Reverie on the So-Called Entitlement Generation
Amid the discussions on the Internet regarding the Occupy Wall Street protests, it has not been uncommon to read some commenting on current events criticizing the protesters as being part of a so-called "entitlement generation". I think the use of the phrase "entitlement generation" to refer to the members of Generation Y (Gen Y) needs another look. In particular, I think those who are quick to label millennials the "entitlement generation" need to take a closer look in the mirror.
Margaret Wente of Canada's The Globe and Mail recently discussed the prospects of Gen Y university students and their career prospects. Wente: "On average, [university students] expected a starting salary of $53,000." Wente's analysis highlights issues regarding the entitlement generation, which Wente defines as "the kids who've always been told they're smart, and never pushed too hard".
Where Wente concedes that "[o]ldsters have been lamenting the laziness of youngsters since Plato was a pup", never before "has the disconnect between young adults and the world that awaits them been so vast". Wente goes on to claim that young people today do not seem to be that interested in challenging times in the global economy and that adults fostered an entitlement mindset in young people. Wente suggests that young people should blame older generations for not preparing them as "a wave of BA's (and MA's, too) are entering the work force and getting a bitter shock".
As Wente notes in her discussion, millennials expected "something better", and in my opinion, this goes to the crux of the generational divide between baby boomers, Generation X (Gen X), and Gen Y. With the Occupy Wall Street protests in mind, Gen Y is now being labeled the "entitlement generation".
Surprisingly, even dictionary.com has an entry on the so-called "entitlement generation". What is the definition of the "entitlement generation"? According to dictionary.com, it is "the group born between 1979 and 1994 who believe they are owed certain rights and benefits without further justification". In other words, "The entitlement generation expects higher salaries, flexible work hours, and ample time off." Thank you, dictionary.com, for the clarification.
I cannot speak for everyone in Gen Y, but I cannot help but feel that to a certain extent, it seems to be an unspoken conception that is not widely discussed that maybe millennials subconsciously and subtly feel that given our time period, older generations really should have figured out and worked out many of the world's current issues by now. In particular, I am speaking of the baby boomer generation. There seems to be this very subtle and unspoken thought for millennials that the resolution of many of our current global, socio-economic, and political issues is long overdue and that older generations simply dropped the ball.
I do not think that the issue is as much about entitlements per se, but rather inner frustration with the current state of the globe -- thereby subtly raising the question in the minds of young people, "Why is it that older generations have not yet resolved some of these geo-political and socio-economic issues?" The tag of "entitlements" thus appears to be a red herring for the failures of previous generations tied to interests in selfishness and tradition.
Take, for instance, the legalization of marijuana. As a record-high 50% of Americans believe that marijuana should be made legal, even from the perspective of those who do not smoke marijuana, millennials may ask, "Given baby boomers' past use of marijuana and the history of the drug, why exactly is marijuana still illegal in 2011?" The possible tax revenue from marijuana sales would be substantial, and perhaps the legalization of marijuana would create jobs. Of course, the debate about the legalization of marijuana is much deeper than what could be discussed in a mere paragraph, but I think marijuana is a good example of this generational disconnect.
Thus, contrary to what conservative commentators might say, I am not sure that the entitlement generation issue is about receiving "free this" or "free that". I think the issue goes back to the lack of resolution of many of the world's problems that have been lingering through the centuries and have intensified in recent decades owing to some perceived apathy or possibly confusion of older generations. Going back to issues related to gender bias or racial bias or religious bias, millennials may see such issues as being a waste of time & energy and better left for the realm of comedy (if anything).
To say the least, there appears to be a very subtle air for Gen Y that is proclaiming aloud, "You people really should have gotten your house in order a long time ago." I mean, we are living in the year 2011. I ask you, have you ever seen the film, "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Where older generations may be quick to label Gen Y as an "entitlement generation", Gen Y itself may be asking, "What exactly have you people been doing for the past several decades aside from roping us the younger generations into pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes ranging from Social Security to higher education? We appear to be way behind where we should be at this point; we need to get back on track". One cannot help but feel while living in this time period that perhaps we as a species should be in a better position...in a better place.
In particular with issues like superficial bias, socio-economic disparity, and overpopulation, Gen Y appears to subtly be saying, "You people really should have worked these issues out by now", and I believe that goes to the core of many of our contemporary socio-political issues. If I had to guess, the reasons why the world has not yet worked out many of our contemporary issues go back to two things: selfishness and tradition. In the process, the world appears to be falling apart and tearing itself apart at the expense of younger generations and future generations yet to come.
Thus, if entitlement means a reasonable sense of functionality and the viable guarantee of a decent standard of living for future generations going forward, perhaps the millennial generation is the entitlement generation.
Issues related to the generational divides in American society do go back to unemployment, student loans, and health care, and there does appear to be a disconnect between the socio-economic and political sentiments of the various generations. This disconnect is evident in the contemporary political dialogue in America.
The bottom line appears to be the startling and troubling fact that the baby boomer generation, Gen X, and Gen Y in the US are living in the same country, but have three separate versions of reality. We're all speaking English, but we're not speaking the same language.
From the Gen Y point of view, young people are dissatisfied in being thrown into the service sector of having only three viable options for a career (being fast food, retail, and the military) merely to serve the older generations. For overworked, hungry, and struggling Gen Yers on the verge of burning out while taking anti-depressants to deal with problems and unable to get their lives started, the prospect of the end of the world coming soon may go from being a grave fear to a delightful, realistic hope. Where Gen Y was told, "If you work hard and do well in school, you will have a successful career and a good life", many millennials with their Bachelor's and Master's degrees are finding themselves asking, "Do you want fries with that?" Millennials are therefore seeking a sense of self-realization in their labor. Thus, where baby boomers refuse to retire from perceived fulfilling and rewarding careers, with the prospect of having lifelong, mind-numbing, and meaningless careers as service industry drones and wage servants, it makes perfect sense that at some point young people would begin to rebel against the status quo. In short, the Occupy Wall Street movement is the reasonably foreseeable and natural result of the course of American society.
On the other hand, baby boomers see themselves as having worked hard for what they have and are continuing to work hard in a struggling economy. Some baby boomers lost their jobs and their homes after decades of hard work. Some baby boomers may view young people as being lazy and wanting everything handed to them. Conservative commentators like Mark Steyn or Sean Hannity may quip, "If the government guarantees people jobs and food, where does it stop? Do we have the government go so far as to be delivering people the food that they are 'entitled' to? Do we then send government workers out to actually feed people the food?" Aside from political beliefs, baby boomers may find themselves stuck in service industry jobs that were originally meant for high-schoolers and college students. Thus, high-schoolers and college students find themselves unable to get jobs occupied by members of the older generations.
In the midst of the current interplay between liberal-progressives and conservatives, young people have been effectively caught in the middle with little room for voicing concerns save for demonstrations like those of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a world where so many are crying out with a population of seven billion, young people have to cry out that much louder simply to be heard.
Even so, I think American society tends to complicate the issues far more than their reality. The issues are much simpler than governments and academia make them out to be. As for issues related to health care, higher education, and overpopulation, the real sources of disagreement go back to selfishness and tradition. This back-and-forth generational ping-pong of selfishness and tradition plays into issues ranging from health care to abortion to higher education to unemployment to Social Security. And where one generation binds another generation as its economic servant and puts future generations into debt against their will, there are going to be societal problems. There is a sense of economic karma in play here.
The specter of overpopulation adds a much more precarious dimension to the generational divide and the turbulent state of our global situation. Let us frame the issue in terms of world population estimates. To put things into perspective, a baby boomer born in 1950 with a population of 2.9 billion found himself at 20 years of age with a world population of 3.69 billion. In comparison, a Gen Xer born in 1965 with a world population of 3.33 billion found himself at 20 years of age living in a world with 4.8 billion people. In comparison, a Gen Yer born in 1982 with a world population of 4.6 billion people found himself at the age of 20 living in a world with roughly 6.2 billion people.
As the world grows smaller as the amount of human need increases, a Gen Yer might ask in due justice, "Why did older generations, in particular the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, and the Baby Boom Generation, let things get this bad?" Where the Greatest Generation had the Great Depression and World War II to contend with, the crux then falls pretty much squarely on the Baby Boom Generation.
Therefore, in turning the issue of a so-called "entitlement generation" on its head as the planet could have resolved many of our current socio-economic problems including but not limited to overpopulation, a potential water crisis, a potential energy crisis, socio-economic disparity, multiple wars, and global unemployment, the question really is this: Why does the planet appear to have fallen behind where it should be at this point in time?
At the end of the day, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. If it is any consolation, I think our current array of global problems is part of a greater period of macrocosmic adolescence in the human species. As such, all these growing pains are part of humanity's growing up -- this time period is thus akin to a dark age of adolescence. And with hope, as individuals grow out of adolescence, humanity will one day grow out of our current state of adolescence. Though we may have generational differences and conflicting interests in terms of our age, at least on a global scale, whether we like it or not, we are all in this together -- for better or worse.
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