Millennials: Let's Find Our (Dis)Satisfaction or Risk Irrelevance Forever
Where is our youthful irreverence? Through the 1960's, the buttoned-up cultural and societal values of a repressive previous generation were directly and unequivocally challenged, day in and day out, by a generation that feared its parents and grandparents did not have the interests of youth at heart. In 1965, a young and doe-eyed (if not intoxicated) Mick Jagger explained that "[m]ost young people are dissatisfied with the generation which they think is running their lives." This dissatisfaction, according to Jagger and others, explained the torrent of enthusiasm surrounding the Stone's hit song (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. The Stones and their screaming, sometimes drug-addled, sexually revolutionary followers carried the mantle of change, for better or worse, that built the society we now know. And a lot of good came from this movement; the baby-boomers produced the best music in the history of the world (fact, not opinion), but more importantly they ushered in a culture that valued free expression and honesty, which in turn promoted tolerance and understanding. But lest we forget, the baby boomers are our parents. The values and virtues forged in their youth are the building blocks of our cultural values, but whether or not the now-wrinkled and thoroughly-dyed Mick Jagger prefers to admit it, the baby boomers are the 'generation which [we] think is running our lives.' To us, the Rolling-Stones-produced documentary Crossfire Hurricane is not a cutting edge social commentary, but rather a historical study, replete with black and white video and grainy sound. We must assess the policies of our parents, we must challenge the status quo, it is up to us, now, to create a world that reflects our values. The calling of our generation is upon us.
But wait, you might say, didn't we do that in 2008 with the election of the youthful and energetic President Obama, who incidentally "gets" sarcasm (the comical device of choice for us millennials)? Haven't we left our generational mark by mobilizing populations to support marriage equality initiatives across the country? In each of these cases, the answer is "no." In reality, we have done nothing. The only cultural or societal shift that we can fairly claim is wearing skinny jeans with skinny ties (the 60's had both, but they weren't worn together). Marriage equality is the logical product of the values of free expression and tolerance that was the rallying cry of the baby-boomers half a century ago, and the election (and re-election) of President Obama is the logical result of a large and notoriously selfish generation's efforts to protect its own government programs and benefits without regard for what will be left for future generations. In short, those are our parents' causes, not ours.
Of course, this is not to say that tolerance and freedom of expression are not worthy values that we should enthusiastically support, but it is to say that these causes are not our own. We have not been a revolutionary or even an evolutionary youth. We have been a rubber stamp youth, and this needs to change. But wait, before we rise up and take to the streets with pitch forks, we should pause a moment to consider what values actually do uniquely define our generation. The Occupy Wall Street Movement involved a lot of young people, but it also involved a lot of old people, and the only common theme appeared to be unity in failing to understand or articulate anything. So let's try this activism thing again, with a little more thought this time. To define ourselves, we must consider what makes us different from our parents' generation. One word came to my mind: Responsibility.
We are the revolutionarily responsible generation. We are seeking jobs in a stagflation, and we know better than any living generation (except the WWII generation) that nothing can be taken for granted. We should dare to demand reform that keeps social programs solvent. We should boldly challenge the idea that the most important issues facing our nation are social issues (as was the view of the baby-boomers across the spectrum), but rather the pervasiveness of a culture that does not consider costs, ignores economic realities and selfishly disregards the long-term sustainability of our government and our way of life. And if we do come to the realization that no matter what, we cannot expect to see a payout on our Social Security and Medicare "investment", then let us be the generation who bravely relied on ourselves, and selflessly never expected others to pay for us.
I don't know Mick Jagger, but I wonder if he is now able to get some satisfaction. The Stones helped define a generation that changed the world. Now that he is old and chemically un-grey, Mr. Jagger and his generation are the ones 'running our lives.' When we get to that point, what will be said of our impact? Will it just be that we continued the older generation's values and policies to their logical end? I hope we take on a cause of our own, and that we preserve the future of liberty and prosperity. Until then, I can't get no, satisfaction.
Andrew is a board member of Concord 51 PAC.