In Pearl Jam’s song “Alive,” the speaker is betrayed twice by his mother: first, by learning his supposed father is actually someone else while his real father is elsewhere, dying, and second, by being substituted for the father. One could argue, however, that the first betrayal is really the father’s. Couldn’t he have emerged to set the record straight?
Now let’s jump to NSA’s PRISM (and everything and anything else it’s doing). Another betrayal by the father? The nation is suddenly not what we thought it was, just like a dad wasn’t? The two hardly seem comparable. It’s no surprise the NSA sucks up electronic signals from around the globe. After all, it was founded to do just that. Dad, meanwhile, we think of as dad—the one who made us, the one who raised us. We know dad before we know what is expected of him, and as we grow, we begin to expect certain things and not others. We expect he was made to keep us safe, or at least on the straight and narrow.
Yet expectation is the root of betrayal. No wonder young adults seem most susceptible to feelings of betrayal: they know too little. As we age, we experience more of the world, so that we expect less from it. But this needn’t be cynicism. We don’t need to be passive. We do, however, need to be aware, and translate awareness of our intentions and our environs into useful action.
In a democracy, what does it mean to be betrayed by the nation, if we purportedly make the nation?