Note: My apologies for the length of this column. When torn between a desire for both brevity and thoroughness, I felt compelled to sacrifice the former in order to achieve the latter on a topic which is more personal than other subjects.
Folks familiar with World War I know there was the “Lost” Generation afterwards.
In my humble opinion, we have a new Lost Generation today, though it is much harder to define and more difficult to identify.
The original Lost Generation returned home from the worst conflict in human history up until that time. For the American boys, they went from the terrors of the trench warfare to a decade of financial prosperity, the Roaring Twenties.
Yet behind all that wealth and luxury and opulence there was unspoken misery and unhappiness, because no amount of money could conceal the anxiety left over from a war that had shattered all confidence and hope they had for mankind. Though young and in their twenties, they were already world-weary and cynical beyond their years.
This was reflected in the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and other writers of the period. Art deco conveyed the restlessness.
They were known as the Lost Generation – lost, because they did not know where they were going and no one understood their plight.
What is the New “Lost” Generation?
Generally speaking, a member of the New Lost Generation fits the following characteristics, though not necessarily all of them.
They’re millennials. They graduated college after the 2008 economic crash, likely with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. They cannot obtain a financially viable job with any future. Either they live in a micro apartment, Section 8 housing, an overcrowded house, or with their parents. They’re not married and, for many of them, have no intention of doing so anytime soon, if ever.
But if I were to define them succinctly, I would say that the New Lost Generation is one which has the expectations of the 1980s placed on them but without the opportunities to meet them. As a member of the New Lost Generation, I have seen the effects of these expectations firsthand.
Believe me when I tell you that the biggest problem is not the lack of opportunities, but the expectations. It is easy to endure poverty when there is no expectation for you to be rich. I’ve met Africans who’ve survived appalling atrocities yet emanate joy despite having lost everything. Their families do not look down on them for not owning a boring McMansion or brand new furniture purchased on their max-out credit card.
The 1984 Generation
Consider the story of the typical man or woman growing up in the 1980s – the 1984 Generation. They graduated from college during a time of growing economic opportunity. All you had to do was get a college degree and you had it made. You didn’t even have to pick the right degree to match the job; just have one. College costs were high, but you could easily work to pay off tuition. Besides, once you graduated, you easily found a career job capable of supporting yourself and your family. It was also at college you found your spouse. You got married soon after graduation. A year or two in an apartment or some other place, and then you bought a house.
All of this occurred rapidly or simultaneously.
This led to expectations. It’s only natural. These people grew up and sent their millennial kids off to college, telling them the most important thing in the world was to get a college degree. Didn’t matter what. The tuition is $40,000 a year? It’s okay, take out a loan, you’ll get a good job once you graduate and can pay it off. Besides, you’ll meet the love of your life at that school and love outweighs money. And you’ll get a solid education.
So the kids went to school, only to discover an existential nightmare. None of them knew why they were there or what they were doing, only that it was expected of them to be there. I know, because I asked a lot of kids when I was a college student why they were there. They had no clue. No amount of alcohol in the world can get rid that kind of anxiety. They dropped out in droves when they couldn’t handle the stress.
Waking up from the American Dream
Those that eventually graduated, like myself, came out of college after the 2008 stock market crash to confront a reality that did not match in any way the world we had been told we would live in. Our degrees were about as useful as the paper they were written on. Our education had been more or less a hodgepodge of indoctrination and social engineering. The “dumb” kid in high school who went to trade school and learned to weld, on the other hand, went on to make a fortune in North Dakota.
There were no jobs, and those that were available, the “entry-level” positions, listed five years experience required. New professional connection sites like Linkedin.com reflected the new motto: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Those who did know, the more social or personable, got jobs.
The rest, particularly the introverted or timorous, got the “Dear John” letter of the 21st Century, the standard “Thank you for applying but unfortunately we have moved forward with another candidate.” That is, if the company even bothered to tell them, which conveyed another upheaval; the college graduate was no longer the customer to be wooed, but a means to an end, to be tossed aside when their perceived use was done. The concept of a career with a single company died with all concepts of loyalty.
The sight of a college graduate bagging groceries or serving coffee became common.
To the 1984 Generation, a college graduate without a career job was a sign of personal failure. Except they knew deep down the graduate had worked hard to get good grades and was no lazy kid. The contradiction between facts left them vexed, or embarrassed.
Because they couldn’t afford homes, the New Lost Generation moved into rental houses or apartments, packed like rats. Or, they chose to live with their parents, which led to another problem. The 1984 Generation didn’t raise their children to become adults. In order to “feel young,” they felt the need to treat their adult children like they were still in high school. After all, they were still living at home so they must be immature. For people who conflate emotional maturity with financial independence, this logic made sense. Except it didn’t.
Either the adult child complied, because they were in fact immature, or they resisted, which created an environment of continuous low-level conflict.
Then there was marriage, or the lack thereof. The 1984 Generation had no appreciation for the mishmash of social nonsense they had paid a college to teach their child. The women were taught it was an evil patriarchal institution designed to keep them out of the workforce and was to be avoided at all costs. “Keep it casual” and “friends with benefits” entered the lexicon for dating.
Yet, these girls, imbued with a “have it all” mentality, continued to take their romantic cues from bridal magazines and unrealistic chick flicks, culminating in a loosely defined relationship format which was expected to have all the beauty of a Victorian Age courtship but with the sexual restraint of a Roman bacchanal. It’s hard to dream of the “perfect” wedding while denouncing the institution it purports to celebrate.
For men, this meant they got all the benefits of marriage without the commitment. Getting a cup of coffee was replaced with a hookup or one night stand. Why buy when you can rent? Those who refused to take advantage of this on moral or religious grounds were mocked by all parties, albeit they quietly wondered if they were onto something.
The obvious flaws in this social strategy were displayed when men and women spent the best years of their lives trying to figure each other and undo all the brainwashing they had undergone.
When the unintended consequences of denouncing an institution that provides stability for men, women, and children exploded in society’s face, shaming tactics were employed in order to push the gents to the altar to take responsibility for problems created by lesser men (Be a man! Man up!) The parents, eager to see their kids married, helped in the nagging, never wondering if they themselves discouraged marriage in how they treated one another, particularly during the divorce when the kid was five.
Why the Members of the New “Lost” Generation are Hard to Identify
The problem with the New “Lost” Generation label is lack of consistency among millennials. One young man might fit the description entirely, while his brother or sister manage to meet all the expectations of the 1984 Generation. Or, one friend is “Lost”, while the other remains in “1984.”
This can be a death sentence for personal relationships, as it is hard for them to relate in any recognizable fashion. Those who aren’t lost are incapable of empathizing with those who are.
We are in a sense a “lost” generation because no one knows what to make of us. We do not meet expectations and no one has any solutions to solve it, besides blaming the symptoms rather than the root cause. Naturally, there is absolutely no self-introspection, no contemplation as to whether or not the generations that preceded us are in any way culpable for the circumstances with which we have to contend.
Observe there is no article written by a member of the 1984 Generation that asks the question “are we at fault for this?”
Why is this Generation Lost?
In a way, we are an enormous experiment gone awry. We are the product of flawed political theories and ideologies. We are the result of the State meddling in social institutions like romantic relationships and marriage, in academia and education, in the housing market and the job market. Institutions that by themselves naturally create order. The State has introduced nothing to them but chaos.
Our failure to meet expectations tacitly discredits the belief that the State should run things. This is why society is eager to pin the blame on us, which is like a painter yelling at his painting for not looking the way he had envisioned in his mind.
Like the first Lost Generation, we are indeed world-weary and cynical, if by cynical you mean, as Bernard Shaw noted, we have a correct and accurate perception of reality.
The intelligent and observant have realized how much of a racket the 1984 world has become. We look into the eyes of the generation that raised us and see no joy or happiness in their own lives. We see men who have worked hard and loyally for a company for years and have it amount to nothing when he gets laid off. We’ve seen the destruction of marriage through the enforcement of inane ideas that contradict the natural state of things.
When people walking in front of you blow up, it’s wise to assume there’s a minefield ahead and take another path.
Much like a veteran who returns from a war to discover everything he fought for was a lie, we have returned from the academic battlefield only to find ourselves thoroughly deceived by those who sent us there. The opportunities for everything we’re expected to achieve – marriage, jobs, financial success – are not there or much more arduous to obtain.
Yet those who deceived us continue to demand expectations be met. They refuse to consider the possibility that they might bear some semblance of responsibility. It is obvious there is no hope for compromise or mutual understanding.
I can’t speak for anyone else other than myself in this one area, but I am considered “lost” in their eyes because I am going my own way, not where I am being told to go. I am assuming self-ownership of my life. Because I have accept responsibility for my actions, I also demand the authority which must go with it.
I am “lost,” because where I am going, they cannot follow.