Flat White

Hey, dudes, back off: a defence of millennials

6 July 2018

9:48 AM

6 July 2018

9:48 AM

I fully appreciate that millennials – “cossetted, pampered and spoiled” – deserve a good touch up. After all, I am one.

But unlike the 58 per cent of us rooting for socialism I am enthusiastic about capitalism, hostile (as can be in 2018) to communism, and know just enough to appreciate that fellow Australian workers are better off than they were 40 years ago.

And while there are more of me or “us” – 40 per cent to be exact – there are some points worth considering about the YouGov Galaxy results that shouldn’t carry us down a path to despair.

The first is – does the poll tell us anything we don’t know? Agreed, it is useful to get at least some metrics on exactly how “narcissistic, self-obsessed and naïve” millennials are. But complaints about the degeneracy of “gen next” have been made, literally, for 2000 years.

If anything, the protesting youth before to 1980 hardly modelled a cascading respect for traditions, with their political energies erecting the Tent Embassy (still limply standing today), protesting the Springboks and breeding life to years of Vietnam moratorium demonstrations. “Great victories”, observed Roger Scruton of his 1968 Parisian student contemporaries, meant “policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed.”


The second point to consider is, should we take millennials seriously at all? “It is a simple fact of science that nothing correlates more with ignorance and stupidity more than youth,” said the American commentator Jonah Goldberg back in 2012. “We’re all born idiots, and we only get over that condition as we get less young.”

It’s also worth considering the agitative impulses of citizens under a democratic regime, especially millennials who ‘have never had it so good’. As the historian Niall Ferguson recently mentioned in an interview with former deputy prime minister John Anderson, “Young people tend to question the status quo even when it’s great, even when it’s okay, and they tend to grow out of that. Don’t expect people to have a full appreciation of the benefits of democracy at aged 17 – I don’t think I did.”

Indeed, to paraphrase Mark Twain, we appreciate the knowledge of our fathers with age. Or, put simply, we learn as we get older. And for those that don’t? “That’s something that conservatives have to work hard to beat out of them,” says Goldberg half-jokingly, “either literally or figuratively, as far as I’m concerned.”

The third point I have observed, from working with university students over the past decade, is the capacity for belt-tightening and frugality. Granted, the availability of credit and razor-thin savings don’t imply Buffett-esque principles of ‘get rich slowly’. But I have seen many students work hard to balance multiple priorities – jobs and study – without much sleep and reward, buoyed by a desire to cultivate a good career and build a decent life.

I agree that we should be worried about the pampering and the ignorance that the polls have implied. A belief in socialism will only increase demands for unneeded government intervention. Mixed with the knee-jerk lapses some make into reactionary identity politics, and the deficit in cultural confidence among today’s students, (a point I discussed recently with Professor David Flint) these aren’t great signs.

But we must also be positive about the examples of our priority juggling and belt-tightening youngsters, and the messages of self-responsibility they seem to be lapping up. “Perhaps the social consequences of the permissive society,” said Tony Abbott in 2006, “might soon prompt the conclusion that there’s something to be said of traditional values after all.” After a decade Abbott has partly been vindicated – the endless diet of ‘rights’ young people have been fed for decades simply aren’t cutting it, especially for young men. This, explains Jordan Peterson, is the primary reason for his success.

Ultimately, all generations have their good and bad. “There was no “Greatest Generation”,” wrote Goldberg recently. “The dudes who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy: badasses and heroes, to a man. The dudes back home in the drunk tank on D-Day? Not so much.”

For the dudes who not only stand up for capitalism but work hard each day, who run toward responsibility and have some degree of cultural confidence in our past, I hold out at least some hope.

Sean Jacobs is the author of Winners Don’t Cheat: Advice for young Australians from a young Australian (Connor Court, 2018).

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