationality， it is the only world we've got.
Choosing a strategy to cope with it， then， is the first decision young adults have to make， and usually the most important decision of their lifetime.
So far as I have been able to discover， there are only four basic alternatives：
This is one of the oldest expedients， and it can be practiced anywhere， at any age， and with or without the use of hallucinogens.
It always has been the strategy of choice for people who find the world too brutal or too complex to be endured.
By definition， this way of life is parasitic. In one way or another， its practitioners batten on the society which they scorn and in which they refuse to take any responsibility.
Some of us find this distasteful – an undignified kind of life.
But for the poor in spirit， with low levels of both energy and pride， it may be the least intolerable choice available.
This strategy also has ancient antecedents.
Ever since civilization began， certain individuals have tried to run away from it in hopes of finding a simpler， more pastoral， and more peaceful life.
Unlike the dropouts， they are not parasites. They are willing to support themselves and to contribute something to the general community， but they simply don't like the environment of civilization； that is， the city， with all its ugliness and tension.
The trouble with this solution is that it no longer is practical on a large scale.
Our planet， unfortunately， is running out of noble savages and unsullied landscaped； except for the polar regions， the frontiers are gone.
A few gentleman farmers with plenty of money can still escape to the bucolic life – but in general the stream of migration is flowing the other way.
Plot a Revolution
This strategy is always popular among those who have no patience with the tedious working of the democratic process or who believe that basic institutions can only be changed by force.
It attracts some of the more active and idealistic young people of every generation.
To them it offers a romantic appeal， usually symbolized by some dashing and charismatic figure.
It has the even greater appeal of simplicity： “Since this society is hopelessly bad， let's smash it and build something better on the ruins.”
Some of my best friends have been revolutionists， and a few of them have led reasonably satisfying lives.
These are the ones whose revolutions did not come off； they have been able to keep on cheerfully plotting their holocausts right into their senescence.
Others died young， in prison or on the barricades.
But the most unfortunate are those whose revolutions have succeeded.
They lived in bitter disillusionment， to see the establishment they had overthrown replaced by a new one， just as hard-faced and stuffy.
I am not， of course， suggesting that revolutions accomplish nothing.
Some （The American Revolution， the French Revolution） clearly do change things for the better.
My point is merely that the idealists who make the revolution are bound to be disappointed in either case.
For at best their victory never dawns on the shining new world they had dreamed of， cleansed of all human meanness.
Instead it dawns on a familiar， workaday place， still in need of groceries and sewage disposal.
The revolutionary state， under whatever political label， has to be run-not by violent romantics-but by experts in marketing， sanitary engineering， and the management of bureaucracies.
For the idealists who are determined to remake society， but who seek a more practical method than armed revolution， there remains one more alternative.
Try to Change the World Gradually， One Clod at a Time
At first glance， this course is far from inviting.
It lacks glamour. It promises no quick results.
It depends on the exasperating and uncertain instruments of persuasion and democratic decision making.
It demands patience， always in short supply.
About all that can be said for it is that it sometimes works – that in this particular time and place it offers a better chance for remedying some of the world's outrages than any other available strategy.
So at least the historical evidence seems to suggest.
When I was graduating from college， my generation also found the world in a mess.
The economic machinery had broken down almost everywhere： In this country nearly a quarter of the population was out of work.
A major was seemed all too likely.
As a college newspaper editor at that time， I protested against this just as vehemently as student activists are protesting today.
At the same time， my generation was discovering that reforming the world is a little like fighting a military campaign in the Apennines， as soon as you capture one mountain range， another one looms just ahead.
As the big problems of the thirties were brought under some kind of rough control， new problems took their place – the unprecedented problems of an， affluent society， of racial justice， of keeping our cities from becoming uninhabitable， of coping with war in unfamiliar guises.
Most disturbing of all was our discovery of the population explosion.
It dawned on us rather suddenly that the number of passengers on the small spaceship we inhabit is doubling about every forty years.
So long as the earth's population keeps growing at this cancerous rate， all of the other problems appear virtually insoluble.
Our cities will continue to become more crowded and noisome. The landscape will get more cluttered， the air and water even dirtier.
The quality of life is likely to become steadily worse for everybody.
And warfare on a rising scale seems inevitable if too many bodies have to struggle for ever-dwindling shares of food and living space.