Dirty millennials: hope

My husband lovingly calls me a “dirty millenial.”

I’m not actually a millenial. I fall a few years outside the category’s birthday boundary, as does–by a narrower margin–my just-younger sister.

Many articles I’ve read describe early access to computers as a defining characteristic of millenials. As I wrote in “The kingdom saved her,” we had a home computer very early. We went to a computer-centric middle school and accessed the internet from home in the early to mid 90s.

You might call us “honorary millenials,” were you not averse to putting those two words together.

During my winter of accelerated learning, I began seeing narratives.

I went from seeing A Unified Story in each and end every event or sequence of events to seeing that there were multiple variations of each. Each person saw an event or sequence of them somewhat differently based on personal history and context, but the thing was: only some were able to amplify their narratives. Folks in positions of power, especially, were able to say: “This is the story.” More than that, I witnessed how others often believed that assertion without further exploration.

The more I read and watched, the more I began to see holes in a lot of generally accepted authority stories. Little bits and pieces of facts didn’t line up unless the camera through which the story was told shifted to a different angle, so that I began looking from many angles to perceive fuller, less fact-filtered stories.

I learned that each assembly of a group of storysets is a narrative. I slowly became more agile at shifting between storysets and narratives, and weaving them together in ways that made consistent the misfits between other folks’ divergent narratives.

I first saw this in police and media stories soon after Ferguson. The narrative advanced by police in conjunction with mainstream media* often varied–sometimes widely–from other firsthand accounts, including those caught on camera and made available by social media.

Those mainstream variances confused me until December 2014, when I realized that they were about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and how to retain it.

The last few months, I’ve seen many signs that both main U.S. political parties were struggling to retain power they derived, in part, from slow, well controlled public access of and exposure to data.

Neither party’s leaders appear to have embraced that we now live in a world where data flows freely and many sets of eyes can solve a problem that only one set first sees. If one person hears a troubling assertion presented as fact today, they can pose a question and have virtually instantaneous access to the data and experiences in other people’s heads. (This is often described as “hive mind.”)

Despite all this, I unflinchingly accepted the dominant “Hillary’s a more pragmatic choice” narrative until my siblings asked me to explain why. Not only why, but what did that even mean?

Without forcing me to accept any particular conclusion, they helped me don my narrative-spotting glasses.

Not only could I never say “she’s the more pragmatic choice” ever again, I was aghast by how clearly I’d accepted the dominant narrative.

When Clinton was announced the victor before polls even opened in my state of California and many other states with the same primary date, I was incensed, but no longer surprised. I mean, who really needs voters to cast votes to determine the will of the people when superdelegates–each of whose vote counts for 10,000 votes, and 64 of whom are registered lobbyists–can cinch elections a month and a half before they’re able to officially cast their votes? As now ousted DNC chair/scapegoat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz helpfully explained about these, they “exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.” In other words, the Democratic Party has to make sure that it has a mechanism to ensure its interests are protected when those interests run counter to the people’s.

And if one mechanism doesn’t work? Best to have back-up, and be prepared to attack all those who question.

You might be scratching your head and wondering what all this has to do with millennials. The answer: everything.

To illuminate this, I’ll share an email I sent a girlfriend after she complained about a recurring problem with some of her favorite guys constantly talking over her.

The answer I tapped out on my phone then was one I couldn’t have even understood two years ago. When millennials ask, “Why?” and others respond, “Because I said so,” others perceive them as being “whiny” for not accepting this non-answer.

While older generations try preserving their power, millennials are trying to preserve a physical world they’ll be living in much longer than older generations whose very pursuit of power endangers that same world.

My question for non-millenials now, then, is: Do you choose truth or comfort?

Your narrative shapes the world we have left to leave behind.

I hope we can get a few minutes on the phone in the near future. My response to this could fill a novella!

It’s very much related to what we’re talking about in the thread between [us+]. When I started really diving into Twitter a couple years ago, I really didn’t grok the whole “implicit bias” thing. I couldn’t quite believe it.

The more I read on blogs and Twitter, the more I saw undeniable evidence of these things … on Twitter and in my own life. Unfortunately, I found many people weren’t persuaded and actively worked against being persuaded.

When I started digging into police brutality, I found clarity into what I was witnessing.
Police and similar authorities are accustomed to having power beyond that vested in weapons. They are used to unquestioning acceptance of their narrative as the “good guys.” Now they are having to wrestle with losing that power in a world where abundant videocameras frequently tell stories very different than the ones they’ve written in their official accounts.

They’ve gotten away with this so far because the tide of evidence still isn’t sweeping enough to bowl over many disbelieving non-minorities … but the tide is turning. Police authorities are fighting against it because they’ve long enjoyed the power they had before multiple narratives began converging everywhere to bring into question their own narratives. They are struggling to hold onto this artifact of a different world because it suited them.

So, too, do microaggressions reflect struggles to maintain entrenched power of other historically powerful groups (e.g., White males). They want to discount microaggressions because not doing so means they have benefited to others’ detriment, and that is a crappy thing to accept. (I know, having grappled with the fact my Whitness has indeed afforded me many benefits.)

Right now, older generations–particularly among White folk–are living with the idea they deserve respect, dammit, because they’ve earned it. They do this while continuing to make choices that fuck over the world in ways they largely won’t be around to experience. So for me it is a powerful thing that Sanders has done to show that politics need not be about maintaining entrenched power.

Millennials, who see the track the world is on, are more concerned with ensuring they have something left of a world to inherit than kissing destructive older generations’ asses just because they like a good ass-kissing, even while th[ose older generations] continue to devastate the physical world they’ll spend much less time in than will Millennials and Millenials’ children.

It’s all about power, and who does not want to cede it. For Millennials, power tends to be perceived as in the people, not some human-made structure(s), and that is, to me, a supremely hopeful thing.

Of course, it’s less hopeful to those historically in power, and that is–I’d posit–what you’re seeing: a dying relic (“I can just tell her to stop talking and shift the narrative, as has long been my right!”) that doesn’t yet realize its life support will soon expire.

* The moment I really learned to scan for the bias in purportedly neutral news reports
was the moment I read about how Eric Garner wasn’t choked by an officer but
by an officer’s  virtually disembodied arm. After that striking choking example,
I became a lot more skilled at discarding not-so-neutral narrative presented
as fact. Now I ask, “Why was it phrased that way?”  The answer to this is
inevitably found in pursuing, with openness to any answer,
“Who benefits by it being phrased that way?”

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  1. Paul
    July 31, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Well said Deborah. My guess is that it is very difficult to change the narrative of an individual but rather the change has to be generational.

    • July 31, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Thats what it looks like to me, Paul: a bell curve with the peak being among millenials at this point.

      Anthony majored in American Studies because he wanted to have a vocabulary for articulating his experiences. I didn’t seek such a thing, so I’m having to learn it now, at what feels like a glacial pace!

  2. July 31, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I have to laugh… ” describe early access to computers as a defining characteristic of millennials.” — Bell Labs ran a hard wired teletype machine to my father’s house in 1956, so my brother could program their room sized digital computer. I’ve never been completely computerless since. So, by that definition, I’m the oldest “millennial” I know. And yes, I choose truth over comfort any day of the week, but I’ve studied economics and know the only reason the USA isn’t completely bankrupt is our currency is the world standard — for the moment. (The British “pound sterling” used to be the world standard) At the moment we are so close to losing the privilege of printing the world currency that it’s terrifying. I won’t live long enough to see the crash, but your children will. “Sustainable farming” is another thing I hear no one talking about, yet unless we achieve that, cities will start to starve (all over the world, including the USA.) We are already beginning to see that in the USA, yet, if something major doesn’t change, (and I’m not talking about climate change!) food reserves are projected to run out in 2020. One thing I’ve learned in a rather long life is to always, always check facts and search for problems that aren’t being discussed. It’s like everyone knows about the San Andres Fault line — but what about the Cascade fault line? What is college worth to a starving population? Can we move Seattle and Vancouver before they drown in a Tsunami? And when are we going to repair infrastructure — with what money? The more money we print, the sooner the crash that displays just what a bankrupt country can’t do… There simply is no “good” choice this November….

    • July 31, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      It’s an individual versus generational thing. One of my uncles got in trouble, I’m told, with a government agency long for how he used a computer long before we got a computer. That kind of computer access was an outlier, though, not the norm. For millennials, it was the norm.

      As far as everything you’re saying, these are my concerns, not how to pad already heavily padded accounts. How can we account for the needs of the many instead of dismissing them as less important than the needs of the increasingly wealthy (very) few?

  1. August 27, 2016 at 12:16 am
  2. September 18, 2016 at 10:20 am
  3. October 14, 2016 at 5:50 am
  4. November 26, 2016 at 2:14 am
  5. December 2, 2016 at 4:00 pm
  6. January 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

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