A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the last few years by Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers telling millennials to, like Clint Eastwood's character in "Gran Torino," get off their proverbial lawn.
Millennials have caused the death of everything that previous generations enjoyed. Business Insider's Kate Taylor recently highlighted 19 industries currently suffering from lower sales numbers — products as diverse as beer, napkins, and soap — as a result of the "psychological scar" left on millennials from the Great Recession. The restaurant chain Applebee's, which is set to close more than 100 locations in 2017, recently announced it is abandoning all marketing efforts aimed at millennials. On top of the apparent cultural genocide we're spearheading, we're not yet big boys and girls because instead of putting money away for future purchases like homes or saving for retirement, we spend all of our disposable income on avocado toast.
Perpetual adolescence never tasted so good.
But it is not just our preferences in casual dining or short financial time horizons that set us apart from previous generations. According to Joe Scarborough, America's oracle of early morning cable news, we pale in comparison to our forefathers who stormed the beaches of Normandy.
On Aug. 7, Scarborough tweeted that "young men in the 1940s liberated Europe from Nazism and the Pacific from the Japanese Empire. Today, too many stay home playing video games."
The moral fiber of a generation is apparently determined by the devastatingly bloody conflicts in which they were forced to fight. Lost in all of this discussion is that the relative peace of the post-World War II world, and the material comforts that have come with it, is the biggest success story of the modern era.
Very few people question the bravery of the men who fought in World War II. My grandfather was one of them, fighting on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
But the world we live in today is different. Despite the news implying otherwise in frantic headlines, we live in the most peaceful time in all of human history. This is not to say that there aren't problems, but the chances of experiencing a violent death are at the lowest they have ever been. Tragic events such as terrorist attacks are frightening, but still incredibly rare and not something most people need to worry about. More likely causes of death, such as coronary disease and traffic accidents, don't dominate the evening news.
This fact of peaceful normalcy is something to celebrate rather than use to castigate young people. Maybe, kids these days do spend too much time on their smartphones, but the absence of a Hitler-like figure over-running Europe and a world war to whip them into shape is a great thing. If warfare and bloodshed are the ways by which you determine a generation's moral value, then your methodology is deeply flawed.
Complementing this great peace is great enrichment. One can argue that millennials spend too much time on playing games on their smartphones, but leisure is only made possible through wealth creation. Starting around 1800, the Western world began to experience economic growth like nothing the world had ever seen––the real income of the average person has risen by 3,000 percent. The result is that we not only live in the most peaceful time in human history but also the wealthiest. We have longer life expectancies, and the average American lives better today than the uber-wealthy such as John Rockefeller did just 100 years ago.
There is value in young people having "dirty jobs" to teach them various life lessons and gain work experience but to cast judgment because millennials haven't deployed to a foreign land or worked on an assembly line is ridiculous. My grandfather worked in factory conditions that gave him lung cancer so that one day, my father could lay cement, so that one day, I could work in an air-conditioned office. It's a story of material progress.
Elder generations need to quit whining about how millennials are the source of all our current moral and political decay. Millennials didn't run up the national debt to record numbers, nor did millennials give us foreign policy disasters such as the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Millennials didn't cause the sub-prime mortgage crisis or give us post-Jim Crow schools and neighborhoods that are still de facto segregated.
One day, we will make our own stupid policy decisions, but it won't have anything to do with our age cohort -- that's just how government works.
Jerrod Laber (@jerrodlaber) is a non-profit program director, former classical singer, and writer. He is a Young Voices Advocate.
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