I was watching a Youtube channel that I follow that talks about odd historical and cultural oddities the other day and this particular day was different. The subject they choose to focus on bordered on an explanation, a criticism, and a rant about Millennials’ tendency to over react to any offense. I already knew and written about the stigma over that generation. Hell, even the upcoming generation is assumed by some people to be better than them because they are having to struggle for something. The Youtube video used the a derogatory term to describe this hostility called generation snowflake.
Rule 1: You Do Not Talk About Generation SnowFlake
Where the statement comes from is often debated. Many believe it comes from 1996’s novel and movie, Fight Club during Tyler Durden’s famous rant about generation X’s self-righteousness and their feeling of being lost. In it, he refers to its members by saying,
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake! You are the same decaying matter as everything else!”
Others say it is far older going back to the 19th century where it used for White people who preferred their own race over Blacks.
Regardless of its origin, the current application is used for Millennials’ hyper-sensitivity. The slam rides on the gravitas of accompanying, historical influences. They evolved alongside the internet and the rise of liberal, social consciousness to society’s forefront. The rights of the oppressed and under-represented were becoming increasingly important and Millennials were already well-versed in the sins of the past.
These elements combined into a cultural storm, also leading to the creation of the social justice warriors, or SJW’s, and the subsequent polarizing of society. Last year’s Berkeley college riots over far-right speakers are a perfect example of how severe the divide has gotten. There is a push to demand more attention and effort to creating a better world that their parents and teachers kept preaching. The lack of empathy to struggling classes and groups that still continues Millennials see as major part of the problem in utopia's stalling.
Generation snowflake is part of a social push-back against this push-back. People who refer to Millennials this way see their idealistic movements as not attempts to make a better society, but to make a world that caters to their sense of entitlements. Everything should be handed to them on a silver platter and nothing offensive can be indulged, unless it they’re the ones being offensive. And if its public, it should be shamed back into the shadows. They are considered whiners who spend more time on the internet with their mobiles and social media, than actually engaging real people, and can’t handle the reality of it in the flesh.
An example of this would be the reactions to Donald Trump’s victory during the 2016 presidential election. As it became more and more apparent that Trump’s character was severely lacking, left-minded Americans and lobbyists started going to social media to voice their anger and demand that he not be president in order to shame him and kill his support. This had worked in the past with previous politicians who were reliant on public opinion and their money to keep their jobs. This time though it did not and Millennial and liberals were left in deep shock. I saw many people crying.
Not a Trend, but a Legacy
While there are some good points, I don't think all these criticisms are fair and if anything, kind of hypocritical. Millennials are the latest in fifty-six years of cultural shifts. In the nineties, what we call today ‘’SJW’s’ was then referred to as being politically correct and its accompanying generation was also considered over-sexed and self-righteous. In the eighties, the decade that spawned generational decadence and indulgence, also saw its generation the same way with its ‘social media’ being MTV and cable.
The true start of this trend however goes back to the 1960’s. This was the first, real culture clash between status quo and the demand to change that status quo. All the elements applied to youth in subsequent generations, started here: a youth raised on prosperity and new opportunities, relatively free of struggle, and questioning the previous social values that got them there. When the coined, ‘counter-culture’ revolution started questioning their elders and more so, America’s involvement in Vietnam and their refusal to go, they were called selfish and worse, communists.
The youth in turn formed a hostile position to their conservative adversaries, seeing them as accomplices to decades old atrocities and oppression. This led many of them to actively reject anything associated with the past: values, clothing style, religion and the like.
"Value shifts are common is prospering societies."
A River Runs Through it
So seen from a larger, historical perspective, generation snowflake isn't a sign of a fallen society or youth gone wrong. It is the latest in underlying cultural and historical shifts that have been ongoing on for decades. I see five core factors driving these engines of social change.
Prosperity creating room for invention and new ideas with little, initial opposition. A previous generation becoming comfortable in their social status and its persistence to adhere to that status quo. An upcoming generations’ wanting to engage new ideas and subsequently being perceived as arrogant from their elders. And lastly, a tendency of all sides involved to settle into their own perceptions of the other without engaging them or listening to alternate points of view.
Value shifts are common is prospering societies. Lack of social catastrophes lends to fewer challenges and a luxury to being inquisitive. People naturally become settled in their ways, even former hell-raisers who may have become over time too cynical that they will change anything. Challengers do have a certain amount of arrogance to take on established ideals because you have to in order to do so. And any kind of conflict naturally produces sides who honestly have no interest in the truth, just in what furthers their own lifestyles and views.
The problem with general labels is that they come from self-contained bubbles. Many people who use them don't have much interaction with people outside of their social group, let alone asked what their thoughts were on social questions. New information is kept to a minimum and what little information that does enter is often skewed by lack of positive experiences or any experience at all and the fear that their position may actually in fact be wrong. This is what leads to judgments like ‘snowflake’.
Many Millennials are not as fragile as some make them out to be and do work hard to get by, forced to work in the economic and social circumstances that surround them. For example, just making a Youtube channel has become a minor production in itself, with getting equipment, editing, and dealing with trolls. The rising popularity of cosplay while it appears like its just tits, ass, and fan-service, is actually a major undertaking that can take months and money. And regarding being offended, most Millennials would probably tell you to stop being butt-hurt by what was said rather than start a riot over it.
And while many SJW’s are over-reactive and should learn to ignore certain comments and choose their battles more carefully, the place where their angst comes from is legit. America does have a long past with mistreating other genders, races, handicapped, and so on. They’ve all had suffered greatly at some point in our past. To just ignore that would be just as wrong as caving into a few loud-mouths who know how to use social media.
The last point is especially important because the internet has a way of making everything seem bigger than it actually is. The few can seem like the many. Sometimes that's a good thing and other times its not.
It maybe that those judging these people as snowflakes, have themselves lost some their own youthful drive that they can change the world. Perhaps they see the new generation as making the same mistakes that they did, as was the case with generation X and their parents, who were former hippies and counter-culture activists.
Admittedly, insulting other people who are not like us comes naturally. No one is perfect and everyone of every generation is prone to it. However, in a time where those hostilities are starting to create lasting and damaging effects in our society, it maybe time to get out of our comfortable high places and start interacting with those others so we can see each others’ humanity.