Slackers Vs. Great Men and Women — Generation Y-Not.
Slackers versus great men and women — that seems to be the spectrum we, as the 18-34 year old demographic, are riding these days.
In Aaron Sorkin’s political drama series The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy famously exclaims that we belong to the Worst. Period. Generation. Period. Ever. Period. That I have no trouble swallowing a statement like that may, in fact, be a testament to its validity.
As the progeny of Baby Boomers, our experiences have been fundamentally different — unlike our parents, we grew up in a culture on the cusp.
Peak oil, drastic climate change, and unrelenting technological immersion have hallmarked our upbringing while we try to deal with the legacy of post-capitalist pipe dreams and hand-me-down ideals of what it means to be successful.
On top of that, the use of social media and branding has superimposed a virtual reality on our lives to the point that the majority of our interactions are via SMS and Facebook.
But it’s a virtual reality that we actively participate in, which is why we have also been described by sociologists like William Strauss as the most narcissistic generation.
The selfie is our banner.
It is an attempt at self-actualization and recognition in a sound-byte culture that is more interested in the next best thing than any kind of contemplative practice.
We’ve stretched ourselves too thin, trying to boost the counter on our number of Facebook friends, but marginalizing any kind of meaningful communication.
We don’t fucking read.
And when we do, it’s 150 characters or less. It’s not surprising then, that we should develop such a hyper-evolved cynicism. Nor should it feel like we haven’t foreshadowed a growing sense of isolation and existential discontent in our ranks. We have an inherent distrust of authority, and for good reason.
They’ve moved out of the castle, but left it in a worse condition than they found it.
Our economy and job market are trolling the bottom of a graph, and many of us will be forced to jump from career to career (a trait which coined the neologism Generation Flux).
And let’s not forget the double standard behind the pressure to acquire a university degree at $30,000+ without a guarantee of ever paying it off.
Our role as thinkers, artists, and innovators has been stymied by corporate dictatorships. Our environment is all but blindfolded, tied to the stake, and smoking its last cigarette. So yes, the Gen-Xers have a long rap sheet of shortcomings.
But their worst sin — the one we ought to hold them accountable for — is not giving us the chance to fix their mess. They’ve failed to instill rites of initiation, the events or circumstances that help us change from children into functional, self-actualized, responsible adults.
We’re missing a crucial process in our development: that rites of initiation have existed for thousands of years in every other culture, and that they shouldn’t apply to us, now, is just hubris.
The irony is that Gen-Xers don’t think that they play a role in this process. Instead, we’ve been fed slogans.
Grow up. Get a job. Study hard.
There is a strategy behind this nominalization of our adolescence. Our role in society is constantly infantilized. We are ignored or dismissed in our political inclinations, which only discourages us more and feeds our distrust of authority (last election had one of the lowest youth voting turnout rates).
And at the same time, we are bewildered by the lambasting of our elders: Youth today are lazy! They have no drive!
The cognitive dissonance between what we want to accomplish, what we think we need to accomplish, and what is made unavailable to us, has turned us into a generation of self-doubting neurotics. In a strange way, we’ve been forced to invent our own rites.
But rather than being rooted on a pillar of formalized ethics or coded behaviors, these have been rites motivated out of self-interest and a shambolic panic about growing up. We’ve all woken up, shaken and a bit hungry, on the shores of Golding Island.
While Generation-Y may have its own issues — narcissism, nihilism, social disconnection, spiritual skepticism, and an infatuation with making money — the trauma of entering into adulthood without a guide has also given us a unique opportunity.
We are our own pilots.
And this quality of civic-mindedness which allows us to reject the principles of the Baby Boomers is the same quality which allows us to construct our own. Sub-culture has become the playground of Gen-Y.
We are digital natives in a realm where self-expression finds itself unmitigated by real-world hindrances.
At this very moment, you’re reading an article on an independent online publication. The Internet is this: I can say whatever I want. And matched with a characteristic cynicism, it becomes this: I can say whatever I want, and I don’t care. Generation Y becomes Generation Y-Not.
I’ve already mentioned that we have grown up in a liminal culture, one which seems at risk of self-annihilation at any moment. This isn’t pessimism, it’s a coming to terms with the inevitable.
My generation is one which has recognized its own extinction, and is trying to decide how to deal with it — Baby Boomers who heralded from a period of idealism call this fatalism. I call it dignity.
Our task is not one of reparation or mending. Our predecessors have already pushed us off the cliff. Our task, now, is to bear witness, to approach that extinction and downfall with a measure of integrity. We haven’t taken up this mantle, yet. But we could.
Like the counter-culture philosophies of the 1960s, we could embrace a sense of joie de vivre — we become poets, artists, film-makers. We toss convention.
We write and create.
We travel, explore, and immerse ourselves in other cultures, other stories. We start our own small businesses. We return to wildernesses. We experiment with drugs. We climb mountains and go on road trips. We have potlucks. We garden. We protest and call for justice.
We attempt to fulfill rites of initiation that were deprived of us. We can do these things because we’ve been left no choice. Our syndrome is one of ataraxia: a lack of preoccupation with anything.
I think that’s pretty damn empowering. It’s a license to live my life without standards or regrets, if only because the consequences of my actions pale in comparison to the consequences I’m already suffering on account of my predecessors. That may make me irresponsible, I know it does.
But then I shrug, and think: (Wh)Y not?