Millennials’ Search for Meaning

A civilization’s main export product is its constituents’ behavior, especially abroad. The West, judging by the millennial generation’s monomaniac drive to party, scouring the world’s pristine island beaches and trashing them in raves of binge drinking and electronic music, suffers more than a PR problem, but an existential crisis.

While their grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, unflinchingly stormed the beaches of Normandy in defense of freedom, this wealthiest, most privileged generation to have ever lived in human history remorselessly spoils that freedom on beach festivals and full moon parties, turning tropical coasts into dumping grounds of plastic cups, glass bottles, and wasted potential.

Nothing says “I can afford not to care about you” like the economic colonialism of the West’s roving youths whose fly-over lifestyles trample on starving Third World populations, only to spend long vacations losing themselves to their favorite deejays’ dance tunes and in mind-altering drugs. 

What went wrong? What happened to the ideal of leaving behind a better world for future generations? When did we decide to make hedonism foreign policy?

Twenty-somethings call it “life before work”. The phrase’s negative connotation not only exposes a deep lack of purpose among young Westerners, but also a wholesale rejection of Western society. The pride earlier generations once took in carrying the responsibilities to keep their economies afloat simply no longer balances out the social cost of a sixty-hour-or-more workweek.

Had the millennial generation possessed their grandparents’ economic opportunities, perhaps these party armies could have ended many of the world’s humanitarian crises. They could applied their wealth to preventing the refugee crisis from having happened in the first place. Why can’t droves of party goers make a stop in Aleppo to do the right thing and end human suffering?

The purposelessness the youngest Western generations experience poses a problem the world cannot afford to ignore. A lack of meaning in one’s personal life may cause a depression, but a broad sense of meaninglessness afflicting an entire generation of wealthy people spells catastrophe. 

Catastrophe has hit the West before. Writing in 1936, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War, psychoanalyst Carl Jung recognized this problem among Germany’s youths:

“Armed with rucksack and lute, [blond youths] were to be seen as restless wanderers on every road from the North Cape to Sicily, faithful votaries of the roving god. [Later], the wandering role was taken over by thousands of unemployed, who were to be met with everywhere on their aimless journeys. By 1933 they wandered no longer, but marched in their hundreds of thousands.”

Jung understood that war happens when the young grow frustrated and collective reject their parents’ society.

Surely, many in the West preoccupy themselves each day with providing aid to the Third World, working hard to solve wars and crises all over the globe. But they do so while dangerously ignoring a rapidly growing problem within their own ranks. If the West fails to provide its youths with a meaningful future, their survival instincts will send them looking for one elsewhere — one way or another.

If Western civilization wants to survive, its leaders will have to change their attitude towards the world. The West is at a crossroads. Like the cathedral builders of medieval Europe, this generation of Westerners holds a potential to become the architects of new civilization. 

And if we can do all that, perhaps then, too, we can stop trashing the world’s most beautiful beaches.

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Millennials’ Search for Meaning by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.