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May 14 2013

Damn Kids These Days. Again.

Time magazine has a cover story this week about the millenials (or “generation y” that followed “generation x,” which is me) and how lazy and selfish they are. Which might be vaguely interesting if this hadn’t been said of every generation since the beginning of time about their children. Elspeth Reeve shows articles going back more than a hundred years saying the same exact thing.

Here’s a 1907 article in The Atlantic, saying:

“The rock upon which most of the flower-bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self.”

In 1976, Tom Wolfe declared that the “me decade” was upon us. The very magazine that published this story said the same thing in 1990 about their parents:

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”

This is a variation of the Paradise Lost myth. As we get older, we look back on our youth as some sort of gilded age and are sure that everything is falling apart today. As I like to say, even the nostalgia was better in the old days. But you know the real source of this myth? Getting older. What we are remembering is not how much objectively better things were before, but the fact that we were younger. We were healthy and strong and full of hope, and we yearn for those days and romanticize them.

Now get off my lawn.

55 comments

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  1. 1
    nkrishna

    Why is preferring to hike the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder a bad thing?

  2. 2
    voidhawk

    To be fair it’s all been going downhill since the 4th century BCE “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.” – Socrates

  3. 3
    bcmystery

    I know I long for the days of my youth … that’s when I had health insurance.

  4. 4
    Pyra

    I remember my mom said something similar about reading stuff that said the same of her generation as they said of my Gen X. Guess nothing really ever changes.

  5. 5
    chriscampbell

    “The counters of the music stores are loaded with this virulent poison which in the form of a malarious epidemic, is finding its way into the homes and brains of the youth to such an extent as to arouse one’s suspicions of their sanity.” – This is a quote from “The Etude” Magazine in 1900 describing – ragtime music. That’s right, “The Entertainer.”

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    @voidhawk #2 – As famous as that quote is, it is barely a century old:

    It was crafted by a student, Kenneth John Freeman, for his Cambridge dissertation published in 1907. Freeman did not claim that the passage under analysis was a direct quotation of anyone; instead, he was presenting his own summary of the complaints directed against young people in ancient times. The words he used were later slightly altered to yield the modern version. In fact, more than one section of his thesis has been excerpted and then attributed classical luminaries. Here is the original text [CAMB]:

    The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise.

    Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannised over the paidagogoi and schoolmasters.

    Quote Investigator

  7. 7
    pocketnerd

    I can see why the Baby Boomers are desperate to shift the blame to Those Dang Young’uns.™ Their parents climbed their way out of the Great Depression, built massive amounts of vital civic infrastructure, beat the Nazis, and then, just to show off, they went to the Moon. And the Boomers… gave themselves massive tax cuts, let the infrastructure fall apart, and picked a series of embarrassing fights with tiny countries.

    I’m Generation X as well, and I do not think history will judge my parents’ generation kindly.

  8. 8
    doublereed

    As a Millenial, I see the opposite. I see Generation X being a bunch of lazy, defeatist jerks who allowed the country to become hopelessly corrupt without doing anything about it. Whenever I’ve talked to the generation between my parents and I, I hear the same “Oh you can’t change the system, oh there’s nothing you can do, oh the best you can do is look out for yourself” which drives me frickin’ nuts.

    I see that they didn’t bother to do jack about Gay Rights when they had just as much ability as the Millenials. The Baby Boomers did stuff, like Feminism and Civil Rights. What the bloody hell did Gen X do? They just did the corporations bidding like a bunch of sheep.

    The Millenials, on the other hand, are the ones bringing issues to the forefront. We’re the ones that are energized by Social Media. We actually care that student loans are getting extremely large, and we actually demand workers’ rights. We’re more atheist, and we all know atheists are a bunch of angry activists. We travel. We actually want to learn about the world, rather than just accept it. Gay rights is just the beginning.

  9. 9
    Abby Normal

    The Socrates quote is probably apocryphal. But I believe these ancient quotes are on firmer ground. If not, I look forward to being corrected.

    “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” -Hesiod, 8th century BC

    “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” -Plato, 4th century BC

  10. 10
    richardelguru

    But it’s all true, we are all less than our ancestors!
    Indeed the Cambrian Explosion shows just how hard working and noble we used to be, andjust how far we have fallen.

  11. 11
    richardelguru

    “andjust”
     
    See I can’t even type!!!!

  12. 12
    Alverant

    @doublereed
    I think you have GenX wrong. We’re the ones who laid the ground work for your generation. Without us the internet, and thus your social media, would not have developed. Also the resistance to equal rights was stronger during our generation because there were more people resisting – they haven’t died off yet. We’re the generation that helped with great scientific advances like the Human Genome Project. I’m not saying we’re perfect or even great, just that we do deserve some credit. How successful would the movements of today had been if we didn’t get the ball rolling and you didn’t have your tech toys?

  13. 13
    matty1

    Isn’t there a complaint about how terrible young people are on one of the oldest cuneiform tablets?

  14. 14
    Dale

    “Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead 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 their food, and tyrannize their teachers.”
    – Socrates 450 BCE

  15. 15
    blf

    This is another problem with year numbers increasing: It takes more and more effort to recall what it was like in, say, 2011 CE, than it was in, say, 6 CE. (And you had slaves back then to do the remembering and work and stuff for you, albeit that is perhaps coincidental.)

    Therefore the calendar should be going backwards. Next year is 2012 ME (Modern Era), then 2011 ME, and so on. It’ll be easier to remember things. Each successive year will be better than this or last year.

  16. 16
    composer99

    Since my childhood was the 80s I definitely have no rose-tinted glasses about it (apart from my childhood specifically, which IMO was pretty awesome).

    I will give the 80s props for the kids TV shows. Although, to be fair, that could just be rose-tint nostalgia going down memory lane, too.

  17. 17
    D. C. Sessions

    What we are remembering is not how much objectively better things were before, but the fact that we were younger.

    Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.

    Reminds me of the account of the aged French courtesan who was asked out of all the history she’d seen which period was the best. Se replied, “The Second Republic.” Shocked, the interviewer recounts all of the myriad problems with the Second Republic, not least being its short duration. Why in the world would she prefer it? “Because I was eighteen then!” she replied.

    Personally, those weren’t great times. All in all, 50-something was a blast and sixty-something is shaping up very nicely too.

  18. 18
    Modusoperandi

    richardelguru “Indeed the Cambrian Explosion shows just how hard working and noble we used to be, andjust how far we have fallen.”
    Pah! The Cambrians just mooched off the hard work of the Ediacarans.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    Damn Kids These Days, always picking apart the predigested pap the media work so hard to feed them year after year. In MY day, we had to walk through three feet of snow to go to our grandparents’ house to hear how selfish we were, and we liked it that way! Now the little brats want their elders’ curmudgeonly grousing and whining to have originality and shiny new special effects…I thought the little punks were all for recycling, what happened to that?

    Where was I? Where am I? What are you looking at? Get off my lawn!

    -Aging Bee

  20. 20
    dogmeat

    Most of the articles about this study that I’ve seen go into a little more depth than this and tend to blame the Baby Boomers and/or GenX for the lack of drive in the Millenials. Also, Time mentions in the intro to their piece the “blame the younger generation” refrain sung by every generation.

    I can say, as an educator seeing group of kids after group of kids, that the current crop do seem to consider themselves rather entitled, marginally more than kids from just a few years before. They seem to be rather insulted when you suggest they have to earn things, study, work, go to school, pay for things, etc. They want the stuff, but nine out of ten of them don’t want to work for it.

    A few of us have started referring to it as “Waiting for Captain Pike.” The idea is that these kids seem to think that they are so brilliant, so incredibly important, that they will be handed great things (like Kirk in the Star Trek reboot) once society comes to the realization that they are so utterly awesome who could help but notice it and hand them (power, money, prestige, etc.)?

    For those who haven’t seen the ’09 movie, the Millenial Kirk is a screw up, a bar brawling smart ass who is recruited by Captain Pike to come to the academy because of (Stuff? His father? Vague awesomeness?). Fast forward three years later (don’t want that pesky working getting in the way of a good story), Kirk rigs the Kobayashi Maru scenario and is facing expulsion when he saves the day and gets command of the Enterprise, promoted over hundreds(?) of actually qualified officers due to his sheer awesomeness. I grew up with reruns, books, and movies of Kirk being problematic, a risk taker, someone constantly on the edge, but also references to his drive and dedication, hard work, studying, and learning. The old series talked about him as a young officer, making tough choices, working harder than others, etc., the new reboot? Jump past all of that, ignore the life experience and learning that leaves one qualified to command, his sheer awesomeness will make him a great captain.

    I do think that this is a rather significant difference from the heroes of the past. There are dozens of other examples in recent movies and literature of screw-ups and slackers suddenly becoming the hero with massive powers, wisdom, and wit.

    —————
    doublereed,

    You might want to look and see who those who are doing the protests in favor of civil rights for same sex couples actually are, Gen X’ers are much closer to the Millenials in their support for same sex marriage than your argument suggests. Also, when I talk to Millenials, I hear the same “Oh, you can’t change the system…” etc. that you hear with my generation. Anecdotal evidence, at best. Add to that, most of those who are writing the laws supporting same sex marriage rights are Gen X’ers.

  21. 21
    becca

    “The rock upon which most of the flower-bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self.”

    well, if you read Stephanie Coontz’ book “Marriage: a history”, they have a not-unreasonable point. The question, of course, is whether individualism is a *bad* thing or not.

  22. 22
    D. C. Sessions

    OK, people. Might as well get Joe Bethancourt to weigh in:

  23. 23
    doublereed

    @Alverant

    Inventions and Technologies are done by every generation. You generally don’t talk about that except in the reverse direction: how the inventions and technologies affect the generation. Like how the Millenials have been energized by the Social Media trend and how the next generation have the Internet right when they are born.

    Gay rights could have come directly after Feminism and Civil rights. But no, we had to putter around for thirty years. Then the Millenials came along, and we’re going to do it in less than a decade. We weren’t successful because people were dying off. We were successful because we changed minds.

    Remember, the wage gap, workers’ rights, and even environmentalism was doing well from 1950-1980. That’s the most prosperous time in American History and the strongest middle class in the world. That’s the Boomers. Then Reagan came in and Gen X got the reins and they just allowed the country to go to crap. Now the millenials have to clean it up.

  24. 24
    Larry

    All right, generational flame wars! Game on!

  25. 25
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    @9:

    Those quotes showed up at another blog last week and I went looking for their sources without any success. Wikiquote calls the Hesiod quote “misattributed.” The only attribution I’ve seen for the Plato quote is to Book 4 of the Republic, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t actually appear there.

  26. 26
    doublereed

    @dogmeat

    I’m not saying that Gen X isn’t supportive of gay rights. I’m saying they’re lazy. The Millenials are the ones actually driving this massive upheaval.

  27. 27
    whheydt

    Re: Matty1 @ 13:

    “Surely the end of the world is at hand. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone wants to write a book.”

    It’s almost certainly apocryphal, but it’s a still a fun line.

    As for Gen-Y making Gay Rights and Same Sex Marriage the issues of the day… I say, from my relatively advanced age (64): Go for it!

  28. 28
    D. C. Sessions

    And in other news, the topic has actually be covered by actual research on the priorities of people across several generations. Bottom line: looking out for their children has always headed the list, followed by a more generic “family,” and with most everything else competing for crumbs.

  29. 29
    Modusoperandi

    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne “The only attribution I’ve seen for the Plato quote is to Book 4 of the Republic…”
    The 4th book? The one with the Goblet of Fire?

  30. 30
    scienceavenger

    I’ve always felt a little left out of the generation wars, straddling the Boomers and X’ers as I do. I’ve found the Boomers to be more productive, the Xers to be more fun.

    I would note however that while the “sky is falling due to these lazy kids” meme has been debunked en masse, the other half of the old-man speech about “kids these days” has been true for at least a few hundred years: the latest generation has it easier than those preceding it. We all benefit from the progress made before us as our culture advances, socially and technologically. Environmentally there are a few black marks, but on balance, this is the greatest time to be alive ever, and this coming from a white man. For women and minorities, its a slam dunk (hat tip to Louis CK).

    So look forward people, not backwards. Stay off the classic radio, stop watching reruns of 70′s and 80′s shows, and embrace the present and future. Once you dispense with the cultural biases, its pretty damned great.

  31. 31
    Raging Bee

    I can say, as an educator seeing group of kids after group of kids, that the current crop do seem to consider themselves rather entitled, marginally more than kids from just a few years before…

    Um…did it ever occur to anyone here that such attitudes may have been cultivated by the very same mass-media outlets that publish complaints about such attitudes? The only people who ever told me I was “entitled” to anything (other than my basic legal rights) were advertizers trying to sell me stuff by making me think I was “entitled” to…something.

    The media profit by manipulating our least mature consumers into making bad decisions based on made-up “entitlement” (among other even more odious things, like fear and tribalism); then they hire phony “experts” and propagandists to complain about how spoiled the kids are. And very few people seem willing to see the connection. Or maybe those who do see the connection just don’t get any air-time. Wonder why that is…?

  32. 32
    dingojack

    Four Yorkshiremen.
    Getoffamylawn, yadarnkids!
    Dingo

  33. 34
    D. C. Sessions

    Environmentally there are a few black marks, but on balance, this is the greatest time to be alive ever

    And aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    It may be a good time to be an employed 30-something, but my kids graduated into this economy and it’s going to leave a mark across the rest of their lives. Which is a pimple on the mess that they’re going to have to deal with when I’m pretty much out of the game. Between peak oil and what it will do to the US economy and the climate change consequences of our multigenerational fossil-fuel binge, it’s going to be damned ugly by the time they’re my age and for the rest of their lives.

    So enjoy it while it lasts, but you have my permission to curse me and my cohort for the world we’re leaving you.

  34. 35
    dogmeat

    Then Reagan came in and Gen X got the reins and they just allowed the country to go to crap. Now the millenials have to clean it up.

    What gives you the idea that Gen X got the reins in the Reagan years? Heck, Gen X generally is considered to have started in ’65, that means the first Gen X’ers would be eligible to run for the House of Reps in 1990, Senate in 1995, and President in 2000. The very first Gen X presidential election wouldn’t be until 1984, even through most of the 90s, Gen X fell into that low participation 18-25 voting group, so their “control” of things was rather limited. Today, Gen X has a lot more influence and they very much participate (for good and for bad).

  35. 36
    Alverant

    doublereed it’s because of the GenXers gays were even being seen as human. We’re the ones who worked on removing the stigma from being homosexual. We also worked to de-power christian privilige. We carried on the fight so you can enjoy the results. Yet you call us lazy without saying how we could have done differently. We didn’t have social media to spread the message, but we kept the message alive and chipped away at the status quo where we could.

  36. 37
    slc1

    Re D. C. Sessions @ $34

    It appears that talk of peak oil may have been premature. The large increase in the price of crude oil has led to a concomitant increase in the supply. North Dakota for one is now enjoying a boom in oil drilling. This is in addition to the large quantities of natural gas reserves, both conventional and fracking related now coming on board.

    http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/14/news/world/oil-iea-demand/

  37. 38
    doublereed

    @Alverant

    Depower Christian Privelege? Show me where you have done that. Because I don’t see that. I see a resurgence of Christian power. Some of it you can argue is more reactionary against the millenials, but I’d say a good chunk of it is generational.

    Do it differently? So instead of calling Gen X lazy would you prefer I call Gen X incompetent? Social movements get results. What results have you gotten? Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

    And it’s not just Religion and Civil rights. It’s also corruption. Buckley vs Valeo was 1976 where we determined Money = Speech. Nothing has been done about this. Nothing has been done about Corporate Personhood. You’ve had lots of time, and have done nothing.

  38. 39
    doublereed

    Sorry, I should not be using “you” as I’m talking about a whole demographic. I’m not talking about you specifically and not accusing *you* of anything. Please don’t take personal offense.

  39. 40
    carlie

    I do think that this is a rather significant difference from the heroes of the past. There are dozens of other examples in recent movies and literature of screw-ups and slackers suddenly becoming the hero with massive powers, wisdom, and wit.

    Yeah, Arthur did a hell of a lot of work to get to be King of the Britons, I tell ya.

  40. 41
    Alverant

    @doublereed
    How about the lawsuits against graduation prayers? How about the revelation that the RCC was abusing children? How about the end of teaching students that the native Americans living here were “savages” and the start of teaching students about the horrors inflicted on them without the divine American Exceptionalism slant? In GenX those things started happening and being taken seriously.

  41. 42
    Alverant

    Also without “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” there wouldn’t be homosexuals allowed to be in the military today. We might not have crossed the finish line but we did take some of the steps in between the start and finish.

  42. 43
    Pierce R. Butler

    Zack Kopplin! Damon Fowler! Jessica Ahlquist! Gage Pulliam!

    Yay, kidz!!!!1!!

  43. 44
    doublereed

    @Alverant

    I don’t really understand what the RCC scandal has to do with anything. Are you just saying that Gen X is disillusioned with the Catholic Church?

    I’m sorry, I don’t consider Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a victory. I consider it an awful compromise (that us Millenials had to fix two decades later). I consider it just another example of people saying that something is “good enough.”

    No, it’s never good enough. And Millenials understand that. Millenials are more “entitled” which means we demand a lot more. And we should demand a lot more, or else more won’t get done.

  44. 45
    Draken

    I think all generations all equally fucked. Bah, the whole of mankind is fucked.
    I, myself, am not part of any generation. I refuse to be born anytime.

    Now get off my planet.

  45. 46
    reddiaperbaby1942

    I’m sure that back toward the end of the Neolithic period old men were complaining over their:beer: These darn kids nowadays! No-one wants to take the trouble to learn how to make a proper stone adze, they just want to fool around with this silly stuff they call bronze. And they have no respect for their elders. The world’s going to hell!
    That said, I’m a retired university teacher (now 71). Every September I had to remind myself that the kids might not have a lot of information about history, literature, classical mythology etc, but they sure know a lot of stuff I didn’t when I was their age (and still don’t). The only important thing is an inquiring mind open to new ideas.
    By the way: in case the beer is historically wrong: they grew barley in the Neolithic, and they knew how to make wine in the Bronze Age (in Greece at least), so I’m extrapolating backward. Does anyone here know?

  46. 47
    frog

    doublereed, how old do you think Gen X is? None of them are fifty years old yet. The very oldest ones were still in high school during the Reagan years.

    Wow, I wish we’d had the power to make everything shitty in the 80s and 90s! Unfortunately, we were mostly just trying to get through school and the early stages of our careers.

    Gen X has been slowly gaining power as we get into our prime and the boomers look to retire. It’s been hard, because we’re a trough in the birth rate, which means the boomers have outnumbered us the whole time. That’s starting to change.

  47. 48
    Abby Normal

    If millenials smell fouler it’s only because they shit on the shoulders of giants.

  48. 49
    imthegenieicandoanything

    If I ever needed to know what stupid, lazy people do instead of thinking, I would give a shit what Time magazine said. This is never necessary.

  49. 50
    D. C. Sessions

    By the way: in case the beer is historically wrong: they grew barley in the Neolithic

    And can you think of another reason why you would spend months tied to a single stupid piece of land growint BARLEY other than to make beer?

    And yes (per Wiki) beer dates back at least to the early neolithic.

  50. 51
    doublereed

    I wasn’t pinning Reagan on Gen X. I meant it the opposite way.

    The Millenials were shaped by GWB and War in Iraq, if anything. And then we were massively inspired by Obama (regardless of his actual policy).

  51. 52
    dingojack

    Nat Geo has a cover showing a baby with the caption “this baby will live to 120″, my first thought was ‘You poor, poor bastard! (Give my regards to the 22nd century, and sorry we all totally fucked the planet for you)’.
    :( Dingo

  52. 53
    dogmeat

    doublereed,

    I’m not sure where you’re getting any of your “ideas.”

    I’m sorry, I don’t consider Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a victory. I consider it an awful compromise (that us Millenials had to fix two decades later). I consider it just another example of people saying that something is “good enough.”

    How many members of the Millenial generation are in congress and passed the legislation to overturn DADT? Ten? How many GenX & Babyboomers were in congress and passed that change prior to a Baby Boomer signing it into law? Do the math, at this point I see a Millenial taking credit for something someone else did.

    Buckley vs Valeo was 1976 where we determined Money = Speech. Nothing has been done about this. Nothing has been done about Corporate Personhood. You’ve had lots of time, and have done nothing.

    Actually McCain-Feingold was an attempt to address this, 2002; it passed through congress and worked for a while. Citizens United reversed that. The Affordable Care Act was an attempt to address an issue we’ve been looking at as a country for over 60 years, it isn’t a particularly good piece of legislation, but it’s something. What are your Millenials doing to deal with either issue? Oh, yeah, they’re bitching and pointing fingers. The state legislatures actually passing equality laws are dominated by Babyboomers and GenX, but it’s the Millenials “getting things done.” You honestly don’t seem to understand how our political system works. The people in office now are primarily BabyBoomers and GenX, not Millenials. The changes you’re seeing are a combined effort of all three generations, with some support from members of earlier generations and most of the opposition coming from BabyBoomers and earlier.

    Also, just in case you weren’t aware, the oldest GenX was 11 when the Buckley ruling was rendered. They were 19 when Reagan was reelected. If you want to blame us for these events, and failing to “solve” them, then I blame you for Iraq…

    “What the fuck Millenials? You go ahead and launch a war of choice and spend a trillion dollars we don’t have? Thanks a lot!

    I blame you for taking the economy in ’07-08…

    What the fuck Millenials? My wife and I had good paying jobs, multiple properties, and a healthy portfolio, your poor economic policies wiped all of that away!!!

    I blame you for the Republican party going insane…

    What the fuck Millenials!!!

  53. 54
    dogmeat

    I blame you for taking the economy in ’07-08…

    Make that TANKING the economy…

  54. 55
    valhar2000

    Ed is, of course, absolutely right.

    This is what really scares me about old age: back pain and arthritis I can deal with, but I absolutely dread the notion that, someday, I will think like an old person.

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