Dear Atlantic: Sure, Millennial’s Politics are Incoherent, but so are your complaints

I have the misfortune of reading Derek Thompson’s recent article on the incoherent of millennial politics.   At first, my immediate reaction was #duh (because all expressions of obviousness are #hashtags now), but then I read the complaints Thompson made:

  • Millennials hate the political parties more than everyone else, but they have the highest opinion of Congress.

  • Young people are the most likely to be single parents and the least likely to approve of single parenthood.

  • Young people voted overwhelmingly for Obama when he promised universal health care, but they oppose his universal health care law as much as the rest of the country … even though they still pledge high support for universal health care. (Like other groups, but more so: They seem allergic to the term Obamacare.)

Of the three paradoxes he immediately mentioned from the Pew Poll and his own 2014 article, one wonders if Thompson himself isn’t confused about the meaning of paradox. While I cannot account for why Millennials hate political parties and love congress–as a perfectly sensible person with any knowledge of the blood sausage that is the US congressional establishment should turn their nose up at both–the two other “paradoxes” are obvious.

The first one is simple.  The number of working class single parents among millennials is extremely high even for a generation that engaged in less pre-martial sex and reports having less affairs than Boomers.   In short, their parents, the later boomers and earlier Gen X’ers had plenty of divorces and AIDS scares to impart unto their children.  The reason why millennials are not likely to get married and working class Americans are much less likely to get married, and much more likely to get divorced when they do, than upper middle class Americans.  That is true trans-generationally, but it millennials particularly hard.   It seems like Derek Thompson, whose position at Senior Editor at the Atlantic almost mandates he is a Generation ‘X/Generation ‘Y shill for liberal boomer politics,  should know this. After all, he wrote the article on how despite Obama’s job boom, the economy is objectively terrible for most young people. 

So what is there not to get? I am not a single parent. I have no children, but my mother was for the first five years of my life. It is hard. Extremely hard, particularly when you are poor and working class.  We lived with grandparents and in cars in the 1980s when such things were much less common. My mother then re-married to my step-father, and things improved greatly for both of us. I don’t encourage single parenting either.  I see it as a fact of divorce, long-term partnerships that fail, etc., but its not a particularly good idea.  Experience would teach it that so why is that a “paradox?”

Then Thompson makes a real disingenuous complaint Obamacare.  Millennials want universal healthcare, generally single payer, like most industrialized countries. They want cuts to the cost of insurance. For millennials in particular, Obamacare is just a mandate to buy high deductible insurance that they can’t afford to use.  It is a universal insurance program that doesn’t even have price gaps and keeps exceptions to anti-Trust laws for the medical field in place.  Why would anyone with any knowledge of that want Obama’s “universal healthcare” when it has no cost controls–it’s designed not too because cost controls would hurt key Democratic donation blocs–and little mandate for care, but makes you buy a product that most people see as broken and which, outside of liberal areas like New York and California, have seen cost increases. 

Sorry, Derek, that isn’t incoherence.

Now sure Thompson may have a few points:

First, they’re young and poor, and young, poor people are historically more liberal. Second, they’re historically non-white. Non-white Americans are historically liberal, too. Third, their white demo is historically liberal compared to older white voters, as Jon Chait has pointed out. It all adds up to one cresting blue wave. For now.

But something interesting happens when Millennials start making serious dough. They start getting much more squeamish about giving it away.

You are going to try to pretend that is unique to millennials? Didn’t the same boomers that made up the bulk of the late 60s and early 70s movements also vote for Reagan in 1980? Statistically, they would have had to for that victory to have happened.  All groups tend to be less given to redistribution as they get richer. You don’t even need a Marxist like me to tell you that. That is the contradiction in the nature of Keynesian-inspired  redistribution schemes, if they work, they also undercut their own support.

Then Thompson gets particularly obvious:

This just barely makes any sense. Here is a generation that trusts peers enough to meet random strangers in bars on Tinder, ride in cars with strangers on Uber X and Lyft, visit strangers’ apartments through Craigslist, sleep on their beds through Airbnb, and we’re also the least likely to say “most people can be trusted”? Put your theories in the comment section; I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Do you not understand how alienation works? The more connected you are to people in superficial ways, the less likely you are to the communities and long term responsibility to social groups to built trust. Again, this is not a paradox of millennials.  Similar themes go back the science fiction of the 1960s: boomer and lost generation writers like J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick were illustrating us the logic of this before we even had social media and the “sharing economy” (which turns many non-fiscal transactions into fiscal ones) to hyper-accelerate those trends.

This isn’t surprising. It’s not a paradox about generational attitudes. It’s utterly predictable counter-trends of a liberal society.  None of which are even that unique to the young.

Let’s go onto more:

I predict that any readers over the age of 30 will absolutely love this fact about voters under the age of 29. Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey.

Given that most of the boomers I know–both left and right lately–talk about police and snow plows as “socialism”? How is this a generational problem? In the absence of even a failed and deformed socialist state like Soviet Union and when people calling Nordic countries socialist even though they have a market economy and fair amount of “inequality”–although lower than the US and the Anglo-speaking world–is this surprising?

I can go on and on. The main point here is the astonishing “contradictions” of millennial politics either aren’t contradictions or they aren’t unique to millennials. I mean looking at the hip authors of Generation X: Doug Copeland’s or Irvine Welsh’s or Chuch Palahnuik’s politics were all maddening.

(And before you go off on me for protecting “my generation”–I find the life style and identity politics to be silly, but they didn’t start it. I am also published in Gen X poetry analogies. I am in the “Generation Y” gap of those old enough to remember the cold war and a time before not only smart phones, but CDs and cell-phones but don’t remember a time when there was only three television channels or party-lines rotary phones. In short, I am in the gap between as I am 35.)


Review: League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris (Quirk Press, 2015)

Morris’s “League of Regrettable Superheroes” is exploration of the flukes of the superhero genre, and this breaks things down into the nice explorations of vices and would-bes of the various comic book ages. Since the book focuses primarily on the super-heros with brief shelf-lives, you don’t need to dig down into massive mythologies or character inconsistencies or revisions of character history or alternate universes. Or, not as much as in more standard and long-running superhero fair.

Each character has, at least, a two page spread. A cover or panel is given as well as brief bio. Morris is not laugh at loud funny, but he is humorous without being snarky or pedantic. In the spirit of early comic books, there are few cute puns. The current break down is the Golden Age with 44 heroes; The Silver Age with 26 heroes; and The Modern Age with 30 heroes. The Golden Age has similar themes from comics publishers run amok, and the discussion actually gives you a insight into the early history of comics. The collapse of the “Bronze Age” and the “1980s-early 2000s” is probably a thematic mistake: the “Edgy” “adult” (teen vision of adult prurience and violence) and the bronze age attempt at more psychologically realistic and socially conscious heroes are actually quite different in their vices.

One of the interesting things discussed in subtext of Morris’ book is that not only are some of the more interesting superheroes more or less flops, but that superhero comics often go out of favor. For example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Morris mentions that superheroes were often in serial movies in theaters, but that superhero comics declined in popularity very quickly thereafter. Conversely, the early 1990s were an unusual prolix and profitable time for comics, but it collapsed out from under the industry and basically only related properties keep the current industry afloat. Indeed, we live in an age where superhero comic properties dominate the movies and popular culture, but superhero comic books are on the wane. This is something Morris does not discuss directly but hints at in his erudition about the medium.

The book is beautiful and well-laid out, the heroes range from hilarious to the vices of their age, and Morris shows his power as a subtle writer of pop culture and an academic of comics. In age of Geek and nerd dominance, this a refreshing reminder of its silliness.

A Rant: The Brief Discussion of the Birth of An Error

Collectivism vs. Individualism is the primary and fundamental misreading of human self-formation out of the Enlightenment and picking sides in that dumb-ass binary has been the primary driver of bad politics left and right for the last 250 years. This binary definitely let to both right-wing (Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism) and left-wing (the progressive eugenics movement as well as eugenics among American pragmatists as well as Stalin’s New man, etc) misreadings of biology.  It is fundamental misunderstanding of Marxian vs. capitalist economics (markets are not truly an individual enterprise and the collective powering of workers was not a denial of individual agency). It is what leads to horrible misreadings of other cultures as well as the US own culture.
 Of the post-Enlightenment thinkers–utilitarianism vs. deontology dominating the philosophical debates since 1700s while neither seemed to deal with multiple valance of virtue ethic theory–Hegel was one of the few to point out that the self only arises against the recognition of something apart from it, and struggling to be recognized by something apart from it to understand itself, it emerges as a being.  You are formed by and against a collective, and you can not more abandon your individual self to the mob at all times any more than you can learn to speak without some to teach you and to talk.
So kindly, let’s quit this damnably stupid way of binary thinking that was perfectly obvious to most philosophical and religious thinkers of the past to sillily reductive (see Stoic epistemology, skeptic epistemology, Greek virtue ethics, Christian and Islamic virtue ethics,  Abhidhamma, etc).

Attempts 4: Expatriation, Teaching, and Memory

I was grading tons of essays today–the kinds of student essays that show the students were mostly paying attention but were not quite there yet–and listening to podcasts.  I took at break, walking around my third floor Cairo apartment and noticing that it was raining.  It’s hyperbolic to say it never rains in Cairo, but this is a culture that had the status of bread basket to both the Roman and Islamic world because it was so wet yet never rained enough to erode the minerals in the soil.  For some reason, perhaps somewhat obvious, I thought about the time in Torreon, Mexico, when the uncharacteristically heavy rains put out my gas water heater, and I miss lit it, and melted my eye brows and third-degree burned my face to a vivid pink. Then I thought about my first monsoon season in Yong-in, when I just met my current partner over talking about competitive debate in South Korea, and Osan river flooded the first floor of my apartment building, leaving me having to climb up and down fourteen flights of stairs.

Then I thought about my last teaching day in Georgia. Listening to podcasts and backing up my classroom for the last time.  My first three years of teaching had been hit-and-miss, and I was exhausted. A few months prior, my principal had given me a warning: if two other teachers didn’t retire that year, I was to be laid off.  I had applied and been accepted to a Phd in Educational Leadership, but got no funding, and without a full-time job, I had hedge my bets.  Two weeks prior, a friend of mine had asked me to interview for a job. This friend was my former philosophy professor in undergrad–a rather conservative philosopher who had tried to get out of academia in housing, then when that collapsed into the abyss that was 2008-9, he left to Korea to work in publishing and then at Korean Universities. I did not know this.  We had not spoken in several years aside to argue about politics and Hegel, and sometimes relationship between Buddhist logic and post-Enlightenment Christian logic.  He would later live with me in the ends of his marriage for a few weeks after we refused to speak over a political argument. He was trying to find qualified lecturers for University and my part-time job after school had been teaching Composition and Literature courses to community college students. I sent my C.V. to him, and went a week, I got an interview.  That interview as at four o’clock in the morning because I was interviewing with a panel of professors in Seoul.

I got that job, but at the moment I was packing up my desk and going to tell my Department Head at the community college I was teaching that I would be leaving in two months, I felt like an utter failure.  My marriage was on the rocks, although I had no idea that it would end. My then wife had lost her job somewhat unfairly and unexpectedly, and was swimming in a sea of confusion about what to do with her life. Our worlds had moved further and further apart–I thought she was, of course, as intelligent as me but she was intimidated by the academic world I had moved in and since she had no college degree, she was not employable at any institution that I would work at abroad.  Furthermore, I was leaving as the first class of students I taught who were graduating, and as their graduation ceremony completed, I just slowly stuck out of the hall my school was renting, and went home to drink.

So as I was listening to a podcast like “Atheist News” or “The Geologic Podcast,”  trying to laugh, sending tons of documents to University a million miles away, canceling my plans to appear at Skepticamp.  I stopped blogging on the first incarnation of this blog for about a year, I had let my live journal go dormant. I was drinking a lot of whisky. I had also gained weight.  I would go to a dinner one last time with my ex-wife to a new Chinese restaurant, and I remember just playing with the orange chicken and trying to talk about closing out my 401-3b to pay for our medical bills before I left the country.  We argued about whether or not it may sense for her to move in and go to school online in South Korea, if she could transfer our cats to Korea.

I went a few times to my favorite used book store and sold most of my unsigned physical books.  I bought a kindle despite thinking e-books where stupid because they were easy to transport from country to country. I said goodbye to some students. I visited my family, and would say goodbye to some  people. I got on a plane to Seoul, and softly and quietly tearing up as left my life behind, I watched mumble-core movies and French films about Moliere and Mic Macs, and was wowed by the powder blue uniforms of the Korean inflight attendants. All of whom were preternaturally tall, and disturbingly beautiful.  A Korean woman rested her head on my shoulder.  I felt alone.  My relationship to the past changed.

I mark time by places there forward, and my media I consume.  Each period of my life feels discrete, although for months there were reminders.  Three months later, I found my now ex-wife’s hair in my clothes and books.  I was in shock, and my ex- and I drifted further apart. She got a new job.  We fought sometimes.  I started talking to other female friends.  I visited over Christmas, and then we decided to divorce.

In that time, I wrote this poem, which was later published in the Ann Arbor Review,


Moving my books out of baggage
a brown hair from my wife
brushes my hand. Fissure
and erasure. Trace of small
moment, even the hair
without the scent, dialectic
pull of the memory. Loss.
Once there was a love
story. Once a beginning,
middle, end. Here absence
stalls and sputters. Trace
of keratin, cutting of crown,
moving her here, a bleak
scar across a page and palm.
Everything apart pulls back
together. Gently tucking
the hair into my pocket,
I become ellipses
as if I can reconstruct
specters from loss.

Yet at the end of the day, the specters of lose became a new life: one in which the trauma of my twenties–some of which is too personal to mention on this kind of blog–turned into a turn to philosophy, writing, and travel. I have been a writer for six or seven years, but in jumping to Korea and packing up my old life, when I really moved into having something to write about other than childhood, and something to say about America other than just the reactions to whatever political tribe seems nearest to my emotive core.

Travel changes you.  Travel becomes you.  It unsettles your sense of time and plac,e but in that disruptive sorting, defines time and place for you more clearly.

Twenty Novels That I Think Are Important

But will not necessarily explain why, and will let me readers speculate on any trends they see:

The MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood*
High Rise by J. G. Ballard
Ada, Or Ardor by Vladmir Nabokov
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Storm and Steel by Ernest Junger
The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
The Buddha’s Little Finger by Victor Pelevin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy by John Updike*
2666 by Roberto Bolano
Near to the Wild Hear by Clarice Lispector
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
The Man in High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Orlando by Virgina Woolf
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz*
The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy*
The Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig
The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

*I realize this is cheating but I consider the effect of these works together as a unified piece of art.

Views from Egypt: Saqqara, Dashur, Memphis

Taking a break from the long essays, I wanted to post from my travels.  While there are a million travel blogs all over the world, I travel extensively. In the past five years, I have been to South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Northern Mexico, Southern Mexico, and Cairo.   It is one of the perks of the job I have chosen to do: I make a middle class living at much lower pay than I could in the States, and I get to travel all over the planet.  This has been crucial to changing my thinking in the past five years, even if the internet lessens the alienation (and thus the impact) of travel.

Today, my partner and I went to outskirts of Giza with a group of Americans and two Egyptians to ancient capitals of KMT.  Here are some pictures for your enjoyment:

Woman making street bread outside of Mat rahina (Memphis).

Woman making street bread outside of Mat rahina (Memphis).

The funeral Temple at Saqqara. The oldest known cut stone structure on Earth built by Imhotep.

The funeral Temple at Saqqara. The oldest known cut stone structure on Earth built by Imhotep.

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis.

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis.



Statue of Ramses the II

Statue of Ramses the II

The Red and Bent Pyramids of Dashur

The Red and Bent Pyramids of Dashur

Step Pyramid of Djose r

Step Pyramid of Djose r

Ramses II at Memphis

Ramses II at Memphis

Step Pyramid at Djoser

Step Pyramid at Djoser