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165

On millennials

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an absolutely superb essay reviewing Malcolm Harris' Kids These Days. also called "Not Every Kid-Bond Matures"

Winant, G. (2018). On millennials. n+1, 30, pp. 165-179

165

At the end of childhood, some millennials go to college to continue accumulating human capital. Harris is a peerless observer of the harrowing economic costs of “meritocracy,” and his chapter on college abounds in withering aperçus. “College admissions offices are the rating agencies for kids,” he writes. “And once the kid-bond is rated, it has four or so years until it’s expected to produce a return.” Because the pressure to accumulate human capital is so intense, students will bear enormous costs to do it. Far from the coddled children of stereotype, Harris points out, most college students are “regular people—mostly regular workers—who spend part of their work-time on their own human capital, like they’ve been told to.” Exhaustion, overwork, and even food insecurity are common. Colleges themselves, meanwhile, reap obscene rewards from their gatekeeping position by offering a worse product for a higher price: hollowed-out pedagogy from exploited adjuncts and graduate students, masked with “shiny extras unrelated to the core educational mission.” Aggrandizing administrations bloat on student debt, the key to the whole scheme. Student debt, Harris argues, is a bloodsucking Keynesian stimulus, turning the value of the future labor of young borrowers into the capital to build stadiums and luxury dorms today, jacking up tuition even higher and allowing another round of borrowing and building.

But not every kid-bond matures. Students who can’t keep up are diagnosed, drugged, and punished. The extraordinary proliferation of mood and attention disorders among the young, and their development into a lucrative pharmaceutical market, is only the logical complement of the human-capital-accumulation regime of testing, supervising, and debt collecting. Depression, Harris notes, is up 1,000 percent over the past century, “with around half of that growth occurring since the late 1980s.” While there’s always a question about changing diagnoses with this sort of figure, Harris is convincing that there’s more to this phenomenon than an artifact of measurement. So too the growing punitive apparatus waiting to catch kids who fail: “We can draw a straight line between the standardization of children in educational reform and the expulsion, arrest, and even murder of the kids who won’t adapt.” On this account, mass incarceration, too, is a generational phenomenon, and it makes its first appearances inside schools, which are now heavily policed zones, as are the public spaces in which working-class kids congregate. “Millennials are cagey and anxious, as befits the most policed modern generation,” Harris writes. In this way, the book effectively argues that widely different experiences of neoliberalism—from the grasping student’s anxiety for good grades to the young person of color dodging the cops—are nonetheless part of the same social process.

—p.165 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago

At the end of childhood, some millennials go to college to continue accumulating human capital. Harris is a peerless observer of the harrowing economic costs of “meritocracy,” and his chapter on college abounds in withering aperçus. “College admissions offices are the rating agencies for kids,” he writes. “And once the kid-bond is rated, it has four or so years until it’s expected to produce a return.” Because the pressure to accumulate human capital is so intense, students will bear enormous costs to do it. Far from the coddled children of stereotype, Harris points out, most college students are “regular people—mostly regular workers—who spend part of their work-time on their own human capital, like they’ve been told to.” Exhaustion, overwork, and even food insecurity are common. Colleges themselves, meanwhile, reap obscene rewards from their gatekeeping position by offering a worse product for a higher price: hollowed-out pedagogy from exploited adjuncts and graduate students, masked with “shiny extras unrelated to the core educational mission.” Aggrandizing administrations bloat on student debt, the key to the whole scheme. Student debt, Harris argues, is a bloodsucking Keynesian stimulus, turning the value of the future labor of young borrowers into the capital to build stadiums and luxury dorms today, jacking up tuition even higher and allowing another round of borrowing and building.

But not every kid-bond matures. Students who can’t keep up are diagnosed, drugged, and punished. The extraordinary proliferation of mood and attention disorders among the young, and their development into a lucrative pharmaceutical market, is only the logical complement of the human-capital-accumulation regime of testing, supervising, and debt collecting. Depression, Harris notes, is up 1,000 percent over the past century, “with around half of that growth occurring since the late 1980s.” While there’s always a question about changing diagnoses with this sort of figure, Harris is convincing that there’s more to this phenomenon than an artifact of measurement. So too the growing punitive apparatus waiting to catch kids who fail: “We can draw a straight line between the standardization of children in educational reform and the expulsion, arrest, and even murder of the kids who won’t adapt.” On this account, mass incarceration, too, is a generational phenomenon, and it makes its first appearances inside schools, which are now heavily policed zones, as are the public spaces in which working-class kids congregate. “Millennials are cagey and anxious, as befits the most policed modern generation,” Harris writes. In this way, the book effectively argues that widely different experiences of neoliberalism—from the grasping student’s anxiety for good grades to the young person of color dodging the cops—are nonetheless part of the same social process.

—p.165 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago
168

HARRIS EMERGED as a writer with anarchist politics over the past decade, particularly in the New York milieus of Occupy Wall Street and the New Inquiry, though one can find his writing in this magazine and early issues of Jacobin as well. The window of possibility, the feeling of historical openness, that was generated by the Occupy moment did not stay open. The halves of the anticapitalist left, embodied on the one hand by Harris’s anarchism and on the other by the emergent democratic socialism of Jacobin, became incompatible—a rupture to which Harris’s work feels like a partial response. You can actually watch this happen in real time in a video of a 2011 panel at Bluestockings bookstore on the Lower East Side. The same day that thousands had rallied to defend the occupation against a police raid, anarchists Harris and Natasha Lennard squared off against socialists Jodi Dean, Doug Henwood, and Chris Maisano in a contentious exchange off which one can read much of the substance of intra-left developments and conflicts of the past six years. Periodically, the camera pans around the packed bookstore, and a sharp eye can pick out a large number of prominent figures from New York’s left-wing world of letters.

fun bit of history

—p.168 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago

HARRIS EMERGED as a writer with anarchist politics over the past decade, particularly in the New York milieus of Occupy Wall Street and the New Inquiry, though one can find his writing in this magazine and early issues of Jacobin as well. The window of possibility, the feeling of historical openness, that was generated by the Occupy moment did not stay open. The halves of the anticapitalist left, embodied on the one hand by Harris’s anarchism and on the other by the emergent democratic socialism of Jacobin, became incompatible—a rupture to which Harris’s work feels like a partial response. You can actually watch this happen in real time in a video of a 2011 panel at Bluestockings bookstore on the Lower East Side. The same day that thousands had rallied to defend the occupation against a police raid, anarchists Harris and Natasha Lennard squared off against socialists Jodi Dean, Doug Henwood, and Chris Maisano in a contentious exchange off which one can read much of the substance of intra-left developments and conflicts of the past six years. Periodically, the camera pans around the packed bookstore, and a sharp eye can pick out a large number of prominent figures from New York’s left-wing world of letters.

fun bit of history

—p.168 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago
169

[...] can the political impulses that Harris represents, the ones that come out of our generation’s distinctive experience, mature into potent collectivity? Or are they individualist from the root, bound to decay into posture and then a racket—absent the guidance of more seasoned activists, or without connection to struggles more deeply historically or socially grounded?

[...] What is the proper relationship to the past for those of us who want to make a new future?

The more traditional socialist left argues for continuity. We’ve been doing occupations since forever, Maisano said; let’s rebuild social-democratic institutions like CUNY, Henwood said. Socialism may be embraced by the young now, but in this version it still looks and sounds like Bernie Sanders—still a project of recuperation as much as invention, resuming an effort interrupted by the neoliberal caesura. In some guises, such historical continuity is humbling and useful. In others, it’s boomer narcissism run amok, reducing every left-wing proposition from a young person to an opportunity to force the past into the present. “Don’t repeat my mistakes,” cries the old socialist to the new one. The result can be formally radical but quite often conservative in affect and mood, dabbling soberly in the far-fetched notion that you can change the structure of society while everyone stays the same kind of people. This is one way of understanding why whiteness and masculinity continue to bedevil the socialist left, even in its committed antiracist and feminist quarters. A left that maintains a tether to a usable past is bound more tightly to the historical American nightmare. It can’t rush toward utopia, because it’s committed to engaging with people as they are and nudging them along.

The insurrectionary left, on the other hand, wants year zero. The power of the occupation, Lennard pointed out, is that when you step into it, you become someone else. The problem with becoming someone else, though, is that you’re disinherited from your history, so you can’t wield it effectively to understand the present or get ready for the future. It’s life in a permanent now, a condition reflected in anarchism’s traditional weakness when it comes to strategic calculation and engagement with state institutions—those durable, blunt objects. What was predictable about Occupy’s destruction—in fact, what was predicted at Bluestockings that night—was for this reason hard to prepare for until it was already under way.

It is, in its way, a generational question. If you kill your parents, you won’t hear their warnings, and then you’ll eventually just become them without realizing it. If you listen to them, you’ll become them on purpose. The question is how to become new and stay that way, how to be a stable point moving steadily from past into future without a neurotic relation to either—neither clinging nor leaping. This is the existential core of the strategic question on the left. It’s a question about growing up.

—p.169 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago

[...] can the political impulses that Harris represents, the ones that come out of our generation’s distinctive experience, mature into potent collectivity? Or are they individualist from the root, bound to decay into posture and then a racket—absent the guidance of more seasoned activists, or without connection to struggles more deeply historically or socially grounded?

[...] What is the proper relationship to the past for those of us who want to make a new future?

The more traditional socialist left argues for continuity. We’ve been doing occupations since forever, Maisano said; let’s rebuild social-democratic institutions like CUNY, Henwood said. Socialism may be embraced by the young now, but in this version it still looks and sounds like Bernie Sanders—still a project of recuperation as much as invention, resuming an effort interrupted by the neoliberal caesura. In some guises, such historical continuity is humbling and useful. In others, it’s boomer narcissism run amok, reducing every left-wing proposition from a young person to an opportunity to force the past into the present. “Don’t repeat my mistakes,” cries the old socialist to the new one. The result can be formally radical but quite often conservative in affect and mood, dabbling soberly in the far-fetched notion that you can change the structure of society while everyone stays the same kind of people. This is one way of understanding why whiteness and masculinity continue to bedevil the socialist left, even in its committed antiracist and feminist quarters. A left that maintains a tether to a usable past is bound more tightly to the historical American nightmare. It can’t rush toward utopia, because it’s committed to engaging with people as they are and nudging them along.

The insurrectionary left, on the other hand, wants year zero. The power of the occupation, Lennard pointed out, is that when you step into it, you become someone else. The problem with becoming someone else, though, is that you’re disinherited from your history, so you can’t wield it effectively to understand the present or get ready for the future. It’s life in a permanent now, a condition reflected in anarchism’s traditional weakness when it comes to strategic calculation and engagement with state institutions—those durable, blunt objects. What was predictable about Occupy’s destruction—in fact, what was predicted at Bluestockings that night—was for this reason hard to prepare for until it was already under way.

It is, in its way, a generational question. If you kill your parents, you won’t hear their warnings, and then you’ll eventually just become them without realizing it. If you listen to them, you’ll become them on purpose. The question is how to become new and stay that way, how to be a stable point moving steadily from past into future without a neurotic relation to either—neither clinging nor leaping. This is the existential core of the strategic question on the left. It’s a question about growing up.

—p.169 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago
170

[...] Millennials are not alone, and we are not the only ones facing life changes of momentous social consequence. Generation is not actually just an identity. It’s a relationship: no children without parents, no millennials without boomers. And all of us should have noticed by now that our parents are starting to get old. This will impose new obligations on us and open up new opportunities.

—p.170 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago

[...] Millennials are not alone, and we are not the only ones facing life changes of momentous social consequence. Generation is not actually just an identity. It’s a relationship: no children without parents, no millennials without boomers. And all of us should have noticed by now that our parents are starting to get old. This will impose new obligations on us and open up new opportunities.

—p.170 by Gabriel Winant 2 months ago