As a college instructor,
I am in daily contact with young people. I’ve seen them come and seen them go for 25 years: high and low achievers,
foreign students, hippies, slackers, punks, scholars, jocks, preppies, Goths, grungers, gangbangers and science nerds. Nowadays
I am witnessing the latest generation of students coming through the pipeline. They are called Millennials, and they have
distinct characteristics: They are technologically savvy multitaskers. Their style is collaborative and laid back. They are
asertive and optimistic. They often know what a Roth IRA is before they are 20. They prefer to communicate by text messaging.
And the guys tend to live with their parents until they are 30 and can spend an entire weekend in their pajamas playing video
But more than
ever, I see Millennials who are easily caught up in manufactured dreams of mass culture and it concerns me. In America
we sell dreams. Whether it’s Mary Kay, Coca-cola, Amway, Marlboros, Rocky or Rock and Roll, the marketing of dreams
is what we do best. Dreams are the engine of the system. They can propel us to overcome wretchedness, ignorance, poverty and
drive us toward the objects of our desires. But dreams can also lie.
We tell the young
that there are no limits to what they can become. We point to success stories like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, and Michael Jordan
as examples. Even a hundred years ago, the Horatio Alger stories symbolized the promise of America. The narrative sounded right then and it still rings true. And so we disseminate
it to the world, and reap the profits.
The problem is
that today’s Millennials live vicariously through electronics and digitized, artificial reality. Their inner world-
unlike yesteryear- is formed not so much from human interactions, but by non-contextualized bits from TV, texting, Internet
and video. And here lies the crux of the problem. Reality testing is often delayed, with undesirable consequences.
We insist they
can become whatever they want, but we will never tell them what is in their way, like poor schooling, environment, parental
upbringing, lack of money, social class, weak academic skills, ethnic and racial origin and the negative voices these things
can generate in their own heads. It is not that these barriers can’t be surmounted- they often are- but in America, we make believe these barriers don’t exist.
As a result, I‘ve seen young students bounce along on waves of vicarious euphoria for a season, then typically hit the
wall and fade into some subterranean service worker realm, dismissing their own potential lives. Thus broken on the wheel
of mass culture and schooling, they typically fall in as production line pyramid builders for the New World Order.
too many Millennials who are sure that their destiny is to become rich, but don’t know how it will happen. Who want
to be programmers but don’t know their multiplication tables- and don’t care to learn them. Who dream of owning
a Ferrarri, but don’t think to take the steps make it happen. Who believe school is unimportant because Bill Gates dropped
out of college.
On the other hand,
I have observed foreign students who came here from more elemental cultures where no hyped-up, feverish inner narrative of
achievement clouds their way, who gaze into the future with less insulation between themselves and the grim realities of the
poor. I’ve seen girls of 17 with an adult sensibility which women here often don’t have until 40, if ever. Young
men who come here with only the clothes on their backs not knowing the language, yet who are fiercely ambitious, and at the
same time, grounded and realistic.
Choosing a vocation
is probably the most important decision a person will make, and judging from the number of broken, bitter and frustrated adults,
too many have chosen badly or not at all. And usually not because they were dumb, but because nobody gave them the antidote
to the noisy, inefficient, machinery of mass dreams; machinery which produces more heat than light, while grinding away the
soul. Listening to discarnate, ephemeral voices hypnotically reaffirming the myth, they ask themselves, “How did I screw up so much? If this is the richest country in the world, if I can be anything I want, why haven’t
I created another Microsoft? Why aren’t I rich?” The slippery downward slope of self-doubt often results in
an unwanted journey on a well travelled road-with an inner dialogue of oblivion playing inside the head like a tape rcording: “What’s wrong with me? They must have been right, I never had any talent.”
that dreams are a bad thing. On the contrary, to live in America you need a dream,
especially if you are young. But an active dream is a process of visualization, planning, and action taking. Without the engagement
of the will, a dream is merely a mass culture-induced fantasy. And that’s all it will ever be. A surprising number of
Millennials don’t know the difference and it may take them until they are 28 or 30 to come around- typically after a
bad marriage and a dead end job, which is why it’s good to learn-early- that
your ship can’t come in if it never leaves port.