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  • Writer's pictureMr. B


Mr. B is about to walk through a door that's "supposed" to remain closed, to enter a space censored out of "correct" public discourse, a place to be avoided and denied -- the bitterness and anger ... even contempt ... that exists within our inward selves during these troubled times. In this episode, Mr. B brings this 21st century angst to the surface where an open, direct, and honest discussion of this paralyzing buried state can emerge and the process of healing can begin ... in order that our lives -- and the life of society as a whole  -- can start to move forward again.  

Stephen Jenkinson...

"... kids do get in touch with me, they do come to the [Orphan Wisdom] School and to teaching events, and without encouragement from me then or now sometimes come up the farm lane like that young man did, their hands curled into fists. You could think that they are curled in anger. Often they are, though it has been swallowed for so long that it takes a while for it to break the surface as anger. You'd think, with the energy bound up in keeping those fists as tightly closed as they do, that they're afraid to lose what they've brought. In a strange way they are afraid. I say strange, because they are holding those fists out towards me, not in threat but in plea. Holding on for dear life, they ask me in one indirect way or another to pry them open, to take from them what they've been carrying.

In one hand these kids have an impotent rage, a rage that has had the energy leached out of it by futility and pointlessness and the chronic collapse of faith, all heat and no light. In the other is an aimless, wandering, principled anxiety, dressed up as brittle conscience, all light and no heat. And these are their prized possessions. And that's why their hands are curled around them. Some of the time, maybe much of the time, that's what they have. It's all that they have. Their formal education, their political education, their media education,... by these they have been persuaded that awareness and prescience in a troubled time means burden and troubled sleep and rancor in the marketplace of ideas. It means merit so compromised as to be an allegation. It means there is no tradition of their own worth claiming. It means seeking out a cooler, intact, cafe-au-lait spirit tradition that they can be nursed by. It means trading in a sense of well-being for a sense of compromise and a label of privilege, just to feel something like legitimacy, just to survive a casual conversation about how things are. It means fashioning a hair shirt out of conscience. It means enthroning misanthropy, just the time christened the Anthropocene dawns. Good luck with that.

I have mothers contact me from time to time. Their requests come down to this: 'Please take my teenage son.' She sent him off to university in the fall, and he's come back at Thanksgiving unrecognizable -- sullen, inward-turned, wounded, dragging a phantom limb of well-being. He's in a liberal arts programme, and in more classes than not, he's learned that he is the face of privilege, he's the one with the class problem, he's what's been wrong for a long time, he's at the top of the food chain, he has to stand in for the whole, wrenched thing. 'What do you want me to do with him?' I ask her. 'Just help him to be a man. Help him to be a person,' she says. 'Find someone from where you live,' I say, which is the right thing to do, to seek sustenance from the place that seems to have compromised him so deeply. And she says, 'There isn't anybody.' So she'd rather send her son to somebody who's no more than pixels on a screen than to anyone she knows. Such is the devilry in some places.

Yes, such is the shaky moral high ground of young people being alerted to the troubles of their time, that these are their prized possessions. And though this seems to surprise them as much as it does me, they are pleading with me to pry open their hands, either hand, and take those prizes from them, or at least one of them. That's one of the more urgent reasons they come. They don't make the trek to show me what they've accomplished so far. They haven't come to be seen, not really. They've come so far to have their misanthropy vandalized. They don't think they are wrong about what we've done to the world. They've mistrusted and hated people my age for years. They're about to inherit a world whose deep compromise they had no voice in perpetrating or in solving. They don't think they're wrong about who can't be relied upon. But, somewhere in there, they want to be wrong. That amounts to something like a plan: find an older person you could be wrong about, and be wrong about them to them. If that's as close to wisdom as you can get for a while, that'll do."

Malcolm Harris...

"No one chooses the historical circumstances of their birth. If Millennials are different in one way or another, it's not because we're more (or less) evolved than our parents or grandparents; it's because they've changed the world in ways that have produced people like us. And we didn't happen by accident: Over the past forty years we have witnessed an accelerated and historically unprecedented pace of change as capitalism emerged as the single dominant mode of organizing society. It's a system based on speed, and the speed is always increasing. Capitalism changes lives for the same reason people breathe: It has to in order to survive. Lately, this system has started to hyperventilate: It's desperate to find anything that hasn't yet been reengineered to maximize profit, and then it makes those changes as quickly as possible. The rate of change is visibly unsustainable. The profiteers call this process 'disruption,' while commentators on the left generally call it 'neoliberalism' or 'late capitalism.' Millennials know it better as 'the world,' or 'America,' or 'Everything.' And Everything sucks.

The growth of growth requires a different kind of person, one whose abilities, skills, emotions, and even sleep patterns are in sync with their role in the economy. We hear a sweetened version of this fact whenever politicians talk about preparing young people for the twenty-first-century labor market, and a slightly more sinister version from police officers and guidance counselors when they talk about working hard, flying right, and not making mistakes. It's tough love, and young Americans are getting it from all sides. This advice is uncontroversial on its face, but its implications are profound. In order to fully recognize the scope of these changes, we need to think about young people the way industry and the government already do: as investments, productive machinery, 'human capital.' If people have changed as much as other engines of productivity have over the past three or four decades, it's no wonder the generation gap is so significant.

By investigating the historical circumstances out of which Millennials have emerged, we can start to understand not only why we are the way we are, but in whose interests it is that we exist this way. In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, the mainstream media seems to have discovered increasing economic inequality, dramatized in the vastly unequal division of post-crisis 'recovery' income. When it comes to age, this inequality manifests both between and within generations. Young households trail further behind in wealth than ever before, and while a small number of hotshot finance pros and app developers rake in big bucks (and big resentment), wages have stagnated and unemployment increased for the rest."

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