The Age of Individualism

Will the millennials come back to community?

Social security, etc. is continually funded, baby boomers can't "use it up." A shortfall is projected in a quarter-century or so. Republicans wish to dismantle SS and Medicare, Democrats want to keep them alive. Democrats want to create jobs and relieve student debt, Republicans want to move money from the middle and lower classes to the wealthy. I choose Democrats, and it is in your generation's interest to do so, too.

1 2016-02-13 11:17:48 - Peter

Where Douthat sees the end of marriage, patriotism and trust, many see the beginnings of a new and better version of those traditions. Marriage without the authoritarian male, patriotism without bellicosity, disdain for other countries and the 'love it or leave it" mentality and trust expanding to people who aren't simply mirrors of our 'type.'
Of course, Douthat is right that "the human desire for community and authority cannot be permanently buried." But that's not what these new traditions are doing. They are simply, finally pushing past WASP boundaries of control that scare the bejesus out of conservatives like Ross.

8 2016-02-12 10:49:39 - jujukrie

If the younger generations of today are less likely to join churches and political parties, for example, it is because those institutions are don't speak to them. Heck, I'm a so-called a Baby Boomer and they don't speak to me. I avoid religious and political institutions, too. It really is simple.

3 2016-02-09 21:12:20 - Not Hopeful

Ross, you talk like you are 140. I am older then you and am excited about what I see as the rise of individualism. We should be happy the "millennials" (such a trite label) are able to see past the lies told by previous generations. Did we need to invade two countries in their lifetime? Is marriage equality really the death knell of society? Are strident messages of "My way is the only way" helpful or hurtful? Do we need government using religion to shape civil law?

Millennials use their ability to connect differently than we did, does that make it any less valuable? They choose not to participate in old school clubs that discriminate, disenfranchise, and demean. Is American individuality wrong or is it the new "membership club"?

No matter how depressed you are by this scenario you've painted, I believe if push came to shove, ALL American's will always defend America, no matter their age or politics...but my mind is apparently a happier place. It must be kind of sad to live in your head where everything is a negative, and nothing is a positive.

5 2016-02-09 00:40:30 - NTS

Sometimes sadness makes one thinking and saying sad things. Ross should be reminded that, individualism, which he sees as a kind of new religion, has been boosted my Christians in the most Christian country in the world. That is the real reason to be that sad.

0 2016-02-03 10:47:52 - Roland Berger

Don't fret, Ross. It's just Objectivism.

2 2016-02-01 02:07:58 - Zenfolk

I think many people in our society feel like they have been inundated for too long by strident messages proclaiming --
-- "Buy this product (even if it's not good for you, or you don't really need it." -- "Believe this deceptive, simplistic, paranoid, intolerant, political spin."
-- "What's good for big business (profit = god) 'makers' is always good for America."
-- "My version of moral and spiritual truth is absolutely unquestionable, so I have the authority to impose my beliefs on you."

It would be great if increased media access to torrents of information could foster a flowering of wiser, kinder, philosophically and culturally richer people, who are willing and able innovate and cooperate with others to build a healthier, happier, more equitable and sustainable future for our society.

However, this process requires us to be open-minded, to "sift the wheat from the chaff", to be able to analyze complex matters, insist on true, verifiable facts, come up with creative, workable ideas, recognize our own short comings and shadow side, and to build close interpersonal emotional bonds, based on honesty and trust. May it come to pass.

3 2016-01-31 10:36:39 - C. ANDERSON

As a university professor I'm pretty sure I spend far more time with 18-21 year olds than you do Ross. These kids are innocent.

Go back 50 years, and look at the GOP first, and the Boomers second.

It is the destruction of labor unions, the liberalization of trade (propelled by technological advances and outsourcing), the vilification of taxes, glorification of gun rights, and the rejection of the welfare state by modern CONSERVATIVES since 1964 that has accelerated the splintering of the US into what Bob Putnam has famously called our "Bowling Alone" society. At the core are Goldwater Republicans and Randians, promoting selfishness-as-virtue, and libertarians chafing at collectivist politics---high taxes, labor unions, welfare state. They got a toehold with Reagan and since have been busily dismantling the framework of the class-shrinking postwar boom. Right-wing policies and ideologies have been a powerful force in creating a sociocultural and political environment that actively promotes narcissism.

Boomers failed to sustain the prosperous collectivist economy they enjoyed in their youth. Liberal boomers' failure is acute. Too spoiled to realize its fragility, they threw it away. They embody late modern Western narcissism. The millenials are inheriting THEIR world. LBJ's support of Vietnam destroyed Democrats' credibility, sowing the seeds for Reaganism. The GOP exploited white working class resentment of civil/equal rights movements, and the Dems have never recovered.

92 2016-01-30 15:09:35 - sapienti sat

You don't see community in millennials because it isn't the community you want and because they're changing some things in the community that have long needed change.

5 2016-01-30 12:43:41 - Maloyo

I'm not praising Boomers, I am merely saying that as we get older, we may notice the pendulum more.

Who dismantled the "old ways" of doing things? I would have said my parents' generation (who were born in the mid 1920s), through an overemphasis on "rational thinking" (at the expense of taking into account how more of people's needs, such as social and emotional, were met through other, previous arrangements) and ill-thought out social arrangements (like suburbs).

2 2016-01-27 13:51:04 - Diana Moses

So the most important work of conservative sociology is "Quest for Community", but the old grumpy self-described white conservatives of today firmly believe in an "I've got mine, the heck with you," ethic, while those foolish younglings believe Gays have as much right to the pursuit of happiness as anyone else and that maybe prosperity for only 0.01% of Americans is unsustainable.

Ironic, eh?

14 2016-01-23 22:35:57 - The Poet McTeagle

I am getting rather tired of the allusions to Chelsea Clinton running for president. This is just a subterfuge of Republicans who are desperately trying to paint the image of a Democratic Clinton dynasty to match the existing dynasties on the Republican sides. The Bushes have been in politics and top echelons of industry for at least for generations. The Clintons at this point have only a first generation, led by a boy from a dysfunctional family in Hope, Arkansas. It is cheap to insinuate that they are in any way as dynastic as the Bush family, the Rand family, or several other Republicans.

6 2016-01-23 13:12:44 - keko

Conservatives, by definition, have a tough time accepting any kind of change. In a world where the only constant is change, conservatives like Douthat, will constantly snivel about the young. Conservatives opposed independence from Great Britain, freeing the slaves, allowing women to vote, evolution, gender equality in the workplace, Civil,Rights, The New Deal, Social Security, Medicare, the War on Poverty, the ACA, abortion, Elvis, rock and roll music, long haired hippies, hip hop and virtually every social and scientific change in the history of this Country. Conservatism’s only constant is implacable resistance to anything new, and a remarkable ability not to notice that they are on the wrong side of every argument.

7 2016-01-23 01:51:49 - Bill

Given the lack of simple civility and the ability of the young to come

up with every excuse under the stars and their stating them with

complete cynicism - makes you long for the days of Officer Krupke.

They are completely hedonistic, SHAMELESS and feel no human


Modern Atheism sowed the winds of nihilism and

now we inherit the whirlwind of individualism.

2 2016-01-19 15:32:18 - skanik

Are you writing from the corner in which you have hid to cry your conservative heart out over the future? You should.

2 2016-01-19 13:23:29 - Betsy Herring
I couldn't help noticing that Ross Douthat wrote in his Q&A session yesterday that he tries to keep "ideological police-work" out of his writing about culture. In today's piece however, he does the same thing that David Brooks is constantly doing, that is, takes an observed sociological trend and twists it into a warning about the dangers of political and social liberalism.

There is nothing about younger people identifying in fewer numbers with conservatives that necessarily makes them more "individualistic" or determined to each go their own way, first of all.

In fact, given that bemoaning the lack of State's rights and fears of central government, not to mention black helicopters of imagined world government, are some of the central issues for conservatives, this trend with young people could be seen as them moving away from individualism and toward a trust in pooled resources and relying on your fellow citizens.

When conservatives complain about taxes on the wealthy being socialist redistribution and public health insurance being communist collectivism, and on the other hand complain that young people trending *away* from conservatives are thus becoming woefully "individualistic" and uninterested on relying on their fellow man, you know you're once again in the right wing house of mirrors where anything can be distorted into the opposite of what it is. Also known as any column by Ross Douthat or David Brooks.
62 2016-01-19 06:21:57 - Timezoned

Creating "community" is difficult when 47% of the community is excommunicated.

0 2016-01-19 03:42:47 - bobg

Elvis Presley didn't bring down the nation, neither did the Beatles, disco, punk rock, reggae or what have you. Being about your age, I do worry about the effects of Miley Cyrus and Justine Bieber. Likewise Ted Nugent. I think Douthat is mistaking extremism for exceptionalism and reacting with fear more typical of those of us longer in tooth.

0 2016-01-18 04:39:50 - EricR

Having read Nisbet's book, what he feared is coming to fruition. Existing institutions of bipartisan civic groups (Elks, Eagles, etc out here in the midwest) are declining in membership and there is a subsequent rising of individualism and so called personal responsibility. Given this decline, it fits remarkably well with Nisbet's argument about the resulting mass movements, cults of personality and nationalistic fantasias which describe quite well the rise of the tea party, Sarah Palin's popularity, right wing talk radio and conservative rhetoric. However, I agree with the description of millenials as socially liberal and politically independent. During their formative years, they saw the US invade two countries and essentially go to war, while money, rhetoric and partisanship supplant ideas and solutions in politics, the rise of the tea party and cults of personality. At the same time, they see a political system where one half of the participants are apparently intent on dismantling institutions that used to provide equal opportunity for all and claiming that those who were helped by those institutions as takers or free loaders. The current "leadership" in the US has given them no reason to trust existing institutions. On the other hand, they do trust their own social networks they have built up over time. They are not so much individualists as they are more discerning and critically think about whether they will automatically join existing groups.

18 2016-01-10 01:52:13 - Tom

I think you are writing about a certain percentage of the age group you refer to as the millennials. In reading your article, it seems like the millennial group are folk who have some level of college, who have cell phones (mostly iPhones), computers and are continuously connected to the internet. Perhaps only the middle to upper middle class?
My assumption is you are discussing the college educated who come from comfortable family situations.
Personally, I don't always find them to be individualistic... they dislike confrontation, when they get jobs, they prefer working in a "team" situation where they do not have to take individual risks and make the bad (or good) decision. They expect all job reviews to be glowingly positive and are confused when confronted with negative remarks about their performance.
They prefer reading reviews to find out is something is good or bad – as we know reviews cannot always be trusted or they are written by friends of the establishment reviewed. They don't take a chance to walk somewhere without first turning on their much for exploration and happy discoveries.
They fall into their digital devices rather than picking up the phone and having a nearly face to face conversation... saves them from participating in nearly face to face criticism.
Personally I fear for them and our future, I believe you are right, they will easily fall prey to mass movements.

2 2016-01-04 22:27:45 - Lee K

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