Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana once said. Slightly before him, Karl Marx claimed that history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce. Both of these Dead White Males are arguably right, if only the latter still continues to inspire people, though not with this particular quote.
Throughout the developed world – with the notable exception of Poland – Gen Ys or the Millennials veer strongly to the left. Young people have always done so, but the current crop would make even their proud Baby Boomer grandparents blush in their enthusiasm for collectivism. It’s not just that in countries like the United States or Australia two thirds of them vote for the parties of the left – after all, the left can be a broad church, from Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbyn – but they positively heart socialism: 63 per cent of Australian university graduates and over the half of the American cohort. Those who literally cannot remember the past are very keen to repeat it – let’s hope that this time only as a farce.
The Millennials can’t remember very much – and they don’t learn very much either. It’s easy being hot for socialism or communism when you actually have a very little idea of what it is and what it did throughout the 20th century. And the Ys have that ignorance in spades; one third of them think that George W Bush killed more people than Stalin and 42 per cent have never heard of Mao – but over 70 per cent agree with Bernie Sanders. Some research suggests that only 15 per cent actually have a correct understanding of socialism. It’s not just politics; the Millennials are the most woefully undereducated and miseducated generation in a very long time. To be fair, that’s not strictly their fault; that attaches itself again to their Boomer grandparents who have been in charge of our failing education systems during this time. Combine the modern indoctrination-cum-dumbification taking place in schools and universities with the attention span-killing impact of information technology and social media, and you have a barely literate cohort, which is simply not equipped with the necessary mental tools to learn about the real world even if they wanted to.
Any surprises that socialism is now nearly synonymous with Gen Y?
Think of all the traits and characteristics, most of them negative, associated with the Millennials in the popular mind. They are said to be unrealistic and have both the inflated expectations of life and the inflated perceptions of selves. They think the world owes them a living – a good one too – though without necessary too much effort. Things came very easily to them when they were growing up; when that suddenly stops – when the reality finally intrudes – they get angry, frustrated, lost: the world is deeply unfair and is conspiring against them. They are narcissistic, self-possessed and self-obsessed. They expect instant rewards and instant gratification. Having been told their whole lives how special they are, they tend to be over-sensitive and find it difficult to cope with criticism or obstacles. They’re lazy, flighty and easily distracted. Remember: these are all generalisations, but stereotypes stick because they ring true.
So no, no surprises here. Their collective personality makes the Millennials unusually suited for the flirtation with socialism. They are a great match; if this was Tinder, Marx would be getting super liked all the time.
Socialism is the response of a spoiled child when faced with the world that does not genuflect to its every wish the way their parents did – the world as it is must therefore be evil and has to be changed to something radically different. Gen Y, of course, did not just magically became the way they are – they were brought up like that, so we all bear the blame and the responsibility for a generation who resents not being managers in their 20s and not being recognised as special anymore by all their elders. Clearly, the capitalism has failed when I’m not showered down with money after I graduate from my double in media and gender studies.
The world indeed is not perfect and it is not always fair, but the sensible response would be to acknowledge how good it actually is, how much better than it has ever been, and how it continues to get better – but that would actually require a decent knowledge of history, for example – and then to think of all the various practical ways we can try to make it better. Instead, the world is hell, all the previous generations have failed us and we need to turn everything upside down. Viva la revolucion.
In November this year we will celebrate thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s sad and it’s terrifying that in such a short space of time socialism is cool again, but it’s not entirely unexpected – hell of a lot of suckers have been born since 1989.