Honey I shrunk my dreams
One of my American friends was recently telling me about the difficulties and frustrations young Americans have had to face after the 2008 crisis. The crisis continues to shrink the job market in the six years that have followed since. He is 25 years old and has suffered the brunt of it. This generation of Americans, Gen X as he referred to them, grew up with a solid sense of entitlement to a decent house in a decent neighborhood afforded by a decently well-paying job and a comfortable life.
A Dutch friend had a similar story. When he was entering college, he was told to ‘do what your heart desires’ presumably because of how many jobs there were in the market. Everyone would find a decent one. The University of Amsterdam even had a course on leisure studies and students taking the course would study what people did in their leisure time. Most from prosperous Western nations were on a taken-for-granted high. If the 70’s generation thrived on drugs, the 90’s thrived on dreams.
And then the 2008 financial crisis happened. Graduates increasingly found themselves without a job or with jobs for which they were considered way over-qualified. Counting cash at counters was not what Economics graduates studied to do; and film graduates selling movie tickets seemed like a gross underestimation of their capabilities.
Gen X adults have been left grappling with broken imaginations of how their life was supposed to pan out. Many have moved back into their parent’s home or have moved into smaller houses in cheaper neighborhoods. Something quite a few of my Indian friends have been doing for a while now honestly without complaining much.
Western Gen X peers talk about high competition post 2008 sometimes citing statistics like a 1 in 4 or a 1 in 10 or a 1 in 25 chance to get selected for so and so job or position. To me it seems absurd and bizarre that this is even considered tough competition. Most Indian children face more competition to get admissions in lower kinder-garden schooling at the age of three.
It took me a while to not get angry or snigger at my western counterparts for being so ‘soft’ and ‘expecting the world’ in my own words; or to not get angry with the Indian system for being ‘so damned harsh’ and ‘stifling’ in my own words again. “Why the hell should a government be providing you with subsidized electricity, and why should it pay you to have children, why should it give you pocket money while you study and free education through your entire schooling and higher education? And why are you then complaining that it is still not good enough? You just need more more more.” In India we are still endlessly discussing how government schools ought to get their act together so the poor can fare better through primary and secondary schooling at the very least.
I am beginning to think that these differences are the machinations of an individual’s sense of entitlement. By ‘sense of entitlement’ I mean what one thinks they deserve or are entitled to because of what they have had in life.
You grow up with a certain lifestyle and thought-style and from these you make an estimate of how wide you'[ll spread your net and where you will spread it to catch opportunities that you think you deserve. And you believe you deserve them because your country, your government, your community and its collective history, your family, your legacy and your internet have told you that you deserve them. You draw from this promise to grow your own life. Not for free and not without hard work necessarily, but it is what you think you deserve nonetheless.
This makes lateral movement across caste, creed, class, gender lines difficult unless of course lateral movement itself becomes the norm and therefore part of the scheme of opportunities you believe you have. When I say lateral movement, I mean both upwards and downward movement, that is, towards greater and lesser fortunes respectively. In the case of the post 2008 western world most Gen X adults have had moved downward.
Post 2008, Gen X is grappling with the fall in fortune, precisely because it is a fall in fortune. Because their dreams were bigger, their life was larger than what it has turned out to be; and suddenly like cotton clothes not washed well, it has gone all out of size and shape. Entitlement is being shrunk by force and what is left is terms and conditions like washing instructions which no one quite understands too well.
By Sharmila Ray