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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future



Dr. Rakoff, this generation and probably my generation are the first two generations in history that really have a deliberate way of destroying the planet. In our case it was the bomb. In the case of the coming generation it's the destruction of the environment, which is a way of destroying the planet without an act of will. In fact it takes an act of will to prevent that from happening. Given your remarks about 1789 as a watershed in human psychological history, could you tell me whether you regard this new consciousness, if indeed it exists, that we can, in fact, destroy the planet we live on without too much difficulty and already are doing so, as being another watershed in the development in our psychic destinies?

I cannot answer the question, I can respond to it. You are as dead of an arrow, or drought, or malaria as you are with an atomic bomb. People have always thought that their world was going to be destroyed. Most of human kind have lived under the possible threat of some cataclysmic disaster that would destroy their world. The paradox is that since the two bombs were dropped, not another has ever been dropped. And this is the first time in history that a potent military weapon has in fact not been used when it has been available. On the notion of the environment, there are now fish being caught that haven't been seen for 200 years. Clean up may be possible. I am concerned with environmental preoccupation when it moves beyond the very valid concern with a viable world for human beings. But that we exist and continue to exist should not be a matter of apology. There is hidden inside a kind of dark crevice of some of the ecology movement, a kind of self-loathing for human kind that I think we have to be very suspicious of. The notion of some groups that live in harmony with nature and just view man as some kind of destroyer is one that I find profoundly offensive. We are not uniquely virtuous and we not uniquely wicked. In fact, paradoxically, precisely our concerns generated out of the kind of people we are, may help us to lift and turn the tide. Having said that, I think that industrial pollution is a terrible thing.

Dr. Rackoff, you mentioned Durkhiem's theory of Anomie and concept of anomic suicide. Would you comment on what you think the future holds for this generation and the upcoming generations and how social anomie affects it.

I think that much of the youth suicide is in fact anomic. Paradoxically, people march to their deaths not because they want to look after the baby, they march to the deaths with drums, trumpets, hymns, all sorts of public paraphernalia. And I think we have a very real problem in trying to define a series of public myths that will support us in our private lives. Most people get by fairly well and the young, as I said before, have partners, most will in fact marry, most will have children, many will not. It's a fact that they are vulnerable that they get caught up in these lacks of certainty. And I wish I knew how we could get around this. Do we have to do, as many disturbed youngsters do, run away to join a cult in which they specifically give up their freedom, specifically give up their music, their room, their right to be messy, their right to wear torn jeans, their right to come in at 3 a.m., to scrub floors to go begging on the street, wear silly clothes and give all their money to someone who mumbo jumbos? For certainty, people will give up almost anything. The temptation for a tyrannical submission to a set of symbols and myths is very understandable, because life without them seems to have little direction. And it is the same thing that I am trying to say about the young people that you talk about applies to this nation which under going as it were adolescent patient, an identity crisis. The way out of an identity crisis is not necessarily into a well democratic pseudo identity, but excepting the kind of philosophical joy that fact of our uncertainty. Because that uncertainty is probably the greatest historical prize that this country has created. And if young people can learn to live with that uncertainty, if they get enough support from intimates and from their society then I think we have a way out.

Dr. Rakoff, do you see in the future for native people? Do you see it as rising or declining or even staying at a balance?

I would hope, because I don't know enough, but I think the only way out is indeed, greater education about your own history, a restoration of a sense of your own continuing culture and the formation that you are entitled to be what you want to be.

Drew Atkins, I am interested in the point you made about the Decima survey and this being a sophisticated enough generation to lie if it had to. I am wondering if in order to have self determination one needs the privacy to run one's own life. Do you feel you have a full tool kit to be self determined if you have the privacy to do so?

I did an undergraduate degree in philosophy and I think my mind is being corrupted to the point that I don't think we have self determination. But assuming we do, I think that even though we do have these burdens we have to deal with, I think we have as much self determination as any previous generation, we just have it in a different way. The reason I said that we were sophisticated enough to lie on the Decima research is that, fundamentally, I have a problem with surveys. You ask a question and the way you phrase the question is going to get a specific answer.