Ever since government actions in response to COVID-19 interrupted people’s lives on a global scale, many aspects of human existence have been called into question. Although everyone was and continues to be affected in some way or other, the impact on young people and students is still widely underestimated. Both were affected by the pedagogical move to online education, which rendered even the most prestigious colleges little more than online learning centers.
Students were forced to undergo weekly COVID testing, take their temperatures, report if they were in contact with anyone who tested positive and, if testing positive, rat out friends with whom they were in contact, and of course, wear masks. Once the vaccine was available, some schools attempted to require it, or at the very least worded their vaccine policies ambiguously enough that almost all students “chose” to get vaccinated.
The environment that was created at many colleges and universities resembled more of a prison complex, a watered down “Stanford prison experiment” where students were expected to fall in line, be obedient to the system, and report on those who disobeyed. It created a sense of false community—“we are in this together”—where individuality was swallowed by the whole.
The situation on campus has gradually improved—mask mandates are gone and there is not as much talk about the vaccines—but the possibility of it all returning looms ominously over the horizon. Students experience this as a haunting and high level of stress, which results in anxiety, depression, and for many chronic depression. This is at best, half-life, and as a society, we need to acknowledge that such an existence is unacceptable. (Similarly, for children in elementary and middle schools, stress levels have risen tremendously. Not only are they thrown into an educational system that is laden with ideology and a pointless amount of homework, they are always under the stress that COVID-19 policy might return.)
We have to accept that this kind of living is diseased. Nothing good or creative comes from living amidst depression and anger and despair is always the danger. Culturally and politically, there is chaos, and spiritual life isn’t even part of the collective discussion. The interior lives of children and young adults are still unrecognized. The future generation appears to have an uncertain future and is locked in a holding pattern for the present. Resistance, even for those who are a little older and remember campus life before the chaos of COVID, is still quite difficult as students are continuously enveloped by a presentism that has become an unfortunate part of our culture.
None of this has been pleasant for anyone. No one’s politics, including those who have wholeheartedly accepted the tenets of COVID-19 ideology, everyone is worried about what the future may hold. Parents worry what kind of lives there will be for their children, and students (especially those in high school, college, or freshly out of college) worry whether they will have access to a normal life. Some are more acutely aware of this existential anxiety and wish to change it, while others have given up their free will to the system.
Of course, it’s not only COVID behind this problem. The United States, in particular, is experiencing political upheaval. What even is politics these days? The very idea of it appears to exist in a form previously unknown to us. The whole notion of being a citizen seems to be losing its meaning, let alone a self-governing citizen of a specific sovereign nation. This week’s news of the FBI raid of Donald Trump’s home in Florida certainly doesn’t add to any burgeoning confidence Americans might have been developing that things will go back to normal. Whether it’s just another exercise in optics or not, the raid should be taken seriously.
Every day, something else happens to contribute to the stress. Many people are not thinking clearly or else they have no faith or have lost it in the process. After all, what is there to look forward to if the system has robbed us of the future? Why try at all if it’s all planned out and if nobody has any power over the grand overseers of our lives? And finally, what is the meaning of America in the midst of this chaos? Are we clinging to some fantasy that the country, as we came to love it, still exists? If we admit that it’s all gone, then how are we to rebuild it?
As human beings, when faced with a totalitarian system, we have to steel ourselves to fight it by whatever means or power we have. We have to begin to redefine the meaning of success. This is not to say that the bar needs to be set low but that, given the circumstances, we may have to change our trajectory of accomplishment and creation.
Life is no doubt difficult for most people. In my own case it is particularly painful to have escaped war only to witness America in a state of chaos. But I do not despair. It’s unacceptable to despair because it is weak. It means allowing the darkness to overtake the light. Everything that makes us fully human points to the need to relate to others and God, to create rather than destroy, and to love rather than to hate. Every human being is making an impact on this world, whether he knows it or not. We have to ask ourselves what kind of impact we are making and accept responsibility for it.
Doomers are always wrong, be they on the Right or the Left. The instant we begin to wallow in apocalyptic talk, we have given up. It is never the time to give up or to panic. On the contrary, we have to think clearly, intelligently, and reasonably. We also have to have faith. The fight against the pervasive despair cannot be done with man’s will alone, and we have to keep in mind that we are not the measure of all things.