In the latest example of bafflingly contradictory takes regarding Millennials, these two articles appeared independently of each other a scant two days apart. This isn’t the first time this has happened to somewhat comedic effect, as this screenshot I took in 2014 shows:

So why does this happen? Why are things so topsy turvy? Why does nothing make sense? Well, I’d argue, it doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to, and it’s not going to.

I’m a substitute teacher. In today’s school climate, it’s not exactly the high rung on the ladder. Today’s schools barely resemble the ones of ten years ago, let alone the ones I trained to teach in almost twenty years ago. Things change quicker than ever, and trying to rely on anything taught to you by a middle-aged professor in 2003 is an absolute joke. The classes, the student, the buildings themselves, everything has changed and you either change with it or get left behind. You either embrace the madness or get consumed by it. As a substitute, this is actually easier as I don’t have lesson plans, year-long curricula or delicate student & staff relationships to manage. If I don’t like a school, I just don’t come back tomorrow. A lot of full-time folks don’t have that option, and so it’s a lot harder to embrace the madness for them.

There are far fewer rules in today’s schools. Gum? Allowed. Drinks? Yep. Food? Sure. Only the biggest grumps in the teaching world hold a hard line on things like gum or wearing hats, and when you do it’s a constant struggle to keep that authority, and it is draining. But let’s go further: shouting for no reason? Happens daily. Throwing things? Almost daily. Swearing, sexual harassment, homophobia, racism, casual violence? It wouldn’t be a day at school without it in the average American school… and that’s not even getting started on school dress codes, if your particular school hasn’t long ago given up on them.

For someone who went to high school in the Britney era and saw administrators try to cut back on exposed skin, this used to be hard to deal with. I used to rail against it, decry the downfall of society, imply parents and students and communities to have more decency and police themselves and everything else that might have sent me down the alt-right path of skulls and swastikas… if it were not for my return to subbing in 2013 after a break of a few years. I resolved that this time, I would not let the students “get to” me, that I’d let it slide off my back, that I’d force myself not to care… and something amazing happened. I didn’t stop caring, but I started seeing the bigger issues at play and realizing that everything I’d believed about the world up to this point was at best misguided and at worst a malicious lie. I was subbing in rural areas now, and suburban ones, and I noticed the same issues happening there as in the urban ones I was sure was more poisoned than the sainted ones of my youth… but the same problems persisted. Why?

There’s a systemic issue, a larger issue in society that no amount of self-policing and gumption will solve. These students, first in the urban centers and now into the suburbs, are seeing how broken the system is as they see a woefully outdated educational model fail to prepare them for the nightmarescape they see every night on the news. Band-aids over gaping wounds appear all over the country in mass-shooter drills, means-tested tax incentives, and half-measures on basic needs like healthcare. One day in class, after a presentation on the students’ future career prospects, I waited until the full-timers had left the room and then scrawled on the whiteboard “DO YOU FEEL PREPARED?” and not a single student answered “yes.” It was then I started down a path where I realized it wasn’t parent v. child, teacher v. student, middle class v. lower class… it’s everyone that is suffering under the system v. the system itself

But what does this have to do with all these articles about Millennials? Well, it all comes down to the concept of alienation.

No workers are substitute teachers in the school of life. We’re immersed in this madness up to our necks, and on the daily. And embracing the madness of our current psychocapitalist system when you can’t just check out at the end of the day is damn near impossible. The students in the urban areas, some of the least powerful people around, experienced this alienation first: it doesn’t matter what we do, the system doesn’t care, so you disconnect from it. As psychocapitalism digs further and cuts deeper in pursuit of yet more profit, the same feelings start to spread into more affluent and privileged areas. Any futile attempts to mitigate the situation, as good-hearted as they may be, only serve to further highlight the flaws in the system and drive people further away. We soon see two sides of each generation: those who are alienated from society, and those who are not. In the interests of keeping their current comfortable situation, thought leaders and decision makers take an obvious course: one of these groups must be celebrated, the other demonized, and this is how we wind up in the even further alienating phenomenon of contradictory coverage.

When you see two articles that say “you should be having kids” and also “you shouldn’t be having kids” what’s being said is “certain people we approve of should be having kids, and it’s your fault if you are not those people, and you should feel bad about it.” When two articles say “Millennials are relying too much on late-stage capitalism gig economy to avoid adulthood” and also “Millennials are literally selling their future earnings to investors upon reaching adulthood” what’s being said is “the good ones are spending their money this way, and if you spend your money this other way you are one of the bad ones” Whether any of this is sound or helpful advice, however, is irrelevant as most of the generation has either checked out and embraced the madness or been consumed by its misery. It becomes another front in an age old war, where the elderly do their best to stand athwart history yelling “stop” and delude themselves into thinking this time, as opposed to when they were the youth of tomorrow, the adults will surely win.

There’s a certain… finality to our current psychocapitalist system. We’re getting to the point where we just are running out of things to sell, buy, market and exploit, including our very own habitable planet. We’re running out of areas for growth in a system that demands constant growth, and without that growth collapse in inevitable. There’s a distinct feeling that those at the top, knowing the party is almost over, is simply speeding full bore into that inevitable nightmare, because the faster it all goes before the crash, the more money they stand to make which will come in handy when it all hits the fan.

The big question now stands as to how much the rest of us will allow them to pillage or hoard when it all comes crashing down and the alienated are finally given a place back in a society that doesn’t treat them like a replaceable machine part but as a valuable and meaningful human being. The longer we wait, I fear, the harder it will be to pull folks back from that alienation: we’re already seeing some folks so deep into the alt-right and the rising neo-fascism worldwide that it ay be very hard, even impossible, to show them a better way in possible. Time will tell, but the key is action. Do something, say something, get out there and let anyone and everyone know that a better world is possible. A world without greedy bosses and hoarding CEOs but a world of cooperation and mutual understanding, a world without efficiency and profits at all costs but instead shared prosperity where no one is king, but everyone does okay. A world without alienation from work, life, love, and society where people not only feel prepared to survive, but know they can thrive… but it can’t exist while an oligarchy repeatedly siphons all the money, power and prosperity to the very top.

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