A reader writes:
I've found myself getting progressively more irritated at the ongoing Millennial thread. I briefly wondered why you were getting so many comments about it until I remembered: oh right, Millennials' favorite topic is themselves.
I've been holding back on writing because I was certain that someone would add some self-critical considerations to all the self-congratulation evident on this thread. Alas, either because of editorial control or because of rampant navel-gazing, no such perspective seems imminent, so in I dive.
I am a grandmother in the Millennial generation, born in 1980. Still, I hardly remember a time without computers and came of political age with Bush, so I place myself in the Millennials. And that's fortunate, because have you heard how amazing we are? We are socially progressive. We see through the lies of pundits better than older generations. It's not their fault though, we can do it because we really value "facts" and "analysis" and look things up online, unlike our gullible elders.
To my generational cohort, a plea: get over yourself.
You are not the Chosen People of politics. Even your crowing about how you are smarter, more rational and more morally balanced than previous generations is not new. Ask your parents what they thought of themselves, back when they were pledging to be the generation to end wars, nuclear weapons and bring equal rights to all (which in their day meant black people, not gay people). Your grandparents generation killed Hitler, and brought America into an era of power and prosperity that would never end, right?
I think it's great that my generation is so much more gay friendly than previous generation (though you may want to temper your strutting about moral superiority: 60% of young people support torture).
It is true that we have unprecedented access to information as compared to previous generations. But Dishheads are a very self-selected group of politically engaged people active on the Internet. I would encourage those in my generation to go talk to their friends, the ones watching "Honey Boo Boo", or using the Internet mostly for playing Halo, and try to have a political conversation with them. They may find that access to tools does not guarantee their use, and it may be more worthwhile to work to make our generation the best informed in history than it is to claim that it already is.
I was born on the cusp of generations, sometimes called Gen X and sometimes called Millennial, depending on who is drawing the line. I suppose that is why I have never put much stock in generational approaches to anything, but your letters from Millennial readers are only making me less interested in the idea that generations are really so easy to define.
One of your readers says that Millennials are "a little more willing to challenge orthodoxy than those before us." This response typifies the problem with trying to use cohorts to explain much at all. Wow, you guys Occupied Wall Street! Congrats! Your parents' generation changed views on whether women and people of color should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But you guys stood up to rich people! Way to challenge orthodoxy. It's not like anyone has ever stood up to Wall Street before.
Another reader is concerned about the "profound sense of confidence that the world's problems end with us" and then rightly compares it to Baby Boomers. If it is like the Baby Boomers, why is he all that worried? A lot of Baby Boomer hippies did grow up and recognize they needed to take responsibility for themselves and their country. Sure, some crashed the stock market and others remained hippies, but the majority settled down and got real jobs and recognized they couldn't solve all the world's problems at once. So will Millennials.
History repeats itself, and Millennials will follow in the footsteps of the people who came before them. I would argue that one's approach to life is far more influenced by your age over time, socioeconomic status, and other individual factors than whether you were born in 1975 or 1985. Most 16-year-olds find the world totally unjust and have idealistic approaches to everything. Most 60-year-olds take a more pragmatic approach to accomplishing goals. That is true if the person was sixteen in 1960 or in 2006.
Yes, Millennials may have specific views on specific issues that are different from previous generations, but that's only because previous generations have taken on other issues. (Does anyone really think that same-sex marriage would be a hot issue if we were still legally segregated by race?) So keep fighting fo those issues, but just remember, Millennials: you aren't that special.