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Generation X, Y and Z are not so good being organisation drones. Well, good.

I don’t agree with all of what Charles Stross says here (I detect more than just a whiff of leftist nonsense when he refers to “neoliberalism”), but this article is worth a read, as it pertains to how attitudes towards issues such as national security and the role of the state are changing. Excerpt:

We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we don’t see eye to eye with our parents on political questions or we sigh in despair about our kids’ fashion sense or taste in music, we generally have a handle on what makes them tick. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s generation screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking that our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens — people for whom a North Atlantic crossing by sail was as slow and risky as a mission to Mars, people who took it for granted that some races were naturally inferior and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.

And this:

Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z — the cohort born since the millennium.

Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability — but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.

Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?

If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.

The point that Stross misses, in his foolish line about “dog-eat-dog economic liberalism”, is that the older, more statist idea of people being forced to join big trade unions and having “jobs for life” was based on a zero-sum idea that the way to get ahead was through political pull and the coercive reach of the state, not through the voluntary exchange of the market and entrepreneurship. Sure, it is is the case that the liberalism associated with a more individualised economic situation (hooray!) is one in which ideas of loyalty to a company for life find it harder to take root. But is that such a bad thing? In other words, is what Stross is describing a feature or a bug?

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19 comments to Generation X, Y and Z are not so good being organisation drones. Well, good.

  • Chip

    “Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. ”

    Extreme climate events have been declining and temperatures flattening. If Stross is too intellectually lazy to understand basic economics one can’t expect him to wander off the Guardian plantation when it comes to climate.

  • pete

    People have never been loyal to employers. Staying with an employer for a long time is not loyalty, it is self-interest.

    Now even state employment is not he cushy number it used to be and people don’t like it.

  • Rocco

    I gave up at “a world wracked by extreme climate events”. Couldn’t face it.

  • “Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme economic downturn.” There, fixed – not that it makes a material difference.

    He does make some interesting – and even encouraging, from the anti-statist perspective – points.

  • Frank S

    “a world wracked by extreme climate events” is leftist fantasising. They want it to be true. They want us to be scared by it. What kind of people are they? ‘Unscientific’ is part of it. As is ‘destructive’. And also ‘ignorant’ and ‘malevolent’.

  • Mr Ed

    I’ve seen more clarity in a sewage farm than that piece.

  • Chip

    His novels are equally clear. Tried reading Rule 34 once. A tangled mess of silly politics and cartoonish characters.

  • John

    “Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events.”

    Snort.

  • RRS

    While attention is often given to expectations, and the factors giving rise to generational changes in expectations, attention is seldom paid to what may be the far more important cultural element of aspirations.

    The influence of a preceding generation upon a successor generation, which actually occurs in overlapping spectra of time and circumstance, can be most readily observed in terms of the aspirations of the preceding generation due to the function of aspirations in forming expectations and in determining actions for their attainment.

    Plausible arguments may be made that Western societies have demonstrated declining or constrained aspirations. However those remaining aspirations have formed sufficient expectations to maintain, but not expand, the cultures and resulting civilization. Equally plausible arguments may be made that declining aspirations (however “declining” may be defined) have now reached the point of reducing expectations; and, those declines of aspirations are indicia of stagnation in cultures and potential decline of civilization.

    Perhaps somewhere amongst those scholars of Sociology there are studies of the state of aspirations over several generations or, perhaps concerning current aspirations at various economic, educational, managerial, and other levels of our societies.

    Aspirations as much as expectations provide a key to motivations which are the drivers of human conduct.

  • Achillea

    I gave up at “a world wracked by extreme climate events”. Couldn’t face it.

    Same here. I was laughing too hard at the hot-earther to continue.

  • Alex

    “Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events.” is rightfully getting considerable scorn.
    There may be an interesting psychological effect on that generation of that apocalyptic message being indoctrinated into them, and it then not happening. When that effect shows up, I wouldn’t want to be a leading climate alarmist.

  • Laird

    I agree with the previous comments here denigrating Stross’ “extreme climate events” and “dog-eat-dog economic liberalism” comments; both are foolish statements which detract from the article. But he makes some interesting points, notably in the paragraph immediately preceding the one about Snowden which Johnathan quoted. “[I]f the actions of the state deviate too far from the ideals embodied in the foundational myths its citizens believe, cognitive dissonance ensues. The public perception of America as being a democratic republic that values freedom and fairness under the rule of law is diametrically opposed to the secretive practices of the surveillance state.” We’re seeing stirrings of that “cognitive dissonance” in the sometimes rancorous public debate over Snowden’s actions, and especially in the differing reactions of the political class (the heavyweights in both major political parties seem equally opposed to Snowden’s disclosures) in comparison to the much greater degree of support expressed by the general public. I hope this doesn’t just blow over as have so many other political scandals, and that the ire of the people is now sufficiently aroused to force a curtailment of at least some of the worst abuses. But I’m not optimistic.

  • Myno

    I find Stross to be an infuriating admixture of brilliant ideas, incisive commentary, and idiotic knee-jerk statism. I am sucked into the hope that his own native intelligence will necessarily lead him to see the inherent contradictions in his metaphysics, but then those hopes are always dashed by his flagrant flaming adherence to the irrational. Makes me feel the pull of that statist desire to initiate some violence upside his face (i.e., to slap him)… so I stay well away from him, and the desires he foments in me.

  • Incunabulum

    I do not know why anyone reads any of Stross’ non-fiction, especially the stuff on his blog.

    He’s a great writer but somehow manages to create the incredible, libertarianish, societies (most of Earth in ‘Singularity Sky’) in his work, or write about people doing their own thing through voluntary actions without *owing* anything to the state (like Manfred from ‘Accellerando’) and the benefits/problems of living like this but in real life he is so fond of ever increasing power to control our daily lives residing in that ‘post-Westphalian state’.

    He, like Ken McLeod have this weird confusion between libertarianism and communism – they both seem to have the terms confused, ie that communism is about the destruction of the state and individual freedom and libertarianism is about religious indoctrination, owning guns, black helicopters, and American rednecks.

  • Turns out Bradley Manning grew up in Haverfordwest, a few miles from where I’m from and the town of my birth. Didn’t see that one coming!

  • Deep Lurker

    “They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability”

    Except that the main thing stripping away the ability to travel internationally is the US government’s “War on Tourism,” more than any enconomic decline. And the idea that “energy costs” will contribute to bringing international travel to an end for the middle classes is, if anything, an even bigger leftist fantasy than the stuff about “extreme climate events.”

  • Paul Marks

    Most Western countries have a government that eats up about half the entire economy in its spending and saturates the rest (including the financial industry – which lies claim is “unregulated”) with regulations – distorting everything.

    And this person claims that “economic liberalism” is the problem.

    More than a “whiff” of leftist nonsense.

    Economic liberalism is NOT being followed – yet it blamed for X, Y, Z.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Extreme climate events in seven years’ time?

    Bullshit.

    And it’s always too late for long-term planning by governments – of anything, any time, as Hayek pointed out ages ago.

    I hope the rest of this article is better, otherwise I am about to waste a few minutes of my precious lunch-hour.

  • Greg

    Alex wrote:
    “There may be an interesting psychological effect on that generation of that apocalyptic message being indoctrinated into them, and it then not happening. When that effect shows up, I wouldn’t want to be a leading climate alarmist.”

    Not so sure there’s a long term downside to having been a “leading climate alarmist”. No one will remember or care, just as they’ve forgotten about all the previous scares from the “watermelons”. I’ll bet many of the folks responsible for the banning of DDT are still alive, but have never been held to account for the millions of people who died because of their ill-advised efforts. OK, some will remember, for example, many here at Samizdata. The challenge is whether we and others who do remember make sure there is a downside.