Let’s face it, the socioeconomic landscape in the United States has shifted dramatically during the past half century. What was once a large industrial economy with broadly-shared prosperity has evolved into a post-industrial digital economy where the average Joe just can’t help but feel overloaded by information. Long gone are the days of clocking in at 9, getting all your work done on an assembly line, and then clocking out at 5 to go home and watch sitcoms on your American-made TV set. Rapid advances in communications technology has brought about the ability to perform your job duties anywhere that you can get an Internet connection, and flexible schedules have all but done away with the standard workday.
And yes, we are much safer now than we were during the days of the Cold War. Long gone is the bipolar world order where the United States has to face down existential threats from enemies that are more than a match for it technologically. The nearest runners-up, Russia and China, are still recovering from their abandonment of Communism, and are not expected to catch up for at least a couple of decades. This leaves threats from non-nation-state actors, and domestic groups appear to pose a greater risk than international organizations that depend on US immigration policy.
To top it all off, there are the social changes which have taken place since the Great Sexual Revolution. Long gone are the days when young men have to spend years of effort carving out a stable economic niche before they can even think of proposing to the one they have chosen to be their life partner. A breakdown of traditional social mores combined with the widespread availability of contraceptives has led to a dating scene where young men and women don’t have to try very hard to find companionship, at least in the short term.
With all of that said, the current batch of American youth, known informally as the Millenials, is lagging behind previous generations of American youth on several socioeconomic indicators, much to the consternation of the other age groups in US society. Their parents, the Baby Boomers, created a socioeconomic system by which they were able to prosper, and Generation X, a previous generation of American youth, faced almost the same set of challenges. So why is the Millenial man still living with his parents and struggling to maintain a working-class job?
The answer can be found using neo-libertarianism. Neo-libertarians argue that major problems rarely emerge on their own– they usually emerge as the result of a snowball effect from smaller issues. Early childhood experiences can result in characteristics that can’t be imitated by others, but day-to-day living is handled by the conscious brain and behaviors that are learned when young people come of age. The current batch of American youth is unique in modern history in the sense that they were the first ones to mature in an environment characterized by social liberalism via neoconservatism environment. Neoconservatism existed as the predominant social system during pre modern times, but America’s experiment under George W. Bush was the first time it had been tried within a technologically advanced civilization.
When faced with both social and economic pressure, survival instincts kick in and young people start to make difficult trade-offs about what they need and what they can live without. This leads to another, more interesting question– is our species so accustomed to a particular way of life that any progress beyond marginal gains is all but impossible? Is the 21st century destined to be a repeat of the 19th?
It may come as a surprise to many of my readers, but the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. The key difference between the 19th century landscape and that of the 21st century is that we no longer have the option of expanding outwards into a frontier region when we experience resource shortages. Even the myth of the rugged pioneers going out into unknown territories and creating civilization where none previously existed is apocryphal, as shown by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. European methods of cultivating crops did a number on the grassland environment of the Midwest, with topsoil erosion leading to massive crop failures and an immense human toll in the form of the closures of family farms.
Disaster preparedness is definitely possible without reverting to a state of extreme social conservatism, and you don’t need to look any further than Japan following World War II. With extensive cultural changes brought about by the American occupation, which went much further than merely abolishing the cult of the Emperor, the Japanese people were able to not only rebuild their country and become a force to be reckoned with on the global economic stage, they were also able to do it in an environment that put them at constant risk of earthquakes and tsunamis.
Paradoxically enough, the answer can also be found by referring to the ideas of historic feminist movements! During the years following World War II, women who had previously contributed to the war effort by by operating the assembly lines now had to go back to their traditional roles as wives and homemakers. At the same time, youmg men were returning from overseas theaters only to be confronted with the challenges of adjusting to everyday life in America. Popular psychology of the time blamed their mothers for not instilling the necessary values that would allow them to follow traditional gender roles, leading to failures both on and off the battlefield. Although there is no excuse for poor parenting, real or imagined, the proposed solution was not any better. Romantic partnerships were the recommended means of rehabilitation, but the veterans’ wives evemtually faced the same criticisms as the generation of the veterans’ mothers when it became their time to raise families.
Plant, Rebecca Jo. The Veteran, His Wife, and Their Mothers: Prescriptions for Psychological Rehabilitation After World War II
McDean, Harry C. Dust Bowl Historiography, 1/1/1986, Great Plains Quarterly.