Young people these days

by John Q on May 5, 2013

Apparently, a new survey shows that Millennials (more precisely, US high school students interviewed between 2005 and 2007, and therefore born in the early 1990s) are lazy and entitled. More precisely, as textbook worker-consumers are supposed to, they would like nice stuff, but not if they have to work long hours to get it. I’m too bored to link to it, but you can easily find it.

The best that can be said for this kind of thing is that it relieves the monotony of boomer-bashing. Apart from that it is a repeat of the formulaic denunciation of adolescents that has been applied (in my memory) to Gen Y (insofar as this group differs from the Millennials) Gen X (Slackers), Boomers (hippies) and the Silent Generation (the original teenagers). Then there were the Lost Generation and so on back to the (apocryphal, I think) rant often attributed to Socrates. Only those who have the good fortune (?) to come of age in a time of full-scale war miss out on this ritual denunciation.

On a brighter note, Jocelyn Auer restates the reasons why treating generations as coherent groups is silly. As she says, the situation of the wealthies 20 per cent of boomers is much different from that of the bottom 20 per cent, looking forward to retirement with little or no super, and worse if they don’t own their home. A neat point, true of almost any attack on people based on their age, is that the attackers can’t lose. Boomers who retire early are a burden, while those who work past 65 are keeping younger people out of a job. Similarly, young people are coddled if they are full-time students, dropouts if they start work early and neglecting their studies if they combine schoo//uni with a part time job.



merian 05.05.13 at 3:57 am

Not apocryphal. Plato,Republic, VIII, 562b-563e:

How, said he, do you mean that ?

In that, I said, the father accustoms himself to become like his child and fears his sons, while the son likens himself to his father, and feels neither shame nor fear in front of his parents, so he may be free ; the metic [563a] becomes the equal of a citizen and the citizen of a metic, and similarly with the foreigner.

It indeed so happens, he said.

To these, said I, such trifles do add up: the teacher, in such a case, fears his pupils and fawns upon them, while pupils have in low esteem their teachers as well as their overseers; and, overall, the young copy the elders and contend hotly with them in words and in deeds, while the elders, lowering themselves to the level of the young, sate themselves with pleasantries [563b] and wit, mimicking the young in order not to look unpleasant and despotic.

Most certainly, he said.

Quoted after – see there for context.


dr ngo 05.05.13 at 3:58 am

I was going to say something, but then I remembered I’m from the Silent Generation.


Brett 05.05.13 at 4:44 am

Then there were the Lost Generation and so on back to the (apocryphal, I think) rant often attributed to Socrates.

It goes back farther than that. I can’t remember what it’s called, but I remember reading about a Sumerian piece they found that included someone complaining about how the youth were ignorant.


Billikin 05.05.13 at 5:02 am

When I was young, after I had become aware of these perennial laments about the youth, and the myths about a Golden Age before things began to go downhill, I dismissed these complaints as the grumpiness of old men. Now that I am older, I realize that all the complaints were true, that there was a Golden Age, and that things have been going downhill ever since.



Todd 05.05.13 at 5:21 am

While I agree that most generations bemoan the changes that have happened as the next generation rises, that in and of itself is not reason enough to dismiss the complaints.

Things change, but all change is not equal. Change happens under conditions of unequal power and with distributions of goods and bads and with consequences that are open to evaluation.

So the history of youth-bashing might give us reason to be skeptical and careful, it does not excuse us from making evaluations of the changes that occur and their possible consequences.

I think the biggest problem here is not that old people are bitching about young people (*yawn*) but that “generations” don’t actually cohere in such easy ways. The changes that are occurring are usually much more diffuse and penetrating than can be attributed to or blamed on a birth cohort.


shah8 05.05.13 at 7:36 am

In other words, Todd, which organs of society has control of what generations of people, and the decisions said organs make. I.E., draft boards–boomers, silents. As opposed to the US News and World Report College Board’s University Rankings, their nefarious control over the destinies of Gen X’ers and Millenials.


garymar 05.05.13 at 7:55 am

And get off my lawn, too.


patrick 05.05.13 at 8:31 am

If the young of today are disinclined to perpetuate the long hours, ‘work is all’ culture of their parents, more power to them.


Katherine 05.05.13 at 8:32 am

I always have to look up the dates for the generations, because I never remember which one I’m supposed to be. Says at all as far as I’m concerned – if my generational cohort in any way accurately described my experience, I wouldn’t keep forgetting it.


Mao Cheng Ji 05.05.13 at 8:40 am

“the reasons why treating generations as coherent groups is silly”

Well, same goes for race, gender, etc. Nevertheless, they are treated like groups, and with some essential characteristics (oppressor, victim). So, why can’t Boomers too be privileged narcissistic oppressors. Stop trying to justify your privilege. Repent.


fivegreenleafs 05.05.13 at 9:12 am

I share @Todds arguments, and I would also like to continue, that these changes are not uniform over the full cohort, but may differ (dramatically) across socioeconomic classes, ethnic groups and cultures.

Things do change, the questions are the impact those changes will have.

Just one small observation close to my own heart, today, a significant group of 15 year olds, (after 9 years of primary education) can not calculate (they do not understand the principles, and even with pen and paper), what 15% of 100 is. Something which (practically) every 5 grader could do 25 years ago.

What will the effect be of this lack of knowledge and understanding of basic mathematical concepts going forward? I don’t know, but I am personally worried.


Tim Worstall 05.05.13 at 10:29 am

“More precisely, as textbook worker-consumers are supposed to, they would like nice stuff, but not if they have to work long hours to get it.”

Good to see that the textbooks are still describing the real world then. Humans being both greedy and lazy.


stubydoo 05.05.13 at 1:02 pm

There is a sense in which it is all true, as (generally) each generation grows up in a more wealthy society than the one before, and thus takes for granted many things that were hitherto extreme luxuries. Compared to our ancestors whose routine diet included animals that they had killed themselves with their own hands, we are all collossally decadent.


Cian 05.05.13 at 1:37 pm

#11 Except those humans who are neither of those things Tim.

I would agree that those traits are true of libertarians. Fortunately libertarians are a minority.


Harold 05.05.13 at 1:38 pm

History of “youth bashing” is based on the fact that language and cultures are in perennial need of renewal and repair — hence the constant exhortations and lamentations. A new generation really does come along every fifteen or twenty years or so, having to relearn the wheel, as it were.

The problem is that the people doing the lamentation and bashing are often crude authoritarians, opportunists, and bullies and not only the very last people I would want to represent my language and culture as I know them but frequently also its worst enemies.


Michael Weissman 05.05.13 at 1:39 pm

@ Brett: A typical Sumerian gripe about a son is is “Night and day you waste in pleasures. You have accumulated much wealth, have expanded far and wide….” (from S. N. Kramer’s The Sumerians)


Michael Weissman 05.05.13 at 1:40 pm

@ Brett: A typical Sumerian gripe about a son is “Night and day you waste in pleasures. You have accumulated much wealth, have expanded far and wide….” (from S. N. Kramer’s The Sumerians)


ice9 05.05.13 at 3:17 pm

I ask you to write to your reps and senators (if you’ve got one, or even just own a share) to urge support of HB-2044. The bill would liberate 1956-1960 (my birth year, just a coincidence) from the Baby Boomer generation and take 1961-1965 from the Down With America generation to form a new generation free of the selfishness of the Boomers and the different selfishness of the Hippies. The change would recognize and honor a generation with just the right touch of naivete, courage, determination. We’re considering ‘Right Thinkin’ generation’ or perhaps ‘We Tried Our Best To Punch Them Out Of It But The Media You Know’ generation. ‘
We’re doing well as far as the legislative process is concerned. The House is very supportive; they’ve pretty much run out of places so now hope to begin gerrymandering time. Supreme Court Whip Nino Scalia has promised five votes. Clarence Thomas is clearly supportive; he said, ” .” It’s the Senate where we have worries so we could use your help.
This bill will establish that generations must be nine years long. We intend to create a better semblance of statistical and scientific precision for use in supporting sweeping culture-war arguments. The nine year codicil creates a bit of a Gregorian/Julian inconsistency, but Representative Gohmert has proposed an effective solution: declare 1946 and 1961 to be ‘extragenerational anomaly’ years. (Gohmert called them “special, you know, put something that sounds collegy.” Our consultants came up with the rest.) It’s a bit of a stretch to claim that people born in those two years are in their own separate generational category despite an intervening and quite distinct and guilty generation (one and a half generations, if justice is served). But the fact that 1946 is the birth year of Bill Clinton and 1961 of Barack Obama is powerful evidence indeed, in certain states, that those years belong in a special generation all their own. Also it’s further evidence that year of birth is a powerful factor in getting people to become things we don’t like. Present company excepted, as David Brooks (8/11/’61) will no doubt argue in his carefully calibrated analysis of the failures of both sides but one more than the other, OK a lot more, due out next week.
So sorry for interrupting your conversation to solicit your support, but research has shown that your generation isn’t paying attention by this point anyway. Whatever it is.



PJW 05.05.13 at 5:45 pm

Reminds me of that bogus education survey Sheriff Bell mentions in No Country for Old Men, along with kids having green hair and wearing nose rings:


Barry 05.05.13 at 5:46 pm

Brett – about the Sumerian writings; I’ll be that some cave painting said the same thing, if we could decipher them fully.


JW Mason 05.05.13 at 6:56 pm

I think John Q.’s take is the right one. Of course grouping everyone by birthyear and ascribing each group a distinct character is silly and wrong. But it’s also wrong to say that generations don’t exist. They do exist, except that most people are not part of one. A distinct generation consists of people who enter adulthood at the time of a major war or similarly epochal event. Mostly birthyear doesn’t matter but sometimes it matters a lot.


praisegod barebones 05.05.13 at 7:01 pm

‘More precisely, as textbook worker-consumers are supposed to, they would like nice stuff, but not if they have to work long hours to get it. I’m too bored to link to it, but you can easily find it.’

ROFL, as we used to say when I was a lad.


mjfgates 05.05.13 at 8:48 pm

I tried to make my twelve-year-old look up that survey for me, but kids these days are so lazy.


PatrickinIowa 05.05.13 at 10:02 pm

@23 Tell me about it. When I tell my students that when we were in college in the early seventies, we walked a mile each way, through snow and rain, to buy drugs, they look at me incredulously.


hix 05.05.13 at 10:53 pm

I cant calculate too, that is what calculators are for and my spelling is really bad. Curiously, i still learned to do derivatives, advanced geometry and spell bad in 3 languages, while my parents were lost with any calculation that involved a letter and learned to spell in one language.


floopmeister 05.06.13 at 12:44 am

“…above all one takes sides, takes sides on principle, against “youth.”— A decade later: one comprehends that all this, too—was youth!”

Beyond Good and Evil #31, Nietzsche


Harold 05.06.13 at 12:49 am

Every generation has to decide through trial and error what to discard and what to keep of the culture that has been passed down to them. Naturally, this will give rise to controversy and disagreement.


marcel 05.06.13 at 2:02 am

Slightly (but only slightly) off topic …

“… folk who yearn publicly for the good old days must always be approached with caution. They are not remembering what the world was really like back then; they are only remembering what it was like to be young. The time of one’s youth seems in retrospect to have been a golden age. It is almost impossible, after middle age has done its grisly work of destroying the child within, to remember how much suffering and fear must be endured in a typical youth.”

Russell Baker in August, 1996, on Bob Dole,270545


John Quiggin 05.06.13 at 6:41 am

PatrickinIowa FTW!


John Quiggin 05.06.13 at 6:44 am

@Merian I was thinking of a different rant, which I’m told by Socrates (a regular commenter at my blog) is aprocryphal. He says

[The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.]
Pretty sure this was from Aristophanes’ the Clouds, which was a caricature of Socrates. There is a much larger passage in one of Plato’s dialogues where there is a quote in the context of undiscplined youth reflecting poorly on the society itself.


GiT 05.06.13 at 7:50 am

Other than that bit of the Republic where the decline of Kallipolis is told as a story of good-for-nothing sons?


Neville Morley 05.06.13 at 10:48 am

@JQ #31: yes, I’m pretty sure this is from the Clouds, though not word-for-word, and not Socrates: it’s a rewritten version of the claim of the Superior Argument that in the good old days with traditional education the young did show respect, stand up for their elders etc. Socrates is presented as the enemy of this sort of thinking, and the whole point of the play is to present the socially destructive consequences of his sort of education, so it’s ironic that he ends up being credited with such sentiments.

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