I have always been interested in struggles over who deserves access to what resources in society, and who deserves to feel what. In my Laurier classes on democracy and social movements, I learn a lot listening to students debate questions such as:
I was immediately fascinated, then, when I began hearing the millennial generation (people born between the early 1980s to early 2000s) accused of being the most "entitled" generation in history. The chorus of millennial bashing from journalists, politicians, comedians, and academics forms what I call "the myth of the age of entitlement."
The myth goes something like this: Parents, teachers, employers, and the entertainment industries dote upon young people like never before. New technologies and social media provide the millennial generation with pleasures and opportunities the likes of which no previous generation has known. The myth of millennial entitlement frames the lofty expectations of young people as threats to society. If millennials got what they think they deserve, the economy would crash, the universities would build more puppy-therapy rooms than chemistry labs, and people would communicate exclusively by tweet.
I wrote my book, The Myth of the Age of Entitlement: Millennials, Austerity, and Hope, to debunk the myth of the age of entitlement. I interviewed millennials from Brantford, Ontario to Brooklyn, New York; from the swamps of Louisiana to the streets of Quebec. I deliberately reached out to millennials not often represented in mainstream depictions of Generation Y: for example, Indigenous youth, migrants, social justice activists, and people living in rural communities. Their stories provide the narrative thread through the book’s case studies of struggles over millennials' entitlement at the workplace, on campus, and with respect to the natural environment.
Part of what their stories highlight is that experiences of the millennial generation are far more diverse and complex than what is assumed by champions of the myth of millennial entitlement. The interviews also provide a personal angle on what large amounts of social and economic data have long shown: that is, that there is no epidemic of millennial entitlement by any measure. In fact, when it comes to employment, experiences on campus, and the environmental crisis, millennials have actually been dis-entitled in all sorts of ways.
The further I got into the research, the clearer it became to me that my project was about much more than getting the facts right. The implications of debates about millennials go way beyond the immediate context of our campuses. They have a lot to do with the future shape of our society and the development of just expectations.
In contrast to the settle-for-less logic of the myth of the age of entitlement, my book argues that a future of greater social equality and ecological sustainability depends upon radical expansion of what I call democratic entitlements. From slave rebellions to suffrage movements to campaigns for free tuition: throughout history, expansions in social rights and democracy have been fuelled by marginalized groups refusing to accept the terms of business as usual, demanding that they are entitled to better lives.
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