Prevailing wisdom insists that your twenties are for extreme exploration—collecting memories, friends, partners, identities. It’s BS.
It's difficult to take seriously an essay that starts off quoting the execrable, comical and toweringly unserious Andrew Ross Sorkin (3 names????) of the equally unserious and comical NY Times and CNBC. And, yes, we do remember the CNBC dolts fawning over the Fried Bankman.
A serious nation? A serious nation would not have elected a cognitively impaired Joe Biden who was never more than a mediocre and corrupt Senator for decades. And who is even more of a joke as president, with an unserious press asking him moronic questions as he lurches from lie to lie, crisis to crisis. With a cabinet of jokers and buffoons and an admiral in a dress. Don't want a senate masquerading as a rest home with depends-wearing human turnips? Try term limits. And John Fetterman???? Would a serious nation have elected a Shrek lookalike who makes Caligula's horse seem like an ideal Senator in comparison. When a self-righteous Democrat fulminates about the regrettable Mr. Trump, simply point out that he was judged better than the screeching harridan they wanted to crown and was removed in favor of a senile imbecile who's in the pocket of our enemies.
Meh. As a late (1958) Boomer, I grow tired of articles whining about generational differences. We all want to live comfortably and see our children do better than we did.
What I do see as a crime against the current 18 to 30 generation was feeding them the BS that the only way to get ahead is by being indoctrinated (rather than educated) at college and to voluntarily take on debt along the way. Then, we add insult to injury by telling them that they really don't need to honor their promises and can instead foist their obligations onto those of us who paid our debts or the 60% of Americans who did not attend college, but did not voluntarily take on the debts of deadbeats. I cannot think of a worse set of values to instill in our young.
I liked this. At age 30, I am expecting my first child. Own my home with my wife (28). Working to build a family business. And I just roll my eyes at a lot of my friends and peers living it up at Burning Man for the 5th year in a row or bar hopping still. Yet they think we’re the lame ones lol.
This is all true.... as a university professor for a few decades, I can say with absurdity that colleges and universities are not helping the situation...
This is awesome. But what now? I remember when I was in (a very liberal) college and wanted to major in public policy, my immigrant father sat me down and said “what is your trade?” You need a trade to survive, pick one. He did not believe in blind “follow your dreams”, because he knew what it takes to survive. 25 years later, I could not be more grateful. But beyond passing it on to my kids, what now?
There is a lot of generalization going on here. The Boomer and Gen X generations pushed college as the only way to get ahead in life and to delay getting married and having children. It worked for them. As more people went to college, it became much more competitive. You can't get into any college in my without at least at 3.8 GPA along with very high test scores and loads of extracurriculars. Well meaning parents did everything for their kids so they could focus on academics just to have a fighting chance at going to college. The kids never learned basic life skills or got a high school job but they have terrific grades!
Degrees have become less valuable overall, so we ended up with a bunch of smart Millennials with no real life skills. They need years to catch up, have loads of student debt and live with a much higher cost of living.
Generational bickering is getting old. How do we fix the problem? For me, I'm teaching my boys to work hard, no social media, and not focusing on a college degree. They will be better off with a strong work ethic first and little to no debt.
I can relate to the theme of pursuing your dreams and goals while forgoing real life in your twenties. I just published a piece aptly enough entitled, "The Nomad's escape" about my time living in South East Asia (still living here).
As I enter my thirties I begin to see the non-reality of it all and realize that although I'm living a very "cool" life, I miss things like community, family, being a part of a nation that I belong to. Of course I don't blame anyone and my life is my own, but the message that I continually saw in college and after, was to go do fun and exciting things. Have adventures and see the world, not start a family or join a local organization.
At any rate, great piece. I enjoyed reading it.
While I agree with a lot in this piece, and have witnessed it myself as a millennial, I would say the upcoming generation is even more coddled - iGen aka Gen Z. I hear these two generations often lumped together, and there are differences that cannot be ignored. It started with Gen Y for sure, and you nailed it with the helicopter parenting, gap years, and advice to "live life" and "go find yourself," but it is worse for Gen Z. Gen Y was the last generation to have a childhood without the internet. I grew up playing outdoors, riding my bike, and being called in when it was time to eat. So did all of my friends. That is largely no more, and Gen Z had none of that, and their sensitivities and neuroses are even worse than Gen Y. They live online, have less sex, favor censorship, have more anxiety and depression, have less of a desire to start a family (as you mentioned), and are more concerned with creating their identities (aka avatars) than building their characters - like you said. If the upcoming generations have all been babied so much, what happens when they do finally step into the roles Gen X leaves behind (maybe when they're in there late 90s) and there are real, serious, international and global threats that must be faced that aren't in the form of words they don't like? Will Gen Y and Gen Z be up for the task? Or will we run in fear with our tails between our legs? So many of these young people have been victimizing themselves and fighting over who is more victimized than the other. It's absurd! It's cowardly and narcissistic - and as a member of one of these generations, I know it and I have seen it. I think the only thing that can turn the tides for these rising adults is to recognize their own weaknesses and work on building grit, facing adversity, being comfortable with disagreement, and getting over being offended. So...to grow up!
Millennial here. Stable job, married, one kid, home ownership. I’m sympathetic to the main point of the article and agree with it, but there were just so many generalizations and anecdotes. Plus there are so many positive things from the last 30 years. If anything I think on some level women have gotten more serious and men less (Richard Reeves has been on the podcast circuit and discusses this in his book Of Boys and Men). If men-children get serious in their later 30s, can you blame women for pursuing careers over kids? And I don’t think you can decouple the current attitude toward marriage with the divorce explosion of the 90s. Society has also encouraged the girl-boss over motherhood, which is less an issue of unseriousness and more an issue of priorities.
Regarding politics - definitely agree: there is something very activisty about how younger leaders operate. Getting into Congress is one more hot scene for promoting yourself on social or regular media, as opposed to getting work done, and we see it on both sides of the aisle.
What you don’t hear from the organizations once known as news outlets is any reporting on what are the policies of the new Congress.
The actual leadership in the House of Representatives is demanding:
* an abrupt end to Pelosi’s catastrophic floor rules and the return of open debate on public policy;
* an abrupt end to Pelosi’s catastrophic fiscal policies (both her terms, 2006-2010 and 2018-2022, were the worst fiscal policies in history and directly harmed the economy) and massive cuts in government spending to reduce both Pelosi’s debt and Pelosi’s inflation;
* Term limits in Congress which would get rid of Pelosi and all the rest of the exact people the article complains about.
I would like to think that a lack of rootedness is a big contributor to this. Modernity wants to dissolve all of our social connections and sense of place so we can be pure consumers and fill that hole with Chinese made garbage, social media, and porn that makes your life worse. Then, in a pit of 21st century existential darkness, you can finish things off with opioids and fentanyl.
I've been posting here and on my blog about the work of Murray Bowman, who saw emotional growth and what he called "differentiation" as in effect anti-insanity. As a creed, true Liberalism--I have in mind here Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and 1975 Norman Lear (not present day Norman Lear, unfortunately)--requires MATURITY. Individuation.
As Bowen described it, differentiated people are able to undertake creative tasks independently without coddling, but retain the capacity not just for health social activity, but deep and lasting friendship, and the capacity not just to tolerate but embrace and benefit from meaningful ideational and behavioral diversity.
And it's worth noting that his real work was studying clinical schizophrenia. He undertook the unusual and interesting task of asking the FAMILES of psychotic mental patients to live IN THE ASYLUM. They had their own apartments of course, but were asked to participate in group sessions several times a week, where family dynamics were observed.
It has become, I think, received wisdom that both schizophrenia and alcoholism are transmitted intergenerationally. One plausible explanation is that both are genetic. But his argument was that pathologies are transmitted intergenerationally also SOCIALLY.
Each family will have a least individuated/mature child. And since people tend to marry people of roughly their own developmental level, that least mature child will marry a least mature child from another family. That family in turn will have a least mature child, who will repeat this process. Across 3-4 generations the immaturity turns into clinical psychosis.
And here is the point he was much too conservative to make: that psychosis amounts to immaturity simply taken to the next level. Schizophrenia, on my reading of his work, is simply the emotional level of a 2 year old in a physiologically mature body. Their thinking is disordered because they are two year olds.
And he lays the groundwork for the claim that SOCIETIES can in effect become schizophrenic. Their reality testing can become distorted through unmanaged anxiety to the point they loose their ability to distinguish what is real from what is imaginary. I would argue the claim that "Trump is literally Hitler" DEFINITELY falls in this category. Dislike or distrust the man all you like: he is not freaking Hitler. Period. This is not a discussion grown ass adults should have to have with anyone over the age of 5.
But in sum, the overall differentiation of our society is declining. He talked about that too, and pointed out that adult solutions to real problems cannot be expected from immature, childish people. What can expected are patchwork solutions that feel good at the moment, and which have no real thought or plan behind them, and which reliably fail in the long term. And that in fact is what we are seeing everywhere.
I don't know what the solutions are. I have some ideas. But for now I am contenting myself to little things like this. Describing the problem accurately is a start at least. Speaking truth is always intrinsically valuable, or so I choose to believe.
I'm going to permit myself one more comment, then adult responsibilities.
Allan Bloom described and to a very great extent anticipated all this in his Closing of the American Mind. That book is as useful today as it should have been then. He described infantilism, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and all of that, in effect. And it remains the best treatments of Rousseau and Nietzche that I have read. And all the contemporary condemnations notwithstanding, he was a gay, Jewish, atheist Democrat. He simply loved the life of the mind, and the idiocy even then was ruining all his fun.
In my opinion one solution to all this is to do a better job selling maturity, selling the value of the feelings you get AFTER long hard patient work on a difficult task. This is what Mihaly Csikscentmihalyi (that's close) talked about with Flow. Flow is the happiness of mature people.
And Bloom himself complained then (late 80's) about the cult of the Rock Star. All our emotions, we are told, need to be powerful, easy, and as continual as possible. All successful rock stars are rich. Why are they all on drugs? Because they can't stand not being high all the time. The model, as described by Gene Simmons (who grew up poor and hungry in Israel, and who was likely selling a lifestyle he had enough sense not to embrace fully), is rock and roll all night and party every day.
But Elvis died of constipation on his toilet. You can't be a bigger rock star than Elvis, or die in many worse ways. Jimi Hendrix--top guitarist of all time in most polls--died for all intents and purposes of a sleeping pill overdose he combined with strong liquor, while he was on all accounts in a depression. John Bonham--top rock drummer of all time--drank himself to death.
To state the obvious, these are not really role models for any of us. Far better to master calligraphy, or be a really good Little League coach, or any of thousands of alternatives.
Maturity is happier than immaturity. Differentiation is freedom. Childishness is bondage. These are words people need to hear.
I am reminded of former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris from the Netflix special "The Social Dilemma." (the irony of pairing "Google" with "ethicist" is not lost). Harris has quoted the late E.O. Wilson (biologist/researcher/two-time Pulitzer winner) about our current state. Wilson said ...
"We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall."
It does seem like the developing brain (emotions) is incapable of handling its own creation (technology), and we are ill-prepared (institutions) to help catch up. It seems to me young peoples' reality lies within their phones, and the ramifications are profound. It is evident now, with ever-increasing diagnoses of social pathologies -- depression, anxiety, gender confusion, etc.
Kids are checking out. And they are checking out earlier and earlier. This piece provides a salient view of that ... delayed adolescence, declining social connections (falling birth and marriage rates), culture wars. Like others here, I don't have an answer. What can one say? "Follow your dreams" when those dreams have fallen into the abyss of social media?
I shake my head. I'm at a loss.
Corruption is ageless. And sexless. Bernie Madoff wore a suit and tie, SBK shlubby socks. Elizabeth Holman a black turtleneck. All were or are rotten to the core. Fortunately, they got caught. There’s a host of equally vile people, some prominent, others slithering behind the scenes, tempting all of us with wealth, health, and popularity. Narcissicists appealing to their kindred spirits that lurk in all our souls.
Katherine Boyle is right. We need to grow up. And, by all means, let’s pass the baton of leadership. But be careful what you wish for. Our founders were youngsters who knew when and how to exit the stage gracefully. By the same token, they valued the wisdom of age and experience, which might explain why they called upon Benjamin Franklin, then 70, in the drafting of the Declaration, and then again (at age 81) for the Constitution. Don’t put us geezers on the ice floe yet.
Who’s the culprit in all of this? Ultimately, we are. We’ve created a public school system that has jettisoned values education and character formation for self-centered social emotional learning and mindfulness. We need national instruction in how to say no, and a seminar on respect in all its manifestations for others.
We also need to put the reins back on our government, an institution that underwrites the absolute worst aspects of our natures.
Those founders, young and old, understood a government’s first responsibility is to protect our fundamental natural rights. Everything else is subordinate because with out those primary rights nothing else is secure. They also knew that a government allowed out of it cage will crush us.
Maybe it’s all because the parents of boomers lived through the depression and WW II and never had the luxury of a college education. They went to work at 18 and got married and had kids. So they thought they wanted better for their kids, and sent them off to university so they would have white color jobs. Then these successful boomer kids did the same for their kids, except somewhere along the way universities stopped educating and switched to indoctrination and coddling. And they were living through a period of economic properity, so they got the impression things were always this way. When you don’t have to worry about running out of money before the next pay check, you can worry about whether your kids are safe playing at the park. Your kids don’t have to babysit and have a paper route after school to have pocket money. And now? I hate to write this but it seems like tough times are what are needed to retrain the minds of kids.