The more I re-read this article, the readier I am to dismiss it as just another entry in the “those damn kids” genre of editorial. (It also mentions the TV show Girls at the beginning, evidently striving to also reach out to fans of the “this recent bit of pop culture demonstrates why our society is falling apart” genre. The main thing Girls demonstrates in reality is that Hollywood still hasn’t gotten the hang of this whole “non-white people exist” thing.) I mean, they make a show of trying to be even-handed, tossing in some backhanded compliments about the Millennial generation like “they think following the model of that wave of dot-com entrepreneurship in the 90s that caused a recession is somehow a good idea” (not an exact quote), although these get a tad incoherent when put together:
3. They’re natural entrepreneurs
Call it “Generation Sell” — Millennials are less inclined to join a commune or a movement, and would rather start a small business, says William Deresiewicz at The New York Times. Brought up in the “heroic age of dot-com entrepreneurship” that defined the 1990s, and distrustful of “large organizations, including government,” the Millennial views small business as “the idealized social form of our time.”
4. They’re socialists
Looks like the “right-wing cries of ‘socialist takeover!’ may be based in more than paranoia,” says Nona Willis Aronowitz at Good. Polls show that 49 percent of Millennials “view socialism in a favorable light,” compared with 43 percent who view it unfavorably. Millennials are also the generation of Occupy Wall Street, the anti-corporate movement, and “it’s not hard to figure out why our generation isn’t so gung-ho about capitalism — it has disappointed and, in some cases, straight-up failed us.”
They’re natural entrepreneurs… and they’re socialists. You understand why these two things are incompatible, right? More to the point, the notion that socialism is catching on in any real sense is laughable. So no, the right-wing cries of “socialist takeover!” are not based on more than paranoia.
The media likes to point out this trend, amidst the Great Recession, of increasingly favorable views of socialism. Such views are understandable, given that the failure of capitalism is growing more evident every day. But while many young Americans might say to a pollster that they think the idea of socialism sounds pretty cool, most of them don’t actually know jack shit about socialism or have any genuine desire to see it implemented. For them it’s akin to thinking, “It’d be pretty cool if I had a lightsaber.” Sure, the idea can be conceived in some abstract sense, but most Americans ultimately don’t know how to separate capitalism from their fundamental assumptions about reality. It’s not something that comes easily to me, either. We’ve been trained from birth to view capitalism as the natural state of affairs, and the only rational way to organize human relations. At the end of the day, this favorable view of socialism that’s on the rise lately isn’t some genuine social or intellectual movement, so much as just a bunch of young people shrugging and saying this thing they’ve vaguely heard of sounds kind of interesting. More’s the pity.
Of course, we’re also talking about an article that can’t maintain a logical connection within a single bullet point, much less between two of them:
5. They’re narcissistic
Millennials “may not be the caring, socially conscious environmentalists some have portrayed them to be,” says Joanna Chau at The Chronicle of Higher Education. One study says that Millennials are more narcissistic than their elders, and increasingly value “money, image, and fame more than inherent principles like self-acceptance, affiliation, and community.” While college students in 1971 ranked “being very well off financially” as their number-eight concern, for Millennials it’s consistently at “the top of the list.”
I don’t get it. Millennials are narcissistic because… they want money? Sure, one is bad and the other is (arguably) bad, but that doesn’t mean they’re related. They might as well have said, “Millennials are more sociopathic than their elders, because they don’t clean the shower as often as they should.”
But let’s address the actual point here, which is that their desire to be financially well off is evidence of a character failing on their part. Now, you know me. I hate capitalism. So yeah, I think the pursuit of money as an end in itself is bad. But the reality here on the ground is that pursuit of money is not, for the vast majority of us, an end in itself. Pursuing money is a means to other ends, such as, y’know, eating.
The difference between 1971 and 2012 isn’t that everyone suddenly turned into big ol’ assholes. The difference is that fewer and fewer people are able to take for granted that they’ll be able to afford food, rent, healthcare, etc. It’s easy to rank acquisition of money as a low priority when you’re pretty sure your college degree will translate into a living wage. That’s no longer something we can assume.
So you can grumble about “kids these days” if you want. I just think it’s more accurate to grumble about “the economy these days.”