The Entitled Ones

published on The Prince Arthur Herald

When famously asked what he was rebelling against, Brando’s character coolly answered: “Whatever you got.”
As the cold hard facts of court rulings and winter weather bring the Occupy protests to a screeching halt, it’s worth reflecting on the lofty ambitions that marked the movement’s origins. A movement that was supposed to be the “millennial” generation’s moment of social protest.

A generation ago, the rebellion of the “boomers” was artistically summarized in films like “The Wild One,” where Marlon Brando (the picture of leather jacket cool) personified a healthy disregard for the establishment. When famously asked what he was rebelling against, Brando’s character coolly answered: “Whatever you got.”

Every generation has the protesters and moments of social discontent. However, the sporadic uprisings of students in Occupy camps and protests earlier this month at the University of McGill (ostensibly over demands for lower tuition) are, in one sense, less sincere. Rather than being a rebellion against their culture, these protesters are a product of their environment more than anything else. In 60 years we have come from the “wild ones” to the “entitled ones.” And as the millennial generation expresses an ever-growing sense of entitlement, they would be wise to reflect on the legacy of their forbearers: the ever-diminishing capacity of the decaying welfare state to support their demands.

Appearances suggest that the millennial generation will be defined by its superb use of social media and ability to adapt to emerging technology – ushering in the burgeoning era of the “Twitthnocrat,” where social media savvy passes as a marketable skill. However, an unintended by-product of this new job skill is that too many come to believe that they possess a right (rather than a privilege) to have social media access at work.

An exaggeration? Consider a current study conducted by Cisco Systems that found over 56% of the new generation would pass over on taking a new job, if it would substantially restrict their social media access.

Another telling insight into the millenials’ entitlement mindset was uncovered by a recent report from University of Guelph Professor Sean T. Lyons, which found that most university graduates expect to have a starting salary at their first job of around $48,000.

Finally, compound this with a recent study that found the current generation has a very poor or nonexistent grasp of financially literacy. A lack of financial knowledge and skills sets that could explain why young people today are still successfully peddling the idea of free tuition.

Where did we go wrong? Is it really the fault of all those indulgent boomers who over-inflated their children’s self-esteem to epic proportions? Can we blame a world where parents constantly bombard their kids with praise for being exceptional (“You might be the next Rembrandt, or even Shakespeare”)? No wonder we have a whole era of children who believe they should succeed on their talent alone. Alas, the current state of parenting makes it more difficult to determine the truly talented from the average and mediocre. The average and below-average float up unencumbered to the lofty heights of our unrealistic and unsustainable technocratic culture.

These issues come down to the naive expectations of the current millennials generation. And here is the rub: today’s protesters and struggling millennials are tomorrow’s taxpayers. At the same time as McGill students were protesting for a further subsidy to their education from government coffers, a report was released by the Institute Of Marriage and Family Canada, stating that Québec’s welfare state was on the fast track to collapse.

One interesting nugget is outlined by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada: “A Quebec Family Portrait.” The report found that demography is the great challenge for Quebec, as replacement rates drop to drastically low levels.  As a result, there will not be enough able-bodied Quebecers in the workforce to support the significant social safety-net required for the province’s rapidly aging population. In this regard, Québec is the canary in the coalmine for the rest of the country.

Such a dire warning is important not only for the rest of Canada, but also for the millennial generation. They are the ones who must face tough choices when it comes to rethinking certain aspects of Canada’s approach to the welfare state. It falls to us, my generation, to treat this as a challenge to overcome, and not an impediment that could weigh us down. If we tackle this challenge using our strengths, and refuse to give in to our weaknesses, it could usher in a new age of Canadian ingenuity. However, for that to happen, Canada has to become a nation of makers,
rather than takers.