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Why Are the Millennials Like This? Part One

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Millennial. What a smear that title has become. Through no mistake of popular culture, the words that are most closely associated with this generation are vanity, laziness, and self-entitlement. Movies, television, and journalism all speak together with a unified voice decrying our pampered existence. They can’t stop talking about how we use cell phones and take pictures of ourselves with them. The fact that we are so attached to social media somehow strikes them as vain. And yet we are the first generation to live worse off than the generation of our parents. Millennials are mired in college debt on a level our parents’ generation never remotely experienced. Even though we are the most educated generation to date, we are paid the least. And yet, the generations older than us wonder why we are so jaded and how we have become so politically radicalized. Let me tell you a story.

I was born in 1986 and my first political memory was being in second grade, watching as Bill Clinton replaced George H.W. Bush. I didn’t have any sense of whether Bill was for or against people like my family. I didn’t even have any conception of the political parties. The political system was a far away thing to me and I didn’t notice its influence in my life so I supposed it had none. I do know, however, that the next political memory I have was Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with Monica Lewinski. I was only nine, but I remember thinking it was a rather silly affair. I remember my parents reasoned something like “even though Bill should not have been cheating on his wife, it doesn’t affect whether he can govern. We shouldn’t care about our politicians’ personal lives.” My general memories about how I felt about Bill Clinton were like those you feel about a distant, philandering, yet charming uncle. When I saw him on TV, I thought he seemed like an alright guy. I didn’t know anything about what he was doing, but he seemed genuine and his wife seemed brilliant and articulate. They were a sort of model American couple.

As I grew up I remember watching television with the same rapt attention as others. I had many of the traits of a stereotypical young boy; I loved action figures, I watched cartoons with lots of action, and I played a lot of video games. I was the ideal young consumer. I begged my mom for toys at the checkout stand like every other kid. I harangued my parents for the newest console every few years. But at the same time, underneath the surface, I was having a lot of disconcerting feelings about the commercials, television shows, and movies I was watching. I don’t mean some sorts of puritanical concerns, but instead that the image of society that they to portrayed did not seem to match the world I was living in. Further, I could see how there was a huge personal gain for these companies in portraying it this way. Obviously, they would tell us to consume their products when they made money on them. This just made me incredulous of commercials and advertising in general.

I couldn’t articulate any of my feelings about it or even understand what I was seeing, but now I would describe it as a diehard consumerist culture. These commercials, television shows, and movies equated happiness and fulfillment with buying things. They were selling us a lie about the world we lived in and consciously adjusting our expectations to fit it. The crime dramas all had easy, self-contained plots where the criminals were found, they were made to confess, and they were convicted successfully in court. In television shows everyone was well-off and if they became destitute it was never treated with its due weight; that is unless they were supposed to be disdained or pitied. They didn’t want to talk about anything of consequence. When they talked about issues of identity it was only to tokenize this identity. Nineties sitcoms seemed to almost entirely be predicated upon deflection from real issues of suffering, to focus on the societally acceptable minutiae of life. They were all diverting attention from something that I did not understand. But over the years it seemed to me like every source of power I could see in society was telling me the same thing; conform, we have it all figured out and we know what is best for you.

Years would pass before I can remember having any articulable opinions about politics. I remember being in middle school and one of my teachers came in with a bad attitude one day. He was annoyed that we were being so troublesome. He was a middle-aged white man, surely not too wealthy seeing as he was a teacher in Oklahoma. He stopped the class and put on his concerned adult face. He proceeded to tell us a story about how he had just gone on a hunting trip and he drove out into the rural areas of the state. He told us about how poor and disadvantaged they were and how they lived in broken down shacks and how you could blink and miss their entire town. He told us about how we all have on rose-tinted glasses and how we are all spoiled. While he ranted on about people living in shacks, I sat beside my friend who basically did live in a shack. He lived in abject poverty right there in Broken Arrow with our teacher. On other days, this same teacher lectured us about not standing for the pledge of allegiance and how America was the freest nation on Earth. Looking back, I think he wanted to preach it to us, so he could feel better about his own internal delusions. I wish I could say this was the last time that a Baby Boomer lectured me so pompously, but that would most certainly be a lie.

I have no doubt which event was next in the progression. September 11th, 2001. I was in ninth grade by this point. I got off the bus and went to my first-hour class. Over the intercom, our teachers were told to turn on the TVs. I still remember everyone standing there looking in awe. It was the first time I saw that image of the two towers billowing enormous columns of smoke that we all have burned into our memories now. My friends and I didn’t know anything about what was happening, but we all thought we did. One of our friends said he thought it was China who did it. You see, we grew up with this sort of societally acknowledged truth that China was America’s greatest competitor. Deep inside we felt a sort of nationalistic outrage. We saw the planes crash into those buildings so many times every day, it almost lost its emotional impact when you watched it. But, you still had that nagging question in the back of your mind, “how could this have happened to us? How could this nation, which our teachers attest is the best and freest of all nations on Earth, be hurt so badly?” Surely whoever it was, they were powerful and this boded some worldwide conflict to our teenage minds.

But it wasn’t too long before it became common knowledge that it wasn’t some powerful nation that did this to us. It was some Middle-Eastern man in a turban, named Osama Bin Laden, and he was the head of some kind of crazed terrorist cell called Al Qaeda. We were all confused. We didn’t know anything about Middle-Eastern terrorists, we didn’t even know why they would want to do what they did. The Middle-East was some far-away place we knew nothing about. One thing is for sure, the testosterone was flowing. We all made greater and greater exclamations of the masculine bravado with which America should pillage their enemies. One of my friends, 14 or 15 years old, would say something like, “Fuck ‘em. Just bomb ‘em into glass. The whole damn country.” We would all kind of nod along. How dare they try to hurt us? Didn’t they know that we were the biggest, toughest bully on the block? We thought ‘war’ was just a thing a country did to teach its enemies a lesson. If they didn’t want to get into a fight, they shouldn’t have messed with us. But while we passed through those teenage years to come, we would learn much about war and what drives men to it. Sadly, it appears our leaders acted with the same bravado as a group of teenaged boys.

Do you want to understand a generation of Millennials? Think on this; for many of them, while going through their most formative years, they watched the United States pillage Iraq. They watched as the justifications for slaughtering human beings became more and more flimsy. All the while, the image being touted as exemplary, was George W. Bush. A bumbling moron, incompetent at speaking publicly, and apparently not even competent at managing the office of the president.

I did not stay the hawkish young man portrayed just a few moments ago. Many of us did not. The Millennial generation was linked to the internet; we dug deep, we learned to check sources, to determine veracity, and to discard propaganda. The television was not where you got your news because television news was brief, the sourcing was opaque, and usually the stories were misrepresentations of the truth. The fact that these media sources had pitched the war in Iraq with almost no scrutiny was a devastating blow to their credibility. Over the years, as I used the internet to research more about what was happening, I would find too much evidence of wanton cruelty, indifference to human suffering, and a complete dearth of evidence, to support our actions. This was the story of many others in my generation.

Why were we even in Iraq? What were we hoping to achieve?

Those were the questions Millennials asked each other. It was known in our generation, the reasons our government said we were going to Iraq were false. They had to be; we did our research and found that everything pointed to Afghanistan, not Iraq. The defense that they expected weapons of mass destruction to be there, became less and less likely as time went on. And when you open that can of worms, many troubling realizations result:

  • Your nation is headed by liars.
  • They lie in order to wage war.
  • The war they wage indiscriminately murders civilians
  • There is no punishment for corruption and deception.

What are the only conclusions you can reasonably draw from this? I’ll tell you directly; that the system does not work. The most popular reason among the people in the Millennial generation on why we went to Iraq, was simple: oil. The thesis was: we went to Iraq because they were close to Afghanistan and people didn’t know any better, but Iraq had more oil and thus the U.S. manufactured support for the war so they could flood oil into U.S. companies. Bush was from an oil family after all and Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton at one point, plagued by scandal after his involvement. Ultimately, we weren’t too far off from the truth. But it wasn’t until we learned a little more history about the relationship between America and Iraq that more of the picture would be filled in. This didn’t repair the damage, though. It wasn’t only that they hoped to procure oil. Those companies were benefiting from rebuilding the destruction that they caused. Dick Cheney, with his close affiliation to Halliburton, stood to make enormous profits from the invasion of Iraq. To make it even pettier, there was some sense that George W. Bush was just continuing his father’s unfinished business. The list of lowly, selfish reasons went on. It only drove that realization in deeper to our generational psyche. The system does not work, your elders are incompetent or asleep at the wheel.

This must sound amazingly familiar to those who lived as young people during the Vietnam War. After all, this was also a very public conflict waged for terrible reasons and full of abject cruelty. There is no doubt that this had a very similar effect on the minds of our parents’ generation. But our story is not over yet.

Read Part Two here.

Written by Daniel Barham

Daniel Barham has worked as an interstate coordinator for Occupy Wall Street groups in the mid-west, as well as a regional organizer for central Oklahoma on a ballot measure to have marijuana decriminalized in the state of Oklahoma. He also worked as a volunteer, canvassing and phone banking on Bernie's primary campaign. Daniel graduated from University of Oklahoma with a Bachelors degree in Physics and a minor in Philosophy. Follow Daniel on Twitter @apeirophobic.

Daniel is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

6 Comments

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  1. Daniel, everything you said was true, plus your clear and simple writing is a pleasure to read. But I hope that your generation doesn’t make the same mistake that mine did. I cringe when I remember that in the late 60’s and early 70’s, one of our favorite mantras was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

    You are right that today, the Establishment is peopled by baby boomers. In other words, your generation isn’t the one in charge. Young people aren’t to blame for the mess we’re in. Obviously.

    However, another good name for the Occupy movement is the 99%. So just do the math. We baby boomers are just as oppressed by the rich and powerful as you are. There are a lot of boomers, but only a handful of boomers are in the 1% (or .01%?) who really run things.

    Almost all of the evil people who run things are older folks like me. But simple logic dictates that few older folks are necessarily evil. Most of us aren’t running the show, either. Most of us aren’t any more to blame for the mess we’re in than your generation is.

    • Hey Josiah! Thank you for responding to the article. I really appreciate such a thoughtful and articulate comment. Let me say right off the bat, that I do not follow the mantra of the 60’s student protest movements of “don’t trust anyone over 30.” If you stand alongside me to fight against the greedy and the corrupt, to fight for economic equality, I stand in solidarity with you. Activists of my generation, especially during the Occupy, have been completely willing to cooperate and collaborate with people of any age. The Occupy movement, just as you say, was about the 99% and I am still devoted to finding justice for that 99% (or 99.9% as you point out).

      But when I mention the Baby Boomers disdainfully, although I risk being too sweeping, it is because there was a toxic ideology that took hold therein. The Boomers were a generation where greed was normalized, where the natural forces of capitalism were deified, and selfishness and rugged individualism became codified. It is not simply to say that the Baby Boomers were in charge, so ipso facto, that puts them at fault. It is instead to say that the Boomers actively dismantled the legislatory and societal gains made by their parents generation. And perhaps worst of all, many of them in the 99%, although they should stand with us in solidarity, instead have doubled down on these ideologies of selfishness. They are, by and large, a generation who helped create a cancer and are unwilling to help administer the treatment along with us.

      I hope you understand when reading this article and others by my generation, that we do not mean every single one of the Baby Boomers when we use the term (or at least I don’t). We are referring to a trend among a generation of people. If you stand with me in solving the problems of this nation, you are my ally. Part Two of this article will be published soon and there will be much more pointed criticism to come, so I hope you and others will read with all of this in mind.

  2. The worst offense Millennials have committed, in the eyes of the Neo-Liberal Establishment and the Mainstream Media that still shills for them (witness the Russian Hack Hoax) is that they dared to side with an Progressive with a genuine reform agenda, versus the same Corporate claptrap that has keep the Neo-Liberals—and Neo-Cons—in control for the last thirty-plus years. When the egregious cheating in the Democratic primaries and the Mainstream Media’s overt slanting of the news to favor “HER” Millennials were the largest group to realize that the public was being lied to and deceived. Millennial Feminists, not enthralled by the ideology of the “Glass Ceiling” Feminists, dared to vote based on actual policies that would benefit women, not simply on what gender the candidate happened to be, and so were condemned as “traitors.” The fact that an equal, if not greater, number of “Bernie Bros” were female was an inconvenient truth which the Media and the Democratic establishment chose to ignore. It is the Corporatist Establishment–who deliberately snubbed Millennials and other deeply disgruntled voting groups in the United States–who are to blame for Donald Trump abomination, not the Russians! But despite their drubbing at the hands of a wildly unpopular demagogue, money counts more than truth in the Democratic Party and they would rather continue to lose election after election than abandon their billionaire patrons.

  3. Agreed with all you wrote about the Democratic Party’s failures in campaigning and governing, especially when it comes to making good on its promises to stand up for the working classes. However, as someone who’s a Gen-Xer and met with similar struggles in making a living in the pre-Dot Com days of the very early 1990s recession, I’m conflicted as to how we as progressives make actual, well, PROGRESS. It’s not enough to gain visibility and tap into energy if we’re not going to turn out to vote–and yes, that does mean making the undesirable choice of the “lesser evil” come Election Day.

    I was a staunch Bernie supporter and donor who, like many Bernie supporters, was very disappointed and disheartened by the fact that he not only lost the primary, but that both the DNC and our mainstream “media” had hands in propping up Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate. Yet, I picked myself up and backed Clinton at the polls, in the phonebanks, and as a canvasser and Election Day volunteer. The thought of a President Trump was, to me, so much worse.

    Now that President Trump is a reality and we’ve lost so many House and Senate seats to the Republicans, we also confront the loss of more Democratic governorships and state legislatures to Republicans. Democratic policies IMO may, too, be tinged with corporate half-measures and “incremental” changes toward progress, but they are at least benign and stem the damage that aggressively MORE corporate Republican policies actually do to living, breathing human beings–and to our planet–in our midst.

    Real people are getting hurt as I type this due to voter apathy. Real people are suffering and even dying as a result of Republican policies, whereas under Democrats, the suffering would be exponentially less. It is true that Democrats aren’t saints and are freaking wimps when it comes to standing up to not only the Republicans, but to corporate America, but they are literally all we have in terms of any formidable entity that can at least be a stop-gap in the Republicans’ ruinous policies. Do more people have to get sick, go broke, and die because we insist on a third party that simply cannot compete with *either* Republicans or Democrats at the ballot box and in terms of campaign finance? I mean, FFS, Jill Stein didn’t even break 10% in the popular vote, and she didn’t get a single Electoral College vote.

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we have to work within the system we have in order to change it. It would be fantastic–I would LOVE it–if we had a third, fourth, and fifth party to have a multiparty system at every level of government. But doing so will take time, and lots of it, as well as patience. It takes work and endurance (and many defeats) to build a new party system, and it very well may be 30-60 years for a strong 3rd party to emerge victorious.

    I don’t think the immigrants who are being rounded up and separated from their families, the people of color who are suffering generationally under racist/discriminatory polices, and the people who get sick and die due to insufficient healthcare HAVE 30-60 years.

    That’s why I’m in the Progressive Democratic Caucus (aka the Bernie wing) of the Democratic Party in my own county, and why I’m trying to be part of the solution rather than some pipe dream of a revolution. I simply refuse to not participate–or to squander my progressive energy in what will ultimately be losing causes. We need to work harder to get the forces that try to suppress us (even within our own party!) to listen to us and to back candidates that will stay true to our ideals and enact them into policy. And it starts at the local level–in every district, in every town, and in every county.

    And I hope people like you will join us.

    • I should first say; I began donating and spreading the message of the Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress as soon as they were formed. I can only foresee that primarying the Democrats with progressives will lead us to victory. I have no delusions that a third party will be effective in stemming the bleeding of our country. I, like you, think that we must take the party from corporate Democrats from the inside. Another article I have written for Progressive Army addresses my opinions on this matter much more thoroughly: http://progressivearmy.com/2017/02/16/fighting-two-front-war/

      I will say, however, that I do not think that lesser of two evil voting is going to fix our problems. It will not fix the problems of immigrants and the families that are being destroyed. It will not fix the problems of those dying from lack of healthcare. It will not help those starving on a stagnated minimum wage. It will not help an economy which is governed by vulture capitalists. Obama broke deportation records, passed Romneycare, rolled over on the minimum wage, and passed Dodd-Frank, one of the weakest pieces of financial regulation that could have been conceived. Democrats have demonstrated clearly that none of these things are more than platitudes for them.They bid us to simply forget their repeated betrayals and to focus on what they have done for us, which has not been much.

      Their game is to keep us returning and electing them time and time again by destroying the more progressive option, then looking around with a smile and saying “well that’s too bad huh? Guess you should vote for the lesser of two evils!” It is a perpetual cycle that they have been manipulating for decades now and the only way we break free is to lump in Third Way Democrats with Republicans and simply not vote for them both on principle. The only thing a politician cares about is whether they will be employed next cycle. Thus, the only way that we can send a message that we no longer accept corporatists, is to not employ them. Hoping that they will cooperate with us is the real pipe dream. They are not our allies and they don’t intend to be. The people who buy their campaigns would never fund their next election if they betrayed them.

      Perhaps in a system where things are generally functioning well and stability is a bygone conclusion, voting in the lesser of two evils is logical. But in a system that is so far gone as this one, the lesser of two evils is just accepting a steeper decline either way, not trying to fix it. Literally the only solution is to primary Democrats that do not abide by our platform with progressives. If we cannot succeed at that, we have achieved nothing.

      • Hi Daniel, and thank you for your thoughtful and informative reply to my post. Until I read your article, I admit shamefully that I hadn’t heard of the Justice Democrats or Brand New Congress. (I’ve been heavily involved in several Indivisible groups as well as the Progressive Democratic Caucus in my county–and yes, an Our Revolution chapter in my city as well.) I’ll have to look up both of these organizations and see how I can help.

        I’ve just read your “We Are Fighting a Two-Front War” article and agree with it wholeheartedly. I too am dismayed that the same Third Way Democrats who try the same failed strategy of straddling the line between corporate and civil-rights issues keep getting rewarded for bad behavior. I guess as a mom of two teenage sons, I err on the side of pragmatism (out of pure fear that the Trumpian policies will get us into more wars without end) when I perhaps should be abiding your solution: to primary Dems who don’t behave and vote progressively the way the Tea Party primaried Republicans who didn’t vote and act the way they wanted them to do. That’s why I’m in the Progressive Democratic Caucus and in Our Revolution: to seek out candidates at the local and county levels who aren’t the same-old corporate milquetoast “Democrats” and who WILL act in the best interests of the people rather than profits.

        This segment from your “Two-Front War” article really resonated with me:

        “There is finally a means with which to act against the enemies amongst you. That means is to participate in your democracy. Do not think it can only be you. Do not think we have time to wait for the system to naturally work itself out. We must build and grow coalitions that are too large to defeat and we must act now.”

        Amen and may it be so. Fighting right along with you. 🙂

        Michelle

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Why Are the Millennials Like This? Part One