In our modern-day mythology – the superhero genre – we often see our heroes torn between radically opposite identities. Most often, this dynamic plays out as a timid character living a quiet and unsuspecting life but secretly doubles as a super-strong crime-fighting vigilante. Interestingly enough, millennials face a similar dichotomy.
Whether in the form of starving African children, dogmatic Islamic terrorists or violent Latino drug cartels, Americans are constantly bombarded with images and stories of the plight of the “outside world.” The media is constantly reinforcing the idea that America is safe and free while the rest of the world is trapped in cycles of backwardness. The result: a generation of Americans out to save that forsaken world.
I was one of those Americans. My activism began as a high school student, harmlessly tagging anarchy A’s, and evolved into a university-level campaign against capitalist imperialism and racist oppression. A noble cause, no doubt. My costly, loan-subsidized education even culminated in me landing a post-grad job at Washington, DC’s largest international development firm, with the promise of a steady income and regular promotions, funded by US government contract money.
However that wasn’t enough for my revolutionary heart. Eventually I departed for Peace Corps service in the Dominican Republic, where I lived out my dream of emulating the life of my hero – Che Guevara – by moving abroad and fighting oppression in the trenches of third-world poverty. I educated, agitated and shit in a cockroach-infested hole in the ground for two years. Peace Corps life. (Ironically, this also was all paid for by the US government.)
Then Peace Corps was over, and I was back in my hometown of Long Island facing an existential crisis. Che had fought to the death, yet my life just kept going. I hadn’t planned for that part. Suddenly, the Peter Parker within me started talking sense into my Spider Man. My private university education had left me deeply in debt, and the hour of deferment was over. It was time to face the music.
And suddenly, there I was – trapped in the monotony of modern 9-5 life. You know the routine: Wake up early, go to the gym, sit in your cubicle for eight hours, go to the bar (in my case restaurant or coffee shop, since I don’t drink), go home and get to sleep early. Repeat.
The Che in me was dead, and that was depressing, until I realized that I was the victim of a false dichotomy.
I had been looking at my options in life as either martyrdom or absolute self-interest. but there is another option.
One in which my own liberation is intricately intertwined with that of others. Somewhere in between going rogue in a random country as a loan refugee and being a cog in the capitalist machine, there is a life worth living. Somewhere in between uncompromising revolutionary activism and the white guilt-driven non-profit industrial complex, there is a delicate compromise between ideals and self-care. Somewhere in between Clark Kent and Superman, there is a wholly reconciled person with a sustainable lifestyle.
A wise man once said: “There’s a lot of space between all or nothing.” I’ll see you there.