• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Millennial and Socialist: What's the Difference?

July 2018

Ask of your elder the difference between a millennial and a socialist, and ready yourself for his response. Having broached the question to many a senior whose days more than treble my own, I can almost tell you verbatim what candid, albeit spittle-encrusted answer will come. It will be at once refreshing and gratuitously wet; hopefully, if not drenched, you’ll be edified after hearing it. You might even go so far as to take what I have to say on good authority. So good an authority, in fact, that you might as well go ahead and generalize it to our nation of geriatrics as a whole (a nation, it might be added, of whose composition 15% live presently and happily over the age of 65—a remarkable number that’s certain to double in nearly as many years as longevity becomes a synonym for society).

But back to his response. Candid it shall be, as frankness is commensurate with age, but at the same time, in giving his answer he might be given pause. If this is the case, as I’ve experienced it to be, expect his response to be somewhat quizzical, slower than usual, perhaps even completely bemused. He’ll think that you—attempting to be clever with your envious and impish youth—have pressed upon him a mischievous riddle. Are not the terms “Millennial” and “socialist”, after all, really just one in the same? Is not the first little more than a synonym for the latter—the second an equivalent of the first? In what infinitesimal cranny does the difference lie?

Seeing through your sophistry, he’ll finally settle on this response: the difference between Millennial and socialist is non-existent! With one thrust and with the sagacity of his years, he’s slain your tempting koan. There is no discernable line where the Millennial stops and the in-dwelling socialist begins. Their distinction is one without a difference; they’re but emanations of the same essence, branches of the same tree. Through his trusty window into the greater world outside—be it of glass, of memory, or of an ever-thumping television screen—our elder knows so much to be true.

His generation would never dare associate itself with socialism. At least in hindsight, it wouldn’t make that leap to the furthest reaches of the left. He, more than the callow undergraduate with whom he speaks, recognizes what socialism really means. It means mass starvations and Siberian “vacations”; the former being something from which you can’t escape, the latter from which you seldom return. It means gulags in the Arctic permafrost and work camps in Cambodian jungles. It means a Stalinist Eastern Bloc and a Maoist far East. It means Marx and Engels, of whom a besotted cult of acolytes remains enamored. An opium of the masses, if ever there was such a drug. It means grain quotas, matériels, fiats, and five-year plans. It means social immobility, paralyzing brutality, and intermittent purging. It means obfuscation, prestidigitation, and a Potemkin façade carried around for outsiders to see. It means no blue jeans, no rock music, no kulaks, and no culture. It means totalitarianism, repression, exploitation, and—more often than is natural—countless unnatural deaths.

Yet it means none of these things to the Millennial, for the Millennial sees socialism not for what it is, but as something trendy and chic. Detached from its history and its underlying philosophy, socialism looks like an innocuous and useful thing. It looks like an enticing remedy to our society’s present ills. To each according to his need, after all, sounds like a laudable and desirable creed. But it’s completely illusory, and your elder knows this well.

And he knows that, in this day and age, over half of all Millennials self-identify as “socialists”. He’s long suspected that which the polls only now confirm. Based on the findings of last year’s Reason-Rupe Survey, 58% of those aged 18-24 look favorably upon socialism and endorse it as a practicable means to our country’s end. As the case of our interlocutor proves, though, with age comes wisdom. At least it should. Belying this truth is the recent finding of Michelle Goldberg, a trenchant reporter who leans to the left on the left-leaning staff of the New York Times. She’s found in her research that indeed 61% of those aged 18-34 view socialism positively. One’s drawn to the depressing conclusion that we Millennials are becoming less enlightened as we age.

And more confused. As an appendage to that Reason-Rupe Survey cited above, when asked if they favored free or centralized market economies, 64% of the same Millennial respondents between the aforementioned ages threw their hats behind the first. Thus arises the rather embarrassing contradiction; Millennials simultaneously support socialism as their preferred form of government, while supporting capitalism as the most choice-worthy economic model. The fundamental tension, if not the sheer incompatibility between the two (in their purest, most ideologically coherent forms) is woefully lost on them. Of course, in application, there is a necessary confluence between the two, but I don’t think that either poll was trying to evoke in its respondents quite that much nuance.

With scornful reproach, your elder’s eyes narrow at such ignorance. Doubtless, he himself knows the philosophy and its effects well, but he knows the Millennial well too. He knows the quixotic and delusional look in the youthful eye. It’s an eye that’s too willing and eager. And he knows the shining and tempting lights of socialism by which so many earlier intellectuals had been made blind. Intellectuals like Whittaker Chambers, sociologists like Beatrice and Sydney Webb, satirists like George Bernard Shaw, journalists like Walter Duranty, muralists like Diego Rivera, artists like Frida Kahlo, and essayists like Lincoln Steffens. It was the last of these soviet apologists who less than presciently exclaimed that he’d seen the future (in what was an inchoate Red Russia), and that it worked. It’s the same type chimerical future, nearly a century later, for which our Millennials still grasp.

This group of Millennials, of whose generation I’m an unwitting member, ought to turn toward its elders or its books. We’ve clearly been failed by our teachers or made dumb by our own incurious natures. Either way, we should work toward proving wrong our elder’s perception of us. Millennials and socialists ought not be synonyms and we certainly shouldn’t allow ourselves to become one in the same.

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