We Didn't Start the Fire
Friday, April 23, 1999 by Dave Winer.
It's great to be back again. Lots of interesting mail from DaveNet readers yesterday. Nothing like a political piece to stir the fires. Only a few people told me to shut up. To them finally, it's time for you guys to give it up (they're all men btw). We live in a great world. If you don't like what I say, put up a website and speak your mind. Telling me to shut up is a waste of your power.
There may be a reason to keep the 2nd Amendment. A common response -- as soon as you repeal it, you'll get concentration camps. I'm not sure I agree. I've never owned a gun in my life, and I'm not in a concentration camp. My parents and grandparents didn't own guns either, and they were all refugees from real fascists with real concentration camps.
When I was in New Orleans as a college student many of my roommates had guns. I didn't feel safer with them around, in fact once one of my roommates threatened me with his gun. We didn't need guns to protect us from criminals or oppressive police. I also think having guns in a house gives people extra power we might not want them to have.
Some point out that gun control wouldn't stop people from making bombs. I don't know about that. Airport security has stopped hijacking. Occasionally airliners are bombed out of the sky, but they have new techniques that spot bomb residue on luggage.
On the other hand, I didn't hear from anyone who agreed with repealing the 2nd Amendment, and until there's a will to speak out against universal gun ownership rights the law won't change, so let's move on.
Have you ever been to a suburban American town? It's as if they were all stamped out of the same mold. It's been going on for a long long time. Imagine if you were a young person raised in such a town. What would you have to look forward to? Why did your parents move there in the first place? What did that say about their expectations of you? What's their vision of perfection? How yielding would they be to your originality? These towns look a lot like the suburban towns of the 1950s, except now they've got it right, with Burger King, Starbuck's cable television, it's all flattened out, all the same, a perfect template for teen rage.
I think the problem is that many young people have no hope. No one tells them the truth, we drift into a war where they'll be the ones fighting, and guns are everywhere, and videogames give them the skills they need to use them. Shrugging our shoulders isn't going to fix things. Blaming individual parents won't solve anything either. It appears to be a problem because we don't understand what's going on. The only way to figure it out is to ask the kids, and as much as it hurts, listen to them.
Then the next thing is to stand for something as adults, to set examples, to add substance to our lives and give them hope for substance in theirs. And substance means using your mind, challenging assumptions, thinking instead of reacting. View the world as if you deserved a bright future. Find the passion you once had so you can look your kids in the eye and tell them that you stand for something. Many young people have passion and courage along with their rage. What are they saying? It's simple. "I want to create my own future."
Let's have a panel of young men and women convene to discuss the war in Yugoslavia. Let it be an international body. Let it be made up of the people who will fight the war, and who will have to live with its aftermath. Let's create a new process that incorporates the wisdom of young people. We make an assumption that they don't have enough experience to make the right call. This assumption is totally wrong. In fact, they haven't learned how to lie as we have. And they still have a residue of hope for a bright future that most older folks have lost. We say we want a bright future for them, but we are mistaken if we think it's the future we design. It never is.
Now, believe it or not, with the Internet, things will change. When we look at the Internet we see huge dollars being made in Silicon Valley and Wall Street and most importanlty, in places like Littleton. But we've overlooked, for the moment, the political power it gives to people who know how to use the medium, and the people who grok the medium are young. Time has a way of hurrying things up at a rate 40-somethings can't perceive. Today's 18 year old was only 6 years old in 1987 when the PC revolution was booming. They were young when the web was young. We forget how fast young people grow. There are a lot of producitve hours to fill between age 6 and 18. These people are deep, and they have various levels of frustration, and a different yet spookily familiar kind of frustration.
It all comes back to the "I want to create my own future" thing. When there's no avenue for creativity, frustration develops, and allowed to fester long enough, it explodes. That's the message of Littleton. And the solution is easy, empower them to channel their energy in efficient ways, open the door for their future and get out of the way. Perhaps the baby boomer generation will reliquish power to the next generation without going to war with them?
It's perhaps a sad truth that none of us live long enough to really figure it out. We all start with the assumption that we will do things differently from our parents' generation, but do we really get there? We look at the young people and think we see the distance we have traveled, we see all that we learned between then and now.
We think their words are silly and immature. We know so much, wouldn't you like to teach them? Yet the only way that young people can learn is to make their own mistakes, which they are entitled to do. We share this frustration with our parents, they felt the same way about their children, and they were just as wrong as we are.
We remember so much, but have we forgotten the rage we had when we were young? Our hope to live great lives? Do these things go away because we want them to? They do not. A new generation comes along, and as much as we think we did a great job of setting the stage for them, they disagree and want to do it their way, because that's what young people do.
Thanks to Adam Curry, email@example.com, an icon of the MTV generation, who sent a pointer to the perfect song for the times we live in, Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." Even though the names may be unfamiliar to today's young adults, I'm sure the ideas will be totally familiar.
"We didn't star the fire, it was always burning, since the world's been turning. We didn't start the fire, but when we are gone will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on..?"