Bashing Millennials seems to be the new national pastime. I see article after article about how they’re entitled, fragile, and above all, immature. Perhaps nowhere is this more noticeable than in the complaints against those who use “adult” as a verb:
I cooked a meal today – I’m adulting.
They actually expect me to adult for eight hours every day.
I’m adulting – I put on pants today.
It’s tempting to write off these complaints as killjoys who don’t get the joke, but the rants about how previous generations were holding down factory jobs, raising children, and fighting wars in their late teens and early 20s are meant to be serious indictments of people who won’t get with the program.
Part of this is the idea that the younger generation is always screwing things up, which has been going on at least since the ancient Greeks complained of “luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise.” And part is the sad fact that opportunities that were available to previous generations have disappeared. My father was a high school dropout, but at 21 he got a union job with a railroad and turned it into a nice middle class career that gave me and my brothers a good start on our own lives. Where would he work today, Walmart?
Please don’t make me adult today. Today I want to cat.
I’m probably the last person who should comment on Millennials. I’m a very late Baby Boomer who’s always felt like he belonged in Gen X. Beyond that, my mother said I was born 35 – I couldn’t wait to be an adult. There has never been a time when I’d trade the stresses of adulting for the restrictions and powerlessness of childhood.
With those disclaimers aside, I think there’s something at work here that’s worth giving some further thought. Criticizing Millennials for using adult as a verb isn’t a valid complaint, but the whole concept of adulting is an indictment of our mainstream society.
I’ve decided I don’t want to be an adult any more. If you need me, I’ll be in my blanket fort, coloring.
Millennials – and others – were told they could be anything they wanted. We told them to “follow your bliss.” Of course, we didn’t mean it. What we meant was “you can choose from any of the approved options that support our way of seeing the world.” We removed many (though far from all) of the blocks previous generations had based on gender, race, or orientation, but everyone was still expected to get a job, pay taxes, and contribute to the maintenance of the system, whether that system supported their bliss or not.
But the Millennials heard what we told them over and over again and assumed it was true. And then when it came time to be an adult, they didn’t like what they saw.
“So you want me to put on expensive, uncomfortable clothes, commute to a job, work all day five or six days a week for 50 weeks a year, all so we can ‘increase shareholder value.’ If I play this game really really well maybe in 20 years I’ll be an executive and make tons of money, but I’ll work even more hours. If I don’t, I’ll be kicked to the curb the first time ‘fixed expenses’ need to be cut so some executive can make his bonus target.
If this is being an adult, I want to be something else.”
They told me to dress for the job I wanted, not for the job I have. So now I’m sitting in HR in my Batman costume.
Of course, some bought into the game. They like playing the game, or they can’t imagine anything else. Some, though, are subversives – using jobs in the corporate world to fund their deeper pursuits.
Others are outright radicals, working to wipe all the pieces off the board and start a new game with different rules and different goals.
In his book The Earth, The Gods and The Soul, Druid and philosophy professor Brendan Myers discusses the return of pagan philosophy during the Renaissance after a millennium of Christian domination. Those who began the Pagan revival weren’t Pagans, but they dreamed about what it would be like to be a pagan. Myers said:
People got tired of the austerities of Christian discipline and the misanthropy of the Doctrine of Original Sin. They maintained the appearance of being committed Christians, of course … But they dramatized for themselves a world that never knew Original Sin, and so still existed in a state of original blessing. In that imagined world it was no sin to ‘dance, sing, feast, make music, and love’ … and despite the heroic efforts of puritanical counter-Renaissance activists like Savonarola, the box would never be shut again.
The Millennials – and Gen X’ers and a few Boomers – who don’t want to adult are imagining a world where education doesn’t require massive personal debt, where health care is a universal right, where making sure everyone has enough is more important than making sure a few have the ability to become obscenely rich. They’re imagining a world where providing for yourself and your family doesn’t cost your soul.
If you haven’t grown up by 50, you don’t have to.
If you think people who don’t want to adult are lazy, you haven’t been watching some of them pour hours and weeks and years into making and perfecting their arts. They’re not averse to work – they’re averse to meaningless work that makes the rich even richer. If you think they’re entitled you haven’t been watching them work to feed the homeless and to advocate for policies that would eliminate homelessness. If you think they’re fragile you haven’t been watching them pick themselves up over and over again after the system smacks them down for being unable or unwilling to get with the program.
Like the Renaissance-era proto-Pagans, they imagine a world that could be, even as though those in power insist such a world is both impossible and undesirable. Savonarola and Cotton Mather were wrong – so are today’s “free market” fundamentalists who support neither freedom nor markets.
The classic definition of magic is the science and art of creating change in conformance with will. Right now I see a lot of people who want a different set of rules for our common society. But I’m starting to see more and more with the will to create a different society.
The West in general and the United States in particular are in the early years of the Long Descent and neither a revolution nor a rewriting of the social contract can stop it. But there will still be more than adequate resources to support a decent life for everyone, if we have the will to demand it, and to create it.
Millennials and others who don’t want to adult aren’t being immature. They just don’t like the mainstream society’s definition of “adult.” And sooner or later, they’re going to change it.