Reaping Distrust

In March (2015), Pew Research published a survey which examined the Millennials in a variety of ways – some interesting, some rather dull. Do the Millennials use the Internet? Why not? They grew up with unlimited data plans. Do they post selfies? Of course! Phonecams are much more compact than the Instamatics of my generation, are almost always on one’s person, and there’s no need to process and print the film. Point, Click, Upload – it’s that easy and quick. Of course it is on the rise.

Are they deeply suspicious of established institutions? Whyever not? The first strand of my analysis, again, is the ubiquity of that direct connection to the Internet – which constantly exposes the corruption and brutality of many institutions. We of older generations had to hunt for this information; now, the information hunts us.

But Millennials hunt right back. “Is that true? Who says so? Who disagrees? Why? What are the facts?” A few clicks, a few minutes, and one can read or view answers to all of these questions – and many Millennials do just that.

It is difficult and improper to characterize generations as monolithic bundles of anything. When there are so many Independent Millennials, it seems silly to characterize them as having Democratic values, especially when the Democratic Party has only lately come to accept many of those same “social” values. Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s views on same-sex marriage “evolved” only very recently, after all.

You may be sure that many Democratic voters and politicians of the older generations still oppose same-sex marriage, drug legalization, and so forth. The party has altered its outward stance because its target – independent voters – has moved.

I turn now to a specific quote, and to the second strand – the effect which institutions have on those who are confined therein:

“Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people,” just 19% of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers.

Institutions tend to follow, to some degree, the logic of their implied assumptions, even as those assumptions are often hidden or even denied. What if the assumption is that “you can’t trust youth?” or “you can’t trust minorities?”

If you are 18, where have you been for the past 12 years? What institution have you been forced to interact with for 12 years? The educational institutions, of course. How have these changed, with the passage of time? They have become more and more intrusive. What effect, over the broad scale?

Peter Gray, in a 2010 article, reported that

Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past fifty to seventy years. Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago.

if progress is measured in the mental health and happiness of young people, then we have been going backward at least since the early 1950s.

The gist of the article is that children have substantially less control over their lives, generation by generation. They spend more time in school, more time traveling to and fro, more time doing homework, more time in organized sports and other activities, and have much less time to be, to play, to “do their own thing” — should we be surprised that Millennials have finally come to reject this constant and relentless regimentation, while also internalizing its implicit lessons?

You are not trustworthy. Nobody is. This is the implied lesson of twelve years – or more – of constant regimentation, control, helicoptering, hovering. It is the lesson of the mass surveillance programs. It is the lesson of the growing, ever-encroaching educational establishment, and of the gigantic police state, which imprisons more Americans than ever before.

Especially if you are a minority. Especially if you are young. Who are the usual targets of the ubiquitous stop-and-frisk operations in some cities?

For twelve years and more, most children have neither exit nor voice. They are controlled. This has severe  negative effects – see the Peter Gray article, above. We should be delighted and surprised, given all this, that the Millennials remain an optimistic generation, albeit one which wishes to manage their own lives, thank you very much.

I close with one of my favorite quotes, with which I concur:

“I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.” — John Taylor Gatto


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