Millennials are not the generation that’s in power. But if we continue to patiently wait for that moment, we’re going to be the ones cleaning up the mess.
’90s kids like me had the benefit of growing up during a time of economic wellbeing and a (mostly) stable international relations climate. Many of us were born at the end of the Cold War, when the last vestige of that conflict was torn down and broken into pieces – pieces that later up ended up, as in my case, on some of our college campuses. As we grew up, many things were not perfect, but those things seemed very far away.
The middle-class experience, for many of us enveloped in it, was rather fluffy. We learned to play computer by blazing the dangers of the Oregon Trail, and as we grew up in a post-John Hughes era felt that perhaps the worst thing that could ever happen to us would be social ostracization. We gleefully drank bright blue sugar water out of wax bottles and ate highly processed, tiny lunch “meats” to our hearts content, paying no mind to genetically modified this or high fructose corn syrup that.
This cozy, encapsulated reality – while certainly not applicable to every Millennial, I would wager would be to a wide swath of those in the middle class – was ripped wide open by the events of 9/11.
Not long after, the recession pretty well screwed us all over financially in ways that we are still recovering from – underemployment, slow wage growth, prolonged student loan debt, et cetera.
You’d think that, in the intervening years, with terrorism (both foreign and domestic) becoming a regularity, mass shootings becoming par for the course, and endless wars raging in the Middle East, that we’d have had the silt of sanctuary shaken from our eyelashes.
What I say next obviously does not refer to politically or socially active Millennials, or to those who grew up already well entrenched in difficult situations. But what I’ve found among many of my peers is that we as a generation in America still largely retain that sense of growing up in a bubble. That cozy, calm sense of “everything will be fine.”
Why else do we not turn out to vote? Why else, when another van drives through a crowd of Christmas shoppers, or a gunman storms another workplace, do we reflect in horror for a few minutes and then go about our day? Why is it that, in the information age, we do not seek out the news of the world beyond our doorsteps, but instead relish in binge-watching, memes, selfies, and all forms of escapism?
There is nothing wrong with seeking out entertainment and activities that bring us pleasure or a sense of calm. But there is something wrong when we do not also seek out the news of the world or participate in its challenges.
In the past couple of years of trying to meet someone in the new-fashioned way (what in a past column I referred to as “futile online dating”), I have to say that only one or two dates could hold a conversation about the war in Syria, tensions with North Korea, Russian aggression, and other major matters of international consequence, let alone domestic issues like affordable housing. And for those who could, they failed to see the potential ramifications these conflicts could bring to our own doorsteps.
Look, don’t have a cow. I’m sure you, Reader, Millennial or not, could be perfectly well informed on these topics. But don’t you know twice as many people who aren’t?
I have been rather loathe to reflect upon my generation in this way, because I think in many positive ways we’re spurring truly valuable social movements. But it seems to me, when it comes to the realities of the world at large, we still tuck our heads under the covers and choose to leave things to the adults. But, you guys: we ARE the adults.
It took what I found to be some really disturbing research to get me thinking about this, shall I say, Millennial Bubble. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an organization that is dedicated to seeking reparations for victims of the Holocaust, released the results of a survey that found that Americans’ memory and knowledge of the Holocaust was fading. This was the case among Millennials more so than any other age group.
While 11% of all U.S. adult respondents said that they were “unaware or not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust,” the number of Millennials who responded in the same way was double that.
Of U.S. adults, 31% believed two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust, when the figure is actually six million. Of Millennials, 41% said the same. Nearly half of Millennials could not name one concentration camp or ghetto, of which there were 40,000 in World War II. And 66% of Millennials could not identify what Auschwitz was.
It seems the disconnect might be because, of all U.S. adults, 80% have not visited a Holocaust museum and 66% do not know of, or know, a Holocaust survivor.
Is the problem education? Memory? Time?
Why should we then be surprised that incidents of anti-Semitism on college campuses are on the rise, Nazis have successfully marched through American streets, racist incidents seem frustratingly un-quashable, and all anyone will do about the mass murder of Syrian civilians is lob the occasional bomb on some chemical weapons?
When we lose our memories, we stop caring about the things that had made those memories stick. As Millennials, we of course do not have direct memories of the Holocaust, or of the other conflicts past whose root issues are now resurfacing today – the Korean War, the Cold War, etc. But should we leave it to the people who do have those memories to take care of things? Or should we burst the bubble long enough to take note of the challenges facing our society and start doing something truly substantial about them?
Not to repeat myself, as I’ve said this in this column before, but . . . to repeat myself: go vote. Run for something. And this time, before you do any of those things, I’d ask you: if you haven’t yet, please, open your eyes to the world. Read.
THEN you can binge-watch.