First published 13.11.13 http://www.journal-online.co.uk
My parents have always said that they would have succeeded as parents if me and my brother emerged at 18, blinking in the light of the big bad world, as independent adults more or less capable of looking after themselves.
Of course there’s all the other stuff about unconditional love and that, but producing independent human beings was the reason behind each one of their mostly-good, sometimes-strange decisions over the last two decades. ‘Being able to look after yourself,’ if you read the literature, is unusual for my generation. We are the Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) and we haven’t got the best rep at the moment.
Time magazine describe us as “the Me Me Me Generation…” and, “lack[ing] the kind of empathy that allows [us] to feel concern for others…” going on to label us narcissistic, entitled and shallow. It sounds painfully familiar. And it’s a damning indictment. Is this how my generation are to be forever remembered? As blinkered and selfish and vain?
We must have more about us than that, surely? We are the generation who came of age with 9/11 and will finish coming of age with the end of the recession. We have experienced the systematic destruction of trust in every hitherto stolid institution of British life. The media. Politicians. The church. The police. All have been rocked by scandal after scandal in the last five years, with unprecedented frequency. No wonder we cut ourselves out of current affairs, refuse to vote and sulk off in our onesies to our world of baby-speak technology and self-confirming social networks.
Socially we are as liberal as we’ve ever been. We see no reason why anyone should be held back because of gender, sexuality, race or class. Conversely we are the most ruthless economically. We see the world as it’s been painted: split down the middle. Strivers; scroungers. We pour scorn on those on benefits and those perceived to be getting something for nothing. Yet at the same time we have wildly unrealistic expectations for ourselves. A childhood being spent told we could be anything we want to be is fantastic. Unfortunately many of us are beginning to realise the cold, hard truth.
The older generation bemoan our lack of anger. The lack of fight and absence of a desire for change. Well, you don’t miss what you’ve never had—I can’t remember a time when any of the institutions listed were truly beyond reproach. We are indeed fatigued and completely apathetic. But it’s the default position for us to assume that those in power are misbehaving themselves. We don’t so much hate the man as think he’s a blithering idiot.
We should perhaps hate the previous generation—our parents—for creating this world. The ones who were living in a housing boom that was never going to last. Blairite bankers buoyed by Cool Britannia and the pop songs that told them anything was possible. A targets-based workforce and a culture of greed that encouraged corruption. We should be directing our rage towards them. And yet we don’t. We’re claustrophobically close to Generation X. We’ll live with them until long into our twenties, watching the same telly and relying on them for funds. Are we perhaps the first generation ever that actually want to be their parents?
But perhaps we’re reaching the final straw. Professor Danny Dorling’s recent enlightening essay in the New Statesman was titled “The Defrauding of Young Britain.” The gist is this: it is us, the Millennials, that are being exploited to maintain the older generation’s way of life.
The government, when looking to save money, routinely turns its axe towards the under 25s. Although we don’t have to pay for education in Scotland, we do have the extortionate living costs. We have next to no chance of buying a home and being able to pay for it without running ourselves into unmanageable debt. We have to settle for exploitative working contracts because we don’t have the guile, or indeed the option, to demand anything different—we’ll be in debt to our elders for years.
It begs the question: with these conditions and our contradictory attitudes to life, what in God’s name will our own children be like? And what sort of world will they be growing up in?
At this point I would like to offer a defence of Millennials. By 2020—the point we’ll start prodding, patronising and generalising the next wave of human beings—we will have experienced the full extent of David Cameron’s Britain and, perhaps, even Alex Salmond’s Scotland.
For a generation considered so apathetic towards politics, I have been immensely impressed in our ability to join the debate on independence. We are not used to direct democracy in this country—the black and white choice of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most likely it will be the first time any of us goes to the polls. A successful ‘yes’ vote would completely change our expectations of politics and our ability to imagine a better society. In such an event I have no doubt that, given the chance to “start again”, we would throw ourselves into Scottish life and become pioneers for the sort of socially liberal meritocracy we all desire.
Even without that ‘yes’, I’m more than confident of our abilities to produce independent adults. Perhaps they’ll learn from our mistakes. Perhaps my children will be the most humble, selfless and hard-working people you could ever meet. Perhaps they will be politically involved, engaged and angry.
They will benefit even more than I have from the ability to summon up any aspect of human history with the swipe of a finger. They’ll be the most sexually liberated teenagers ever. They’ll have to reassess their views on privacy and intimacy, but we’ll sort that out over dinner. They’ll definitely learn the value of money, and I will regale them with tales of halcyon days where I’d get my student loan, buy three pairs of trainers and head down the pub for a week.
They’ll have likely seen their parents’ expectations crushed and recalibrate their own. They’ll be happier with less. They will know queuing for the dole or the food bank as a common feature of British life. Perhaps, having experienced this first hand, the next generation will actually look to protect the welfare state or employees’ rights. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps….
Poignant, isn’t it, that halfway through writing this piece I watched [multimillionaire] Russell Brand deliver his scathing attack to the establishment and call for revolution. We cannot let this happen—I don’t want a revolution when I’m starting my modest mid-life crisis.
Perhaps though you shouldn’t pass final judgement on a generation until they’ve raised independent adults of their own. And I believe that ours will be bloody brilliant. They will be to provide for themselves. They’ll be providing for us too, after all. And we’ll have truly succeeded if they do it willingly.