Andrés Miguel Rondón

The Riddle of Millennial Quiet

«Observers in Madrid’s Plaza del Sol and on the Ramblas in Barcelona are asking themselves why we are coming out now in favour of a rapper and not much sooner because of rent, pensions, or youth unemployment»

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The Riddle of Millennial Quiet
Foto: José María Moreno| Flickr
Andrés Miguel Rondón

Andrés Miguel Rondón

Economista venezolano viviendo en Madrid. Sus escritos se enfocan en el estudio de los populismos modernos y han sido publicado en medios como el Washington Post y Politico Magazine.

The demonstrations about Pablo Hasél are a symptom of a very millennial phenomenon: there is little protest and what there is of it is bad. Observers in Madrid’s Plaza del Sol and on the Ramblas in Barcelona are asking themselves why we are coming out now in favour of a rapper and not much sooner because of rent, pensions, or youth unemployment. It may be that so far, in this century, there hasn´t been a greater political riddle than this one.  Because the normal thing is for generations to demonstrate often and robustly. And, as time goes on, to elbow their way through the crowd, leaving their sediment in history. With us, it’s little of the one and little of the other.

Let’s take our parents, the baby boomers, as an example. The history of the second half of the 20th-century onwards is practically their biography. Between Beatlemania and Vietnam, Woodstock and the New Left, the pot-smoking teenagers of give peace a chance and the Wall Street rush of the thirty-year-old cokeheads, that first mortgage in the suburbs and the third one in the heart of the city, and the inflation of the seventies and the secure pension of the present, there is no decade that can be understood without them.

By comparison, what footprints have we left behind? We’re old enough, I should think, to have left one or two. Our generation’s demographic peak —in 1991, when I was born—was already thirty years ago. But we haven´t produced a Hendrix, a Clinton, or a García Márquez. The rise, in Spain, of parties like Podemos (a phenomenon that has been replicated in various other countries) is not enough to substitute for the spring of 68. Not just becasue of its size, but above all because of its orientation. All that was a visionary thrust, this is an outdated repeat.

The riddle is bigger for the comparative injury. The mortgaged generation par excellence has spawned a generation that is forced to rent. The broadest middle class in history has given way to the most underemployed youth since the 20th-century interwar period. These tensions, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, are written into the law, the labor unions, social security and the interest rates.  But we haven’t taken to the streets. We have put up and shut up.

Why? Theories abound. Some point to the frittering away of our savings, our time and our effort: videogames, backpacking, organic products and social media. Others, more convincingly, point to a kind of primitive scepticism, to the fact that we are children of atheists and divorcees, who with their I’ll do it my way went looking for new horizons and ended up losing their way. Our parents had traditions, cultural monuments that they disowned; ours were perhaps fragmented and sectarian substitutes, little domestic incidents of rebellion, which by their nature were as different as the baby boomers’ utopias were varied. We lack broad fronts because of that. Every millennial has gone against the system in his or her own way.

There are theories less grounded in contest. Baby boomer prosperity coincided with our childhood, which was enviable in universal terms. We were born into the middle class of great expectations, of trips in the summer  and of mortgaged houses that would eventually be inherited. It’s hard to make a revolution against a generation that has coddled us, that still doesn´t let go of us and that perhaps we don´t want to let us go. In Never-Never Land you do not fight; rather, you go back there.

None of these interpretations, however, is enough for me. Because when it comes to the urge to demonstrate, I do feel the urge. The problem is not where but with whom. Traditional parties, because of their political economy, have become conspiracies by boomers for boomers. The vanguard, having worn out all the ideas, is backed into a corner of anarchy. The new reactionaries want to go back to times more and more passé. And I, who only want some specific, limited reform, have ended up as a minority within my own generation.

Well, there, perhaps, you have the most immediate response to the riddle. We millennials do not suffer from apathy but from fragmentation.  A generation left without monuments has indeed left a big mark, however diffuse, on politics: the multiple-party system. In Spain, the end of the PSOE and PP’s supremacy coincides with the decade when we began to vote en masse. At the time, this was understood as a rejection of the past. Now, several attempts at coalition later, I see it more as a disagreement over the future.

The riddle, then, does have an answer. It’s not that the ball is not moving. It’s that they are kicking it from so many sides at once that it looks like it’s not moving when it really is.

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