Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Your Parents' Basement

In Saturday's WSJ, Andy Kessler noted an important but often overlooked root cause behind some of the angst that's driving the OWS crew. His piece was called In San Francisco, There Are Many Ways to Occupy Wall Street:

Maybe this is all really about disappointment. I spoke to a young woman who had clearly bathed more recently than most. I asked her why she was at OccupySF. She told me she'd done all the right things. Studied hard. Graduated college. (She was an art major.) And now she can't get a job. It didn't matter. It's all messed up. She was lied to.

Of course she was. She's a member of the Trophy Generation. Win or lose, you get a trophy. We embraced mediocrity to an entire generation of kids during good times who are now finding themselves mediocre in bad times. There still is that American dream: Go to college, get a job, buy a Prius. But like it or not, studying art or humanities or gender studies won't get you there. Marissa Mayer at Google complains she can't find enough computer-science majors. Civil engineers are getting hired sight unseen.

Educating the whole child was bad advice. So was follow your passion. California spends months teaching ninth-graders how to build a waste-treatment plant with only a day or two on natural selection. I think Occupy Wall Streeters are as much disappointed with the route they all took as they are with "fat cat" bankers.

It probably should be a surprise to no one that the heavily-nurtured, overly-praised, self-esteem enriched Millennial Generation is having a difficult time coping with the realities of life in a down economy. Nothing in their upbringing has prepared them for the inevitable disappointments awaiting them on the streets today. They’ve been told since birth that if they did the “right” things-went to the right schools, cared about the right issues (the environment), volunteered for the right causes-they would be rewarded with praise, money, and self-fulfillment. No one told them that trying hard wasn’t enough or that simply graduating from college didn’t entitle you to a job. They thought (and were taught) that if they just “followed their dreams” they too would find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

You really can’t blame them for being bitter and angry that instead of a pot of gold they’ve barely got one to piss in. Their rage is understandable yet it’s also misdirected. Instead of blaming the banks and Wall Street, they should be pointing their fingers at the ones who filled them with false expectations and lead them down the primrose path: their parents, their teachers, the educational establishment, and large swaths of popular culture. I don’t expect that course change to occur anytime soon though. It’s much easier to blame someone further removed and more anonymous.

In the meantime, I think the appropriate rejoinder for the rest of us when dealing with OWS demands is best delivered in song:

I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden.