Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Generation Communist Manifesto

Where Millennials Come From:

Imagine, as I often do, that our world were to end tomorrow, and that alien researchers many years in the future were tasked with reconstructing the demise of civilization from the news. If they persevered past the coverage of our President, they would soon identify the curious figure of the millennial as a suspect. A composite image would emerge, of a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops. Millennials, according to recent headlines, are killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, the diamond industry, the napkin industry, homeownership, marriage, doorbells, motorcycles, fabric softener, hotel-loyalty programs, casinos, Goldman Sachs, serendipity, and the McDonald’s McWrap.

The idea that millennials are capriciously wrecking the landscape of American consumption grants quite a bit of power to a group that is still on the younger side. Born in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, millennials are now in their twenties and thirties. But the popular image of this generation—given its name, in 1987, by William Strauss and Neil Howe—has long been connected with the notion of disruptive self-interest.

Over the past decade, that connection has been codified by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who writes about those younger than herself with an air of pragmatic evenhandedness and an undercurrent of moral alarm. (An article adapted from her most recent book, “iGen,” about the cohort after millennials, was published in the September issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It went viral.) In 2006, Twenge published “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” The book’s cover emblazoned the title across a bare midriff, a flamboyant illustration of millennial self-importance, sandwiched between a navel piercing and a pair of low-rise jeans.
Let me pause here to note: this is one of the best articles and analyses of Millennials and generational trends and cycles that I've read in forever. Jia Tolentino is a gem. Carry on.
I was born smack in the middle of the standard millennial range, and Twenge’s description of my generation’s personality strikes me as broadly accurate. Lately, millennial dreams tend less toward global fame and more toward affordable health insurance, but she is correct that my cohort has grown up under the influence of novel and powerful incentives to focus on the self. If for the baby boomers self-actualization was a conscious project, and if for Gen X—born in the sixties and seventies—it was a mandate to be undermined, then for millennials it’s more like an atmospheric condition: inescapable, ordinary, and, perhaps, increasingly toxic. A generation has inherited a world without being able to live in it. How did that happen? And why do so many people insist on blaming them for it?

Malcolm Harris’s anatomizing of his peers begins with the star stickers that, along with grade-school participation trophies, so fascinate Sasse, Twenge, and other writers of generational trend pieces. “You suck, you still get a trophy” is how Twenge puts it, describing contemporary K through five as an endless awards ceremony. Harris, on the other hand, regards elementary school as a capitalist boot camp, in which children perform unpaid labor, learn the importance of year-over-year growth through standardized testing, and get accustomed to constant, quantified, increasingly efficient work. The two descriptions are not as far apart as one might think: assuring kids that they’re super special—and telling them, as Sasse does, that they have a duty to improve themselves through constant enrichment—is a good way to get them to cleave to a culture of around-the-clock labor. And conditioning them to seek rewards in the form of positive feedback—stars and trophies, hearts and likes—is a great way to get them used to performing that labor for free.
This is exactly correct. Maybe all my ranting and raving here on this blog and in class the past 15 years plus is finally paying off. I've said over and over, as I've listened to my fellow Xer's and older Boomers bitch about the "entitled, give 'em a trophy" generation of millennials, that the stickers and trophies had less to do with entitlement and self-esteem, and more to do with social control. That the rat-control psychology which pervades public schools today, with its over-emphasis on standardized test scores, gpa's, benchmarks, and rote memorization, is destroying critical or creative thinking, and setting up a generation of automatons that is conditioned to constantly seek positive feedback (likes, shares, retweets, etc.) while their pockets are picked by older generations and the power-elite. Throw in Big Pharma and the fact that Millennials are the most over-prescribed generation in history, drooling in the corner while they gaze longingly at all their trophies, and you have total and complete social control. A generational control so complete, a reckoning no doubt is a brewing.

But what do I know?

Jia Tolentino makes the point, however, that the economic crises this generation has witnessed in childhood and adolescence (Great Recession, Occupy Wall Street, the housing burst, endless foreign wars) may fundamentally be turning it against capitalism itself. And that eventually the solipsistic technological pacifier everyone seems to be sucking on, which diverts our attention away from said social problems, crises and misery, is eventually going to burst. And social media is going to crumble, and the all those psychotropic meds will be thrown away. And when the shit hits the economic fan and riots break out, it might be the Millennials leading the overthrow of the fat prostate Baby Boomers and their power-elite, once and for all. Read these three paragraphs closely:
Young people have curled around their economic situation “like vines on a trellis,” as Harris puts it. And, when humans learn to think of themselves as assets competing in an unpredictable and punishing market, then millennials—in all their anxious, twitchy, phone-addicted glory—are exactly what you should expect. The disdain that so many people feel for Harris’s and my generation reflects an unease about the forces of deregulation, globalization, and technological acceleration that are transforming everyone’s lives. (It does not seem coincidental that young people would be criticized for being entitled at a time when people are being stripped of their entitlements.) Millennials, in other words, have adjusted too well to the world they grew up in; their perfect synchronization with economic and cultural disruption has been mistaken for the source of the disruption itself.

This idea runs parallel, in some ways, to the assessments of Twenge and Sasse and other conservative commentators. But Harris’s conclusions are precisely the opposite of theirs: instead of accommodating the situation even further, he argues, kids should revolt. “Either we continue the trends we’ve been given and enact the bad future, or we refuse it and cut the knot of trend lines that defines our collectivity. We become fascists or revolutionaries, one or the other.” It’s a near-apocalyptic vision. But the polarization that permeates American politics—stemming, in part, from a sense that extreme measures are necessary to render our world livable—is especially evident among millennials, some disaffected portion of whom form much of the racist alt-right, while a larger swath has adopted the leftist politics shared by Harris. In the 2016 Presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders won more young votes than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.

“The newfound popularity of socialism among millennials is an alarming trend,” Sasse writes in “The Vanishing American Adult.” He provides a syllabus that he hopes will steer people away from such thinking, and toward an intellectually mature adulthood, and he dutifully includes “The Communist Manifesto,” so that his hypothetical pupils can properly grasp how wrong it is. It seems more likely that a young person who opened “The Communist Manifesto” tomorrow would underline the part about personal worth being reduced to exchange value and go off to join the Democratic Socialists of America, which has grown fivefold in the last year. One of its members, a Marine Corps veteran named Lee Carter, was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in November. He was born in 1987. “Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” the critic and theorist Fredric Jameson wrote, fourteen years ago. These days, the kids find it easy enough to imagine both.
Word. As a Gen Xer...someone whose childhood and adolescent memories are of an Evil Empire of Communism coming to take over the world (which no longer exists), of drop and cover drills in school for nuclear annihilation (so we'd be curled up in little balls when vaporized), and of our forebears' Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll lifestyle, replaced with sex that can kill you just as we hit adolescence...all I can say to Ms. Tolentino, Mr. Harris, and other millennial thinkers, is welcome to the terror dome.

Your enemy is the title of this blog, and its stranglehold over your generation (mine, my kids' iGen, etc.) is owed a reckoning.

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