The portrait of Y that followed X

Generation Y is often portrayed as a narcissistic burden on society, as the illustration shows. But whose fault could that be?

My generation is lazy and narcissistic because of when we were born That is, according to commentators and the string of Douglas Coupland-wannabe articles who have vented against Millenials/Generation Y/anyone born between 1980 and 2000.

The most critical example came from Time magazine, which published a cover of a girl lying on her stomach and taking a selfie, accompanied by the headline “The Me Me Me Generation.”

All the articles I read supported their claims with facts, figures and obligatory quotes from old people, all singing variations on “things were very different back in my day.”

Whatever the truth about my ‘selfish’ generation may be – and there may be some truth buried in the generational character assassinations – sweeping generalisations about large groups can only be preposterous.

But that’s another debate. Instead, let’s take a look at the story of a young woman, lets call her Y.

Y was born in the late 1980s. These were optimistic times, with Francis Fukuyama declaring the end of history as world communism crumbled with the Soviet Union. Western democracy and capi-talism had prevailed as the best possible systems for commerce and government.

Y spent her early years believing in this system. Individualism and materialism were ideals to like and even love. So, too, was hip hop. Governments of the world were liberating their financial systems, and Bill Clinton signed away the “growth stifling” financial regulations of Glass-Steagall.

Times were good. There was no longer anything to fear, besides a few people stirring up a ruckus in the Baltics, and good ol’ NATO put a stop to that. Nothing was disturbing our well-earned peace, and even our old foe China had embraced capitalism with a vigour and zeal that put the rest of us to shame. Y and her parents could look forward to a bright

But just as Y was suffering through puberty, tragedy struck. She can still remember where she was when the second plane hit. Now the best system had found the best villain lurking somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. The age of peace and quiet had lasted a decade.

Y learned to be afraid, very afraid. Our system was still good, we had simply discovered some alien people who didn’t get it yet. We needed to help them understand – it was the End of History Burden.

She could still look forward to the future and the chance to decide what she wanted to be when she grew up. The possibilities were endless, as money never ran out. Society couldn’t keep up with all the ultra billionaires that now seemed to be everywhere. Buy low, sell high – the markets were heating up. But then they weren’t.

Something was going terribly wrong. Her friends the  bankers had thrown money at the property market, telling her that credit would never dry up and the party would never end. But then it did, and overnight they became the criminals that shoplifters aspire to be.

The banks fell like dominos, and world leaders who had been so diligent at convincing her that the only way was up suddenly had to step in, red-faced, and explain to Y and her parents that the feast had not only been too massive, it had also been too big to fail. The jobs dried up, the credit ran out, and people lost their homes. But since we were at the End of History, there was no other possible system to turn to – and meanwhile there was still an enemy out there to defeat by all means necessary.

Y became disillusioned with her world, its leaders and their ideas. Like the Lost Generation had done following World War I, she turned inwards – not in search of spirituality, but in search of ego. She had been taught that hard work and individual effort are all that people need to succeed. She had learned that she had to be ready to face evildoers. She had been taught to be a hyper-individualist. So she became one. Her distrust in governments and institutions bordered on the paranoid, and when she learned that the bureaucrats had been reading her emails, her paranoia was justified.

Y thought, “Fuck this, society is so far gone that I should just take care of myself.” So she did. Technology enabled her to show the rest of the world just how special she was, and how little she cared for this old society, which had brought her nothing but confusion and grief.

If she’s lucky, Y now works in a field that allows her to express her individuality, but where she will earn less than her parents did. If she can be bothered to vote, she will choose a party that encour-ages a fear of immigration instead of the preservation of public goods. She rejects the traditional political parties that she doesn’t feel represent her, but she does have Instagram. M


By Elias Thorsson

Managing editor. @Eliasthorsson

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