The most powerful of all impulses for the progress of any society is not the work of old men — politicians, business people, and all those who control our lives — but the ambitions of young persons. A society whose young minds no longer believe in moral ideals is decaying, without hope, and regretful of its past. The exploits of great and learned men and women can only have meaning if they will move or inspire the young, for the foundation of any modern civilization is ultimately the freedom of its citizens to pursue those things that will make human life meaningful.

But our civilization is in great danger. Most young people today are now integrated into the devious schemes created by capitalism. Any millennial out there will find it almost impossible to live without a gadget at hand. Without them fully realizing it, the ill consequence to this is that there is now a price tag to everything, including people’s happiness. The young often easily confuse pleasure for happiness and satisfaction for self-realization.

The political and social upheavals in the 1970s defined how the youth then reasoned out and acted on issues. Social justice meant that for them, the ideals of freedom are without value if human life is not dedicated to the great cause of equality. But modern consumerism hides from young people the idea of class warfare. Our youth do not feel any antagonism to the great divide that characterizes Philippine society and its oligarchic nature.

Education in many of our schools have not provided that sense of reasonableness, given that even the systems school officials impose are oppressive. But the young know the problems that bother the world as a whole. The young, in this regard, are openly exposed at an early age to the reality of a society that disregards the rights of people. Indeed, critical thinking is wanting in so many ways among our  officials.

Most millennials have since lost the meaning of genius and the value of creative work. Our culture is in decline because of the mass media. According to Walter Benjamin, great works of art, all of which exclaim the high point of modern civilization, are peddled for mass consumption through technical reproduction. Such is the lonely end point that results from making everything “instant.”

Today, internet connectivity determines how people engage with one another, but in a very superficial way. Whereas in the past the television set and the couch served as the centers of interaction at home, today the internet dictates people’s relation to one another. Trending is just another term for a mass of young individuals who are too tired to think. For instance, many young people no longer see the value of story-telling. People make themselves busy with so many things, only to realize that the important things are those that we actually take for granted.

People have become the tragic picture of that diminished value of the interpersonal. Face-to-face encounters are demeaned when two people immediately hook themselves onto their gadgets. The modern world of human beings has lost the value of actual presence. The world is now so much poorer because of the young’s tragic loss of that sense of innocence.

Modern times are no longer the story of man being controlled by machines, for even dehumanization has now become an irreverent virtual battle in this modern age.

Young people are exposed to many illusions. Virtual reality is the invention of technical rationality. As a way of doing things, it has essentially made much of our existence absurd. Leovino Ma. Garcia says that by reducing everything, including human relationships, to the instrumental, “we render our whole existence meaningless.” The meaning of human achievement in this regard has become that form of self-absorption that is anchored on material success at the expense of others. This is the threat in our midst against which millennials must wage a war.

* * * Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.