Millennials, like all recent young-adult generations, have been demonized and denigrated by older generations. They have been called useless, dependent, entitled hipsters, and much worse.
But Millennials aren’t the first young adult generation to be regarded badly by their elders. Before them, back in the ’80s and ’90s (while Millennials were being born), Gen-Xers were dismissed by older generations as lazy, nihilistic, materialistic, uninvolved slackers. Before them, back in the ’60s and ’70s, Boomers were regarded as rebellious, hedonistic, disobedient troublemakers and “dirty hippies” who only cared about getting high and railing against the establishment.
Even the Silents, though largely ignored by older generations (because they tended to conform and obey when young, at least outwardly), were criticized for their “horrible and immoral music” (early rock ‘n roll) and the dancing that went with it. But there were rebellious outliers even among young Silents: the blue-collar “greasers” and college-educated Beatniks of the late 1950s and very early ’60s.
Returning to the Millennials, they have been called narcissistic, entitled, spoiled, and dependent on the parents who raised them well into their 20s and even 30s.
Let me correct a few things here.
Taking selfies is not narcissism. It’s a trend. In fact, studies have shown that true narcissists are less likely than others to post pictures of themselves online. Taking selfies may have something to do with vanity, but vanity doesn’t equal narcissism, although it may be a part of it.
Millennials are not entitled or spoiled. They are a generation that has not had the opportunities to achieve full adulthood, even if they attended college. Because of the dearth of good jobs for recent college graduates, or any decent jobs for high school graduates, many Millennials are forced to work at low paying McJobs that do not pay the rent and sometimes have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. For this reason, they often still live at home with their parents well into their 20s and sometimes even 30s.
Like all scapegoats, they are then blamed for their misfortunes, rather than the real culprit, which is a political system and an economy that will not allow them to get ahead in life. They look up at older generations, who had better opportunities in a nation where things were still affordable and where good jobs were still plentiful, and understandably, see how unfair it is.
Millennials are called entitled and spoiled because they have taken to protesting and activism as a way to deal with what they correctly perceive as unjust, unfair, and outrageous. There is no reason why a college-, or even a high-school educated person should work harder and harder and still not be able to make a living wage. There is no reason why they should have to spend the better part of their adulthood paying back exorbitant student loans when all they can get is a job at a gas station or a fast food joint that barely pays enough to afford them the gas to get back and forth to said menial jobs. There is no reason why, like my son, they should be denied full-time hours just so their employer doesn’t have to pay them health insurance–and then be forced to take a second job to make the difference and still not be able to get health insurance because both are part-time.
It is outrageous. If they didn’t protest and take to the streets I’d be worried about them. They are not backing down though; they refuse to be victimized by this sick system.
In 2011, we saw the first obvious indications that this generation was not going to be a bunch of fearful sheep and just put up with the status quo. With the Occupy Wall Street movement which spread like wildfire across the nation for a few short months until it was silenced by the Powers That Be, Millennials showed clear signs of heeding the words of Dylan Thomas instead:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
We saw it again in their almost rabid support of Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate who represented those things that have been missing in American politics now for decades: empathy and generosity for all, a social safety net, a living wage, higher taxes for the wealthy and powerful, care and compassion for the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Sanders went surprisingly far in the primaries, nearly making it into the final two.
The first Millennials are thought to have been born in 1982 (though some sources put them as early as 1979). The last Millennials were born in either 2000 or 2004 (depending on whose theories you believe), so not all of them were of voting age in this election. I believe if they had been, Sanders would have been the Democratic candidate instead of Hillary. Without the Millennial vote (and as a generation they are very likely to exercise that right, much more so than the Xers before them), I doubt that a candidate who proudly calls himself a democratic socialist (we need to get over the idea that “socialism” is a dirty word: it’s not communism and is a whole lot better than unbridled capitalism) would have gone as far as he did.
How Millennials voted in this election.
Although Sanders ultimately lost out to Hillary, he still made a huge impact on not only the Millennial generation, but on the national zeitgeist in general. He did this mainly by making savvy use of social media, Twitter in particular. The overwhelming support for Sanders innoculated us all to the idea that it’s still possible that a true liberal (in the pre-1980s sense of the word) has a chance.
Now that Trump won the election, Millennials are rightfully outraged. They are not standing by idly wringing their hands and weeping, or cynically shrugging their shoulders as they say, “well, there’s nothing that I can do anyway.” No, instead, Millennials are protesting this election’s outcome. Trump is a man who can ruin their lives, and they have their whole lives in front of them. They are not going to just stand by and take it. They’re out on the streets protesting already, and are showing signs of the heroic generation they potentially are.
Way back in 1997, two Baby Boomers named William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book called The Fourth Turning. I won’t describe the book in detail here; you will have to read it for yourself. But it changed my entire outlook on history and on generations. One of their theories is that history is not linear. Generations (and history itself–historical “turnings”–as they are called) are cyclical. The four generational “archetypes” and the four turnings repeat themselves approximately every 80 years, or the same length of time of a long human lifespan. They correctly predicted that the Millennials would be a civically-involved, activist generation, even if what they envisioned was a slightly more conformist and conservative version of what they turned out to be.
Credit: Millennials Rising, Strauss and Howe, © 2000.
The four generational archetypes are Prophets, Nomads, Artists, and Heroes. The most recent Prophet generation is the Boomers (their predecessors were the Missionaries), who are born in a First Turning (a time of prosperity and conformity). The current Nomads are the Gen-Xers (who correspond with the Lost Generation), who are born during a Second Turning (the most recent was the Consciousness Revolution, which took place in the ’60s and ’70s). Artists would be the Silents, who are always born during a Crisis, or a Fourth Turning (the new Artists are still being born now). The current Crisis began either in 2001 with 9/11, or 2008 with the housing crisis (the jury is still out on the start date). Finally, Heroes are born during a Third Turning (the most recent one being the Culture Wars of the ’80s and ’90s), when individualism is high but institutions built during the First Turning are beginning to unravel. The last generation of Heroes were the GI Generation, also fondly known as The Greatest Generation, who are remembered as our WWII heroes and the builders of the prosperous America of the midcentury. Almost all of them have died off by now. They have been replaced by the Millennials.
This may sound like hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The overall character of each of the four generational archetypes is influenced by the turnings in which they were raised and came of age in, and the parenting styles of that particular turning. In turn, the generational character combined with the life stages they happen to be occupying at a given time (what S&H calls “generational constellations”) both foments and influences each of the four turnings themselves.
Here’s how that works:
Prophets, born in a time of prosperity, conformity, and increasingly indulgent parenting, become self confident but by adolescence, they begin to rebel against the stultifying conformity, and set off an Awakening (Second Turning). During young adulthood, they are experimental idealists. As they rise to power during midlife, they have become vocal, highly opinionated, and passionate about whatever values they have adopted, leading us into a Third Turning (culture wars mentality). They tend to be judgmental and engage in black and white thinking, convinced that only their way is the right one. Prophets’ parents are usually Heroes or Artists.
Nomads, born in a time of questioning traditional values and changing social mores, are often neglected by their self involved parents who seem more interested in their own personal growth instead of them. In reaction, they become self sufficient early on (latchkey kids), but become cynical and reach adulthood with collective low self-esteem. They tend to distrust the system, which they regard as having failed them and of all generations, they are both the most conservative and least likely to be politically involved. They care more about pragmatism and “just getting things done” than about values and ideals. Their parents are usually Artists or Prophets.
Heroes, born in a time of institutional failure but increasing choices and the beginning of the cultural polarization of a nation, are increasingly protected by their stressed-out parents (who perceive the world as more dangerous), and are encouraged to achieve great things but also tend to be micro-managed and overly controlled. As they rise into adulthood, they realize the things promised them are not going to materialize, and take matters into their own hands to change the system to one that will work for them. Their parents tend to be Prophets or Nomads.
Artists, born during a national Crisis, are overprotected (“helicopter parenting”) and strictly disciplined. They are the children most likely to be told to be quiet, stay out of the way and not bother the adults, who are trying to deal with a dangerous world. Artists tend to be obedient conformists until midlife, when they finally begin to rebel, often spurred on by the Prophets born right after them. But caught between two more powerful archetypes (Prophets and Heroes), they tend to never take one side or the other, and learn to be sensitive peacemakers instead, concerned with checks and balances, and “reasonable”and “fair” policies that don’t make waves. They attempt to bring people together. Their parents are Nomads and Heroes.
It’s interesting to note that no Artist has become President during the Millennial Cycle (the 80-year historical period we are currently still in), but Bernie Sanders, a textbook example of the Artist archetype, came awfully close.
It’s also interesting that a Crisis forms just as peacemaking Artists are at their lowest point of influence–when they are in early childhood and very old age.
The four turnings are approximately 20 year time periods encompassing a particular national mood, which is shaped by the generational attitudes and the age brackets they happen to be in at the time. Whatever generation happens to be in their prime adult years (midlife) and in the most important leadership roles, tends to set the overall tone for the turning in question.
A First Turning, with Heroes in midlife (and Artists as their helpmates), is concerned with institutional building, scientific advancement, prosperity for all, family life, and indulgent parenting. There is a narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest. Sex roles seem to be at their least ambiguous. A first turning tends to be unconcerned with matters of a religious or spiritual nature, idealistic values, or social change. The last First Turning we experienced were the prosperous post-war years, until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. We are due to enter a new First Turning within 5-15 years, or whenever (and if) the current Crisis is resolved.
A Second Turning, with peacemaking Artists in midlife (and idealistic Prophets in rising adulthood), is a time of great social upheaval and a greater focus on matters of a religious, spiritual, or social nature. Less value is placed on institution building, bureaucracy, and scientific advancement in favor of things of a more esoteric nature, such as civil or womens’ rights. There is a great deal of experimentation with different lifestyle choices, but children born during this time tend to be dismissed as burdensome to self-development. The most recent Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, which started with the first campus protests and the civil rights movement, and ended with either Reagan’s election in 1980 or his “Morning in America” speech when he was re-elected in 1984.
A Third Turning, with impassioned and judgmental Prophets in midlife (but with Artist checks and balances still in place and disaffected Nomads just trying to get by), is in some ways a continuation of a Second Turning, except that the pendulum begins to swing back to greater social conservatism and more law and order. The left and right tends to become polarized, with both sides thinking only they are right and setting off ugly culture wars. Institutions, which still thrived in the Second Turning (though they may have stopped being built) begin to atrophy and unravel. Distrust abounds, especially toward government, which seems to take a backseat to shallow entertainment and “bread and circuses.” Escapism into shallow entertainment continues into the Fourth Turning (the reality shows that have been popular since the ’90s are the modern equivalent of the circus freak shows, vaudeville acts, and dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s.) Sex roles are at their most ambiguous during this time, and the gap between the wealthy and less wealthy widens. The most recent Third Turning started with Reagan’s presidency in the early 1980s and ended sometime in the first decade of the new millennium (the most likely dates are 2001 or 2008).
A Fourth Turning, with pragmatic Nomads in midlife (and Prophets in high level leadership roles as early elders) is a national crisis, with no Artists to keep things in check. No matter what the Crisis itself is, things tend to go awry and quickly go out of control. Children are overprotected and adults just try to get by as best they can, but have little trust in their government or the people who run it. But it’s also during the Crisis that the seeds are sown for the new cycle that will begin with the First Turning: renewed community spirit and people in crisis helping each other. This could be seen during the Great Depression and WWII. What worries me is that so little of that is seen during this Crisis.
On crises that don’t end well.
If a Crisis ends very badly, it could spell the end of or the fracturing of that particular society, or even–in a very bad case scenario–the end of modernity or even civilization as we know it. If a Crisis ends well, it will lead to a First Turning and a brand new historical cycle (we are currently in the Millennial Cycle, and have been since 1946). If the Millennials are thwarted in their efforts to rebuild society to one that will work for them (and for everyone), we could fall into a Dark Age or a banana-republic-like dystopia with an accompanying loss of progress, or even of modernity. In the very worst case scenario (should humanity survive), we could even revert to barbarism and the complete loss of technological and scientific progress.
As a nation, we need to take a lesson from history: The Roman Empire had many of the same qualities as the United States does today. The ancient Romans had impressive technology and scientific achievement for their time. They were regarded as the reigning world power and other nations looked to Rome for guidance. But ancient Rome, like the United States today, was was also bloated with hubris, greed, and narcissism–and an accompanying loss of compassion and mercy for those who were vulnerable or differed from what was deemed acceptable, and we all know what happened.
Following the fall of Rome, all of Europe fell into a thousand-year long dark age (what we know as the Middle Ages), where historical turnings came to a screeching halt and none to very little progress was made from one generation to the next, and where violence and harsh punishments were used to deal with minor infractions, where daily life was ruled by fear and superstition, and where lives were brutal, painful, and short. Due to the great advances made in technology that have the potential to destroy the planet, if things go badly this time around, things could get even worse than the Middle Ages.
Credit: Millennials Rising, Strauss and Howe, © 2000
We remember generations only by their most recent deeds, not by their earlier ones. In their youth, GIs, too, were regarded as spoiled troublemakers with shallow values. Youthful GIs protested during the Depression and were at the helm of the riots of the 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt, though not a GI (he was a Missionary), was their Bernie Sanders, and the prosperous America to come following the war would not have been possible without his New Deal, Social Security, the GI bill, and other programs that offered relief to the victims of the Depression and made it possible for even working class Americans to own their own homes and have a good life. Now we are in grave danger of losing those things we gained during his presidency.
The Millennials, as a Heroic generation, are the current incarnation of the GIs and we need to give them a chance. We need to stop treating them as if they are a useless, selfish generation of shallow hipsters, troublemakers, and losers. If allowed to protest and mobilize against the very unfair policies that have been foisted upon them, as they grow a bit older, we are going to see them do great things. Hero generations are civic-minded and very good at working together to build things instead of tearing them down (Prophet generations are better at tearing things down, although that is necessary too).
If this generation is not held back from doing what comes naturally to all Hero generatons, they can and will rebuild our society (or build a new and better one from scratch) that will take into account all the progress we made during the Consciousness Revolution and incorporate that into a new society where there will be peace, progress, compassion, and order. It may be a little conformist and seem a bit culturally sterile, but it will be much better than what we have now. Millennials are the generation that will guide is into the new First Turning, if we only allow them to.
So please don’t hate on Millennials. Look up to them as our only real hope for positive change.