The Age of Individualism

Will the millennials come back to community?

And let's not forget the biggest cult of personality of all- barack obama.

1 2016-01-02 22:01:36 - new conservative

Paul Ryan is not a boomer; he is a millennial.

1 2015-12-30 00:45:50 - mva

Millennials don't trust people because they are going to be left holding the bag on all the problems created by my generation (boomers) and, to a lesser extent, those older than boomers.

All those quarterly earnings reports that led to wholesale destruction of industries and offshoring of jobs means more competition for fewer jobs with a future.

Importation of cheap labor adds to that, while fostering ever-increasing income inequality. There is a large and growing population that can't read.

There is an increasing number of poor children of single mothers, who have a multitude of problems and challenges society will be left to address.

Our population has grown enormously, which creates pressure on everything from the environment, and things like water, to the need for jobs and healthcare. And yet older people continue to push for more people here.

Schools are run by the theory of the day, while performance goes down. Kids are medicated if they can't sit still in kindergarten. What used to be a time of play and curiosity is now akin to a factory job.

Everything kids do has some sort of risk attached to it, declared from blaring headlines warning of this and that, while things that are in our control are ignored or made worse.

We are handing them a mess, and they know it. Who wouldn't be mistrustful?

22 2015-12-28 08:31:31 - Siobhan

This country is in the midst of an historical regression to a static aristocracy where social class mobility is the exception rather than the rule. The great irony is that a huge swath of the electorate has bought into the propaganda and myths perpetuated by right wing media. The "winner take all" economic system that we are devolving to is the consequence of "individualism" unchecked. Institutionalized economic imbalance never ends well. Ask Marie Antoinette how it worked out for her.

1 2015-12-27 03:10:24 - Jason

Lamenting the waywardness of the young dates back at least to about 700 BC and Homer's contemporary Hesiod. It's not as if Mr. Douthat thought up something new here. It's every old man's and every conservatives ageless complaint -- the young have no respect, they "aren't like us."

9 2015-12-26 04:59:13 - Bob Tube

The close of my 26th year also came with the close of my endless navel-gazing thus far. Suddenly, I am revolted by the amount of self-reflection I have already done in my life, and like Jud said, I am totally disgusted by how much time I have devoted to the cause of finding myself. I am finally emerging from my adolescence. The way I was raised, I was encouraged to follow my heart, seek passion, and take advantage of my youth and travel opportunities the way my parents didn't or couldn't. This type of encouragement has led me down the path of constantly trying to figure out who I am and where I belong. The seemingly endless opportunities are absolutely exhausting. I've moved almost every year since I left the the nest-- not across the country or anything, but there is always a feeling of restlessness, of something slightly better. My parents never had strong religious ties, we didn't have a strong cultural identity, and my Dad wasn't patriotic until post 9/11. I am girl who has been told to follow her heart, and I am also a girl who has very little discernable 'identity.' It is no wonder my quest for who I am and where I belong feels indefinite, and no wonder why I have placed so much focus on myself, my goals, my personal growth-- I believe it is very much my lack of these institutional ties. It's as if I what has been done so far by previous generations isn't enough anymore, as if I am expected to reinvent the wheel.

21 2015-12-21 22:48:46 - erin_de
This is an incredible and brilliant comment.
3 2015-12-17 06:52:45 - Siobhan

Time to start reading more philosophy and world history to create your own set of values, my friend.

2 2015-12-15 10:35:00 - Bree

For those of us actually in a generation -- opposed to those who merely write about them -- such broad generalizations are silly. We know bums from the Greatest Generation and go-getters from the Silent Generation; and Libertarians from the Hippie Boomer generation; and industrialists from Gen X; and even hard-working, well-socialized, good parents among the Millennials. Of all these, the most shameful are Boomer-Beamers who missed the point of our promising generation.

3 2015-12-14 06:55:27 - Occupy Government

There are 2 major points made by Douthat here that are flawed.

First, how did doing away with religion in itself lead to the rise of fascism and totalitarian governments? Certainly, more is at stake than simply this fact itself, which do not say much how and why totalitarian governments get into power in the first place, and how they maintain them. Certainly the Depression in Germany, its inequality, the Versailles treaty and its ethnically diverse surroundings, contributed to the attractiveness of charismatic leaders, among other things. It takes more than undoing religion to lead to a totalitarian regime.

The other is overestimating the effects of social media, which have 2 aspects. The first is whether the loss of privacy, which can still be controlled, is in fact as detrimental as the reality of having elections led by money, disparate health care, vast educational differentiation, the lack of jobs and the like. The second is whether millenials are really as naive as the author clearly thinks. Social activity online is not a one way street process; it has also lead to the availability of useful information, which broadens one's horizons. Social media is neither also about asking others what one wants to say. One needs to listen in order for it to be social. Let's not kid ourselves that youngish millenials are more cloistered to not know what is going on, when they know more than ever before.

3 2015-12-09 07:34:24 - Aloysius

Let's see—"the emancipation of the individual in modernity — from clan, church and guild — that had enabled the rise of fascism and Communism." Makes a lot of sense, fascism and communism having so much to do with individual freedom.

Ross needs to distinguish between individuality and individualism, the latter raising the former to an ideology. On his own evidence, the millennials, who are still young, are not ideologues; more like seekers, disappointed and alienated from most options offered them, insufficiently attracted to the rest. Obama and Francis are immensely attractive as individuals, not as ideologues.

2 2015-12-07 01:13:29 - GEM

You are 100 percent correct!

0 2015-12-06 00:51:55 - Darker

Rather than follow the long tradition of bemoaning how the generation after mine has lost its moral compass, I'll offer that my contemporaries in Gen X left so little faith that the Millennials didn't have much to lose.
I'm curious as to what this generation would point to by way of explaining their zeitgeist. For my own age group, I refer to "The End of the Innocence" to summarize why we were the brooding generation.

1 2015-12-05 22:34:22 - NM

I agree with everything Mr. Douthat has said except for this assertion: "as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned." Unlike other preferences in life, I don't believe abandoning patriotism is just another rational choice. Human beings are emotionally tied to their countries just as they are tied to their parents. Does love for one's mother or father ever disappear?

0 2015-12-04 23:23:59 - Roy

Excellent points, Janice - but I think tattoos have become so mainstream that they're neither defiant nor individualistic.

4 2015-12-03 23:47:36 - misterarthur

The profound ignorance of history Ross shows astounding. What he celebrates, because it is comfortable to him, is the precursor to destructive revolution in more places and eras than I have time to name. It leads inexorably to what we are already seeing: a rising elite that extracts its wealth from the pocketbooks of the middle and poorer classes and shows no shame at all in doing so. As those elites both publicize themselves and display their arrogant luxury a deep and pre-violent alienation settles into the body politic, which the rich think has no competence because their money insulates them: it does not. When social structures break down in these conditions they do not merely weaken allowing for redress they collapse suddenly leaving everyone equally at sea--money is insufficient protection and poverty no constraint. I am surprised that Ross has such a sunny view of things because it is not what our human experience teaches us.

16 2015-11-26 03:09:26 - bboot

Or as the sign for a Christian revival meeting I remember from back then stated the problems -- "Hot Rods, Reefer and Rock and Roll."

0 2015-11-23 19:48:05 - John Crowley

People confuse atomization with individualism. Traditional institutions are being torn apart by centrifugal forces. It's what is replacing them that gives pause. Most social media sites offer the same community as an amusement park .

34 2015-11-21 03:28:10 - Peter C

The parallels suggested between the Millennials' turn toward "individualism" and the historical rise of Russian Communism or German Nazism are not only questionable analogies in the face of historical fact; the Millennials were not around in 1953, and the pre-and post-war generations that were, were very little like the current crop that inspired Mr. Douthat's column.

Perhaps the individualism that "blurs into libertarianism" that I believe Mr. Douthat refers to is more properly called self-absorption, a habit of mind and heartless heart fostered by a consumer culture that provided a cushy living to millions of the nation's youth that simultaneously divorced them from any experience of the value of the kind of community effort (think unions, for instance) that made their nice lives possible. Add to their material well-being the din of individual freedom's sanctity they have heard from both the Right and Left (take your pick, marijuana or guns), and it is easy to understand why many youth are ignorant of the importance of social groupings to human life. They have not experienced them, and the Internet makes it easier to not to.

But the link between self-absorption and a love of freedom is worthy of pursuit. Keep thinking about it, Mr. D.

BTW, interesting that you think collective action on behalf of the environment is a left-wing issue. Thought we all lived on the same planet. Kind of a big collective, when you think about it.

10 2015-11-19 18:14:15 - Ken Winkes

First it is necessary to attempt to ensure that there is a freedom. Our subservience to power and influence from the status quo is damaging our ability to be curious and face outward as we are bombarded with false comforts.

Our environment is degrading so rapidly that there will hopefully be an effort to work in community to live together. As long as we are fooled or fool ourselves by propaganda from fossil fuel interests that change is impossible, we are headed off a cliff. Sadly, though I am quite old, I will be here to share in the suffering as we discovered that plundering and looting a finite planet and cherishing expensive pleasures over caring for each other is not a model for survival.

This author is on the wrong side of history, and the institutions he espouses are more interested in preserving their privileges than noticing things like the undoubted fact that Jesus does not teach possession or warmongering.

24 2015-11-17 22:34:57 - Susan Anderson

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