A Lifestyle Choice

When William Desmond contended that he and his fellow Harvard law students deserved to have their final exams delayed so they would “no longer be spectators to injustice,” was he suggesting they would be hitting the road to Ferguson to chant “hands up, don’t shoot”?

We recognize that this is a moment for change. If not us, then who?

Nowhere in his inelegant apologia does he mention how “us” plans to achieve this role in history. In the 1960s, Freedom Riders took the road, and some paid with their life for their efforts. Desmond sought to don the mantle, but what was he going to do with it? Create a Facebook page? Maybe a Twitter account? Perhaps he would feel strongly about the propriety of defacing a door?  Action, as long as it wasn’t too far from home and didn’t take much effort, if any.

At the New York Times Room for Debate, the question is posed:

Adulthood, Delayed or Forgone?  Are young people being smart by delaying the rituals of adult life, or are they being irresponsible?

That they are delaying the rituals of adulthood isn’t a question; after getting more graduate degrees, they are moving home, never getting drivers’ licenses, not marrying, not having kids, not buying houses, not working in a job that doesn’t please them, if working at all.

That it’s not easy to grow up today isn’t a question either. As Taylor Tepper explains:

Millennials can be forgiven for flinching at this life choice. We graduated into the teeth of the worst recession in generations, from which the economy is still recovering. We’re burdened with unprecedented levels of student loan debt, while the demand for educated workers has never been higher. And thanks to this massive I.O.U., we’re less able to buy a house.

There is a laundry list of reasons why this is the case, from the miserable economy, shifting structural employment demands (name a job where you’re guaranteed to be financially successful and secure today?), narcissism and entitlement, all of which add up to a toxic situation that challenges every young person.  As Tepper notes, he chose to grow up, to sublimate his “needs/desires/wants” for his family, and embrace “life’s bourgeois turning points.”

The same facts, when spun in the opposite direction, are used to excuse the opposite choice. Binta Niambi Brown, a “corporate lawyer, start-up adviser and human rights advocate,” who appears to have written her own Wikipedia page, is inexplicably chosen to speak for the slackoisie.

If today’s younger generation is affected by the slow economic recovery, they are also freed by new business models that have rendered making certain expenditures, including buying or leasing a vehicle (see Uber, Lyft), unnecessary.

No one said she had any background in basic economics.

The purchasing patterns and decision-making of today’s young people are also admirable, and in many ways remind me of the wisdom and prudence of the Greatest Generation, which avoided taking on debt it could not afford, making decisions they were not ready to make or buying things they did not need.

No one said she had any background in 20th Century history.  But there is something she knows a great deal about.  And it’s shiny.

Every generation has craved freedom and independence. Social media provides young people with the same freedom the young have always pursued, albeit for the price of a mobile plan (which can rival the price of a leased or rented economy class vehicle on a monthly basis) and a click of a button. Technology has provided our youngest adults with options prior generations did not have at the same age, and this is making a tremendous difference in their ambitions, social awareness and consumption habits.

Ah, yes, the freedom to sit on the couch in mommy’s basement and pursue the world on the shiny new iToy Santa left for you under the tree.  This will, most assuredly, make “a tremendous difference in their ambitions, social awareness and consumption habits.”  Like Desmond, you can stop injustice without ever getting off the couch. Just Instagram a platitude and you are part of the cure, right?  Send angry twits to haters and the world will be a better place.

W. Keith Campbell, “a professor and head of the department of psychology at the University of Georgia,” offers an opposing view:

More troubling, though, is the possibility that adulthood is simply being ignored by a good number of young people. Adulthood is increasingly seen as a lifestyle option – I can take up adult responsibilities and put away childish things, or I can just pick up an Xbox and decide not to start a career or have a committed adult relationship. Carl Jung talked about the psychology of the puer aeternus, or eternal youth, but the show “Portlandia” captured the cultural shift best with the phrase, “where young people go to retire.” It’s one thing to take a few years to find a career or put off marriage until one is mature; it’s quite another to just decide not to grow up at all.

Where young people go to retire. It doesn’t get any better than that, right?  Except somebody has to build the world around you, make the Cheetos that turn your dirty little fingers orange, build the iPads that bring all your Facebook friends to your basement world.

It’s not that it’s easy to grow up, or that adulthood is just as much fun as perpetual childhood. It’s not. Sublimating your Portland for your children can really suck sometimes.  Ask your parents. They would be rich if you didn’t eat so much and need shoes on your feet. And yet, they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade anything in the world for you. They suffered, in a way, but it was well worth it. They got you.

But if you want to achieve anything in life, not to mention perpetuate the human race by your own progeny, you will eventually have to leave the comfort of your parents’ home and make something of yourself.

Enjoy the shiny toys that they gave you about 24 hours ago, but remember that what you see on your screen is only a picture. It’s not the real thing. The real thing exists, and it’s out there. Find it.

8 thoughts on “A Lifestyle Choice

  1. Anne Krone

    The slackoisie can hide but it’s only a temporary redoubt, because the Real World always manages to find every one eventually. One’s parent’s basement is a wonderful place, until one’s parents die as they are wont to do in the fullness of time.

      1. Anne Krone

        Ah but the long term diet of Cheetos and Mountain Dew will have given them ample fat reserves to live off of until they finally realize no one is coming, and some few will crawl out of the basement and attempt to get a job.

        1. David M.

          A bourgeois existence? Passé!
          Adulthood just gets in the way
          Of Feelings. Of Cheetos.
          Reheated Burritos
          And tweeting the Cause of the day.

            1. David M.

              [Colon D!

              Meanwhile, in the universe where Fubar hates my limerick but I’m still a millennial:

              you microaggression me :(]

  2. Lurker

    The US is experiencing rather wide-scale downwards social mobility, which is commonly seen in the disappearance of middle class blue collar jobs, but also as the difficulty of middle class scions to find employment that would match the social position of their parents even gingerly. This is especially bad for new, unemployed lawyers most of whom will never be able to pay back their educational debt. In such situation, I can understand why a person feels enticed to fortify herself into her parents’ basement. It is, economically, almost rational, while socially, it carries all the problems you describe.

    While no individual person is forced to such choice, and hard work is still useful, we should not be too harsh towards those poor schmucks who become the losers in the game of statistics. During times of shrinking middle class, many people are going to end up worse off than their parents. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

    (Full disclosure: at little more than 30, I’ve been continuously gainfully employed for 10 years, married for almost as long, have children and hold a (non-law) doctorate and a reserve officer’s commission in my country’s armed forces, so I am not arguing for leniency towards myself, but for friends who have done less well.)

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