Written June 18, 2021
History “repeats” in cycles. Strauss and Howe’s bestseller The Fourth Turning examines these cycles from a demographic angle. The same cycles can just as well be studied from, say, the financial/economic angle; or the war/peace angle. They all lead to observations about “mood swings” with “the times”, both in the individual and in aggregate.
We are clearly in a Fourth Turning, — a period of global turmoil when the current world order is in chaotic end-stage, and a new order has yet to emerge. These times trigger soul-searching, both on the personal and institutional levels. Most of the time, soul searching starts with one’s surrounding (to decipher what is happening) and ends with oneself (to determine how to respond/adapt). The result is “awakening”. Mass awakening typically marks the First Turning of a new (usually 80-year) cycle, according to Strauss and Howe.
If you think about it, this soul-searching describes classical existentialism, in the Nietzsche/Sartre sense. Once you “get” the world around you, you need to decide how you want to lead your life, — i.e. what your “essence” is to be. These days, I see ample of this among the pundits I follow. In the years immediately following 2008, their writings (and my own as well) focused on postmortem of the trauma, in search for answers on who and what led up to it, and what is likely to ensue. This took years; but by 2019, we pretty much figured out the entire (ugly) picture. The blogs I follow suddenly fell silent. What more was there to analyze and reveal? The pundits, being the thoughtful people that they are, notably turned introspective. I followed suit.
Alas, most if not all of the pundits I follow are Boomers or elder Gen-Xers. Though we have lived through multiple financial cycles and understand why the current world order is collapsing, we’re simply too old to be shaping the new order. The mighty Millennials will have to do that.
Mass awakening of the Millennials as a group is already palpable. The passive among them drop out of lucrative jobs in recognition that behind all the trappings, “working for the man” is still a form of enslavement. The active among them fully recognize the root of evils is centralization of power and wealth (first in the financial “industry” then in global enterprises). They are already busy at work to reverse that.
Instead of gathering themselves to storm the palace with pitchforks, this culturally diverse and technically savvy generation has “digitally-wired” itself of one mind. This is illustrated by the “Robin Hoods incident”, where a large group of Millennials conspired on Reddit to execute a massive “short squeeze” on Gamestop stock, — not for profit but to “stick it” to Wall Street professional stock traders.
More constructively, thousands of developers are now collaborating on building an ecosystem for commerce entirely outside the current banking system based on a public block-chain (Ethereum now, soon Cardano as well) digital platform. This is a movement to de-financialize (i.e. dis-intermediate the financial “industry”) by handling every conceivable human transaction directly and peer-to-peer.
Circling back to existential definition of one’s “essence” (given “the hand one is dealt”), Millennials are the most multicultural (a lot of them are bi-racial), diverse (a lot of them are first-generation citizens by birth), and holistically self-aware group of people I know. Unlike Boomers, they do not define themselves by titles, professions, and income. They are by far the most tolerant of religious, gender, sexual orientation differences. They are health and environmentally conscious and socially aware at a much earlier age than previous generations. Most importantly, unlike Boomers, they are a cohesive (interconnected) generation with a keen sense of the frailties and failings of “the establishment”, and their generational purpose of changing that.
Will “the establishment” (aka “the ruling elite”) squash the Millennials’ attempt to circumvent the current (corrupt) world order and craft a new order? Certainly. Will it do so by force? Inevitably.
So for the Millennials to bring about a new order, they have to be “influencers” beyond social media and within existing policy-making bodies. With this view, I am forced to re-evaluate someone like AOC (a bona-fide Millennial). I used to think of her as a hilariously ignorant nutcase devoid of relevant experience or good sense. Now I have to think of her as an essential change agent. The response/solution to liberalism hijacked and perverted by the evil may not be (rigid) conservatism, but to reform liberalism from within (its own ranks). And a nutcase change agent may just be what the doctor orders.
In other words, disruption of a corrupt system, not productivity within it, is the start of radical change. Millennials will do well by remembering this Plato quote: “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”.