The Millennial Mindset, Part 2: Philosophy and Wealth

Pertaining to the third ‘great debate’ topic, economics, the meme above about baby boomers being materialistic, spendthrift hypocrites went viral today on Imgur, with thousands of smart millennials on Reddit and Imgur up-voting and commenting in agreement that baby boomers are at least partially to blame for the mess that millions of millennials find themselves in, and to add salt to the wound, baby boomers are chastising millennials for failing to emulate their wasteful spending habits.

What’s interesting is not that millennials are attacking wealth and capitalism, as some may mistakenly assume, but rather rejecting the antiquated baby boomer meaning of wealth. As I explain in an earlier essay, The Millennial Mindset, millennials define wealth differently than baby boomers.

To baby boomers, wealth is mainly about the ostentatious display of materialism in order to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. For example, an unnecessarily large house, a fancy suit, a garage with a shiny new sports car, etc.

To millennials, wealth is a more abstract concept. It’s about:

Self-sufficiency by embracing an austere lifestyle of minimalism. That means no fancy clothes, no fancy car, or other unnecessary expenses. Older generations believe independence means being being location independent, yet many are beholden to landlords, the mortgage, their boss, credit card companies, or even their spouse, parents and children…that’s why the MGTOW moment is so popular, of men choosing to go their own way instead of a life of servitude to all these ‘bosses’.

Freedom, which ties into self-sufficiency. The freedom to live a minimalist yet hedonistic lifestyle where personal pleasures are indulged, provided the costs are low. Older generations may be more prudish/strict in terms of moral issues, but are very libertine with money; for millennials, it’s the other way around. Bertrand Russell, philosopher and intellectual hero of many millennials for his teapot thought experiment, described himself as being obsessed with math, sex, and religion. Millennials are obsessed with STEM, sex (in the form of online porn), and debating religion, education, and economics online. If Bertrand Russell were alive today he would probably be on Reddit, along with Hume, debating topics like reification, rationality, and objectivism.

Competence, as in results instead of nepotism and social skills, as optimized by meritocratic companies like Google and Facebook. Millennials are like the nerds in the cartoon below while boomers are like Homer, who sits around and takes all the credit, which is related to Putt’s Law: Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.

Smart millennials can relate to the frustration of having to deal with incompetent middle-managers, which is why an animation meme about how CEOs are clueless about engineering went viral on Imgur, getting over 7,000 points and over half a million views in less than 24 hours:

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The Dilbert principle, a theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams which states that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management) in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing, is how baby boomers got ahead in the pre-2008 economy, until the recession hit and suddenly bosses began to care about results, productivity, and efficiency more than the weekend golf game, and then many overpaid employees who were promoted due to connections instead of competence found themselves out of work.

Charles Murray, who is also respected and known by many millennials, argues a different view that millennials need to act more mature – that they, not the boomers, need to change. Both views are valid, and millennials know to suppress their frustrations than vent and risk losing their jobs. As the economic pendulum swings in favor of the productivity-minded millennials, and boomers begin to die off or retire, we could see millennials, some of whom will be in their 40’s, calling the shots more often. Facebook, Snapchat, Uber, Pinterest, and Twitter – all founded and run by young people have seen astronomical growth and wealth creation. Same for Silicon Valley, in general, which employs a lot of young, smart people. If the millennial ‘management’ model were extended to all of corporate America, stock prices and earnings would surge. It would be the greatest wealth boom since the roaring 20’s.

Intellectual wealth. This is very important, as evidenced by the millennial obsession with STEM. To millennials, STEM is not only a path to wealth, but a way to signal status in a society and economy where IQ and intellectualism is more important than ever. Yes, millennials complain about baby boomers, but unlike old welfare liberals like Bernie who want to cling to the obsolete pre-2008 economy, millennials understand that adaptation is how you succeed in an increasingly competitive economy – and that means learning skills that are valued, like STEM. As shown by all the discussions on Reddit and elsewhere about heritability, IQ, and other HBD-related subjects, millennials know that IQ is important, and more than just a number:

People are envious because deep down they know that brains do matter, and that IQ is not just a number but a measure of self-worth in an economy and society that increasingly rewards intellect. Being smarter makes you more evolved, with a higher sensory perception to the world around you, versus, say, being oblivious like a potted plant. This is why Gladwell is so popular because he tells the masses what they want to hear: that IQ is not barrier to success, practice is. And if some people are better at intellectual tasks than others, it’s solely because of environmental factors, not because some people are innately better than others. People want to believe they have free will. Even if few are smart enough to be a rocket scientist, we feel good knowing that we have the potential to become one, if only we practice enough.

Millennials, in holding authenticity to be important, are channeling Heidegger:

…two responses we can choose: we can flee the anxiety by conforming even more closely to the rules (inauthenticity); or face up to it, carrying on with daily life, but, crucially, without any expectation of any deep final meaning (authenticity). The latter approach allows us to respond to unique situations in an individual way (although still within the confines of social norms), and this was Heidegger’s idea of how one should live. For Heidegger, this acceptance of how things are in the real world, however limiting it may be, is itself liberating.

Millennials believe that people should act in accordance to their cognitive ‘caste’, with people who pretend to be someone they’re not labeled as poseurs, the difference being ‘social norms’ are ‘cognitive norms’ as measured by IQ. Although Heidegger saw phenomenology as ontology, which does not attempt to be scientifically rigorous, logical positivism, which is empirical and scientific, also heavily influences millennial culture and values. Although John Locke’s belief in empiricism seems to lend itself to a ‘blank slate’ view of human development, biology and empirical evidence of some people being ‘smarter’ than others deals a major blow to the veracity of the blank slate, and millennials, perhaps more so than older generations, understand this. While people do gain knowledge through sensory perception like hearing and seeing, some people are ‘wired’ to acquire knowledge faster and more efficiently than others, hence are smarter. But millennials, who tend to be enamored with abstract theoretical concepts like string theory and quantitative finance, also embrace rationalism, in agreement with Kant who advocated a blend of rationalist and empiricist theories, the former which is considered antithetical to empiricism. Empiricism deals with things that can be observed – posteriori arguments, whereas rationalism uses a priori knowledge through deductive reasoning. Conceived by Kant in refutation to Hume, as a middle ground, the synthetic a priori is invoked. For example, addition is a priori because the rules of mathematics are universal and independent of experience, and it is synthetic because the answer (the sum of two numbers) is not immediately inductive; the predicate is distinct from the subject. In our minds, we make it so: Conformity with the truths of mathematics is a precondition that we impose upon every possible object of our experience.

Millennials are also less likely to fall for for naturalistic fallacy, supporting policy and views imbued with the spirit of utilitarianism and pragmatism that may otherwise offend others’ moral sensibilities – much in the spirit of Nietzsche who, like millennials, rejects the simple delineation of ‘good vs. evil’, as well as being critical of religion and the concept free will. Millennials can relate, invoking HBD that biology limits free will, or that individuals have free will within their cognitive castes, with Darwinism applying not just to the evolution of species but society, in general. If your IQ is low or average, you’re cognitively preordained to the ‘bulk’ – the ‘hidden’ majority of society who perform in obscurity low-paying, low-prestige work or are on welfare, but if you’re smart, you have much more ‘free will’ to pursue visible, high-paying, prestigious jobs.

Being a quant, a theoretical physicist, a mathematician, a trader, a coder – or better yet, a famous internet personality who is also a scientist, makes you a person of high repute according to millennials, in agreement with the hierarchy or majors:

For millennials, validation and ‘salvation’ is through peer recognition of difficult, quantifiable intellectual accomplishments (physics, coding, making a lot of money in the stock market), not by merely being a ‘moral and decent person’. Boomers, on the other hand, believe in salvation through Church, god, and family, which have much lower barriers of entry. The later, however, due to the low barriers of entry, may not be very fulfilling, which may lead to frivolous spending on material goods to boost ones social status and to find ‘meaning’ in life. This is called the ‘midlife crisis’, although its occurrence may be overstated.

To millennials, wealth is measured by a bank statement or a trading account, not fancy cars or expensive watches. Here is the subtly: unlike their hippie loser parents, millennials do not hate wealth and wealth creation; they only hate ostentatious materialism, conspicuous consumption. By in large, millennials want to be rich; in fact, that’s why they are so obsessed with personal finance and revere rich, smart capitalists like Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.