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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reading List: Millennial Makeover

Winograd, Morley and Michael D. Hais. Millennial Makeover. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8135-4301-7.
This is a disturbing book on a number of different levels. People, especially residents of the United States or subject to its jurisdiction, who cherish individual liberty and economic freedom should obtain a copy of this work (ideally, by buying a used copy to avoid putting money in the authors' pockets), put a clothespin on their noses, and read the whole thing (it only takes a day or so), being warned in advance that it may induce feelings of nausea and make you want to take three or four showers when you're done.

The premise of the book is taken from Strauss and Howe's Generations, which argues that American history is characterised by a repeating pattern of four kinds of generations, alternating between “idealistic” and “civic” periods on a roughly forty year cycle (two generations in each period). These periods have nothing to do with the notions of “right” and “left”—American history provides examples of periods of both types identified with each political tendency.

The authors argue that the United States are approaching the end of an idealistic period with a rightward tendency which began in 1968 with the election of Richard Nixon, which supplanted the civic leftward period which began with the New Deal and ended in the excesses of the 1960s. They argue that the transition between idealistic and civic periods is signalled by a “realigning election”, in which the coalitions supporting political parties are remade, defining a new alignment and majority party which will dominate government for the next four decades or so.

These realignment elections usually mark the entrance of a new generation into the political arena (initially as voters and activists, only later as political figures), and the nature of the coming era can be limned, the authors argue, by examining the formative experiences of the rising generation and the beliefs they take into adulthood. Believing that a grand realignment is imminent, if not already underway, and that its nature will be determined by what they call the “Millennial Generation” (the cohort born between 1982 through 2003: a group larger in numbers than the Baby Boom generation), the authors examine the characteristics and beliefs of this generation, the eldest members of which are now entering the electorate, to divine the nature of the post-realignment political landscape. If they are correct in their conclusions, it is a prospect to induce fear, if not despair, in lovers of liberty. Here are some quotes.

The inevitable loss in privacy and freedom that has been a constant characteristic of the nation's reaction to any crisis that threatens America's future will more easily be accepted by a generation that willingly opts to share personal information with advertisers just for the sake of earning a few “freebies.” After 9/11 and the massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech, Millennials are not likely to object to increased surveillance and other intrusions into their private lives if it means increased levels of personal safety. The shape of America's political landscape after a civic realignment is thus more likely to favor policies that involve collective action and individual accountability than the libertarian approaches so much favored by Gen-Xers. (p. 200)
Note that the authors applaud these developments. Digital Imprimatur, here we come!
As the newest civic realignment evolves, the center of America's public policy will continue to shift away from an emphasis on individual rights and public morality toward a search for solutions that benefit the entire community in as equitable and orderly way as possible. Majorities will coalesce around ideas that involve the entire group in the solution and downplay the right of individuals to opt out of the process. (p. 250)
Millennials favor environmental protection even at the cost of economic growth by a somewhat wider margin than any other generation (43% for Millennials vs. 40% for Gen-Xers and 38% for Baby Boomers), hardly surprising, given the emphasis this issue received in their favorite childhood television programs such as “Barney” and “Sesame Street” (Frank N. Magid Associates, May 2007). (p. 263)
Deep thinkers, those millennials! (Note that these “somewhat wider” margins are within the statistical sampling error of the cited survey [p. xiv].)

The whole scheme of alternating idealist and civic epochs is presented with a historicist inevitability worthy of Hegel or Marx. While one can argue that this kind of cycle is like the oscillation between crunchy and soggy, it seems to me that the authors must be exceptionally stupid, oblivious to facts before their faces, or guilty of a breathtaking degree of intellectual dishonesty to ignore the influence of the relentless indoctrination of this generation with collectivist dogma in government schools and the legacy entertainment and news media—and I do not believe the authors are either idiots nor imperceptive. What they are, however, are long-term activists (since the 1970s) in the Democratic party, who welcome the emergence of a “civic” generation which they view as the raw material for advancing the agenda which FDR launched with the aid of the previous large civic generation in the 1930s.

Think about it. A generation which has been inculcated with the kind of beliefs illustrated by the quotations above, and which is largely ignorant of history (and much of the history they've been taught is bogus, agenda-driven propaganda), whose communications are mostly “peer-to-peer”—with other identically-indoctrinated members of the same generation, is the ideal putty in the hands of a charismatic leader bent on “unifying” a nation by using the coercive power of the state to enforce the “one best way”.

The authors make an attempt to present the millenials as a pool of potential voters in search of a political philosophy and party embodying it which, once chosen, they will likely continue to identify with for the rest of their lives (party allegiance, they claim, is much stronger in civic than in idealist eras). But it's clear that the book is, in fact, a pitch to the Democratic party to recruit these people: Republican politicians and conservative causes are treated with thinly veiled contempt.

This is entirely a book about political strategy aimed at electoral success. There is no discussion whatsoever of the specific policies upon which campaigns will be based, how they are to be implemented, or what their consequences will be for the nation. The authors almost seem to welcome catastrophes such as a “major terrorist attack … major environmental disaster … chronic, long-lasting war … hyperinflation … attack on the U.S. with nuclear weapons … major health catastrophe … major economic collapse … world war … and/or a long struggle like the Cold War” as being “events of significant magnitude to trigger a civic realignment” (p. 201).

I've written before about my decision to get out of the United States in the early 1990s, which decision I have never regretted. That move was based largely upon economic fundamentals, which I believed, and continue to believe, are not sustainable and will end badly. Over the last decade, I have been increasingly unsettled by my interactions with members of the tail-end of Generation X and the next generation, whatever you call it. If the picture presented in this book is correct (and I have no way to know whether it is), and their impact upon the U.S. political scene is anything like that envisioned by the authors, anybody still in the U.S. who values their liberty and autonomy has an even more urgent reason to get out, and quickly.

Posted at May 6, 2008 23:17