Alexander Hellene

Ambition Inflation

Here’s a thread I had in mid-May that resonated with a lot of people and generated much discussion:

There are millions of 18-30 year olds who have zero hope for the future, are largely correct in their assessment, and the powers that be think it’s funny and they deserve it.

Bashing Zoomers and whomever is a very sly way of hiding the fact that US OLDER GENERATIONS FAILED AND CONTINUE TO FAIL THEM.

Who the hell is there ages 30-55 they can look up to?

X, Y, and millennials must refrain from doing to Zoomers what was done to us. We must resist the temptation to blame them for being victims of systems beyond their control.

History will show that the shame will be on US.

As corny as it sounds, those of us who had a pre-Internet upbringing and coming-of-age need to share what that was like and how things could be.

I’m on this train of thought because I’m middle-aged now and can’t help but think about my legacy.

I want to give my children and grandchildren a better future, and I’d also like the people in their cohort to share in that as well.

There were a lot of passionate responses that are worth reading. While not every single individual in this age group felt the sense of despair I mentioned, there was a widespread sentiment that the immiseration of the young for the benefit of the old was deliberate at worst, and a convenient byproduct of current national policy at best. Essentially, young people feel that nobody cares about them.

This is incredibly tragic for reasons that are axiomatic, unless you’re a total psychopath.

However, my opening statement is perhaps too broad. That is where TJ Martinell comes in. TJ is a talented author who also has a podcast where he discusses a lot of thought-provoking issues. Back on May 16, he recorded a podcast inspired by my thread, which provides a lot of nuance and analysis that is not quite as easy to convey in short bursts of 240 characters or less.

I recommend you give TJ’s podcast a listen. One of the most important points he covers is the nature of hope, and how a false sense of hope for unattainable things can lead to more psychological damage than hope achieving more realistic goals.

I have heard this phenomenon be described as ambition inflation, a term I very much like. The quick version is that we have a few generations of Americans who had been promised lives and material possessions that will meet or far exceed those of their parents because, after all, the standard of living in America has done nothing but climb since 1776, only for economic and other realities to dash these dreams upon the rocks of disappointment.

Two generations of Americans were promised to be celebrities, CEOs, and movers and shakers who will drive better cars than their parents’ luxury import autos, live in bigger houses than the 4,500 square foot dwellings they grew up in, and have jobs that make more than your parents who are doctors, lawyers, hedge fund managers, tenured professors, and bank vice-presidents. And all you have to do is show up with a college degree–any degree–in hand. Prices will never go up, but wages will always increase. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be the best because you are you.

Predictably, this did not turn out to be the case. The high-paying secure jobs weren’t there. The wages didn’t go up. The stock market crashed. So did the housing market, except now the prices are to the moon, Alice. Along with the prices of nearly everything else. At least you have that degree, right?

And family formation? Who can afford to have a family in this economy?

It turns out that you cannot do anything you want to do. I will never be an NBA power forward no matter how hard I dream. To use one of TJ’s examples, back in Medieval times, a peasant from a family of blacksmiths knew he was not going to be a knight or a nobleman or the king one day. He also knew he wasn’t going to marry the princess. He was, in all likelihood, destined to go into the family trade, marry a girl from a family in the village–maybe this union would be arranged by the parents involved–and raise a family just like generations of his ancestors did. Or maybe he’d join the army and find his fortune that way. But nobody filled his head with the idea that he too would command an army, live in a castle, and have dozens of servants if he just follow his dream.

The crushing disappointment of realizing you really are just one of the regular folk is very real, especially if you are raised to believe that there is something wrong with being one of the regular folk. This is linked to the idea that success equals tons of stuff and has nothing to do with service to family, nation, and God.

But there’s another side to this, and that is the fact that the millions of left-behind young people are often told that their misery is their fault for being spoiled, completely ignoring the identity of those who might have spoiled them, and that they just need to suck it up and bootstrap like older generations did.

At some point, the only conclusion one can reach is that those in charge of the United States of America, those whose actions and opinions actually matter and get put into practice, actively hate the young.

They do not care that people in their 30s now may never marry and have a family. They do not care that home ownership among the young is just as unattainable as those dreams of being a celebrity or a CEO. They do not care that we are one of the few industrialized so-called first-world countries where the average life expectancy is decreasing and deaths of despair are on the rise. None of this matters as long as the graph on their charts keep going up and their retirement income is secure.

The young need help, they need guidance, and they need sober-minded explanations about how things are and what their expectations for life should be. Luckily, many of the Zoomers and younger generations already seem aware that everything is built upon lies.

The answer, as I touched upon in this short story, is not to pleasure-seek and disengage until the system collapses (which it won’t) so you can rebuild it . . . somehow. It’s to reorient ourselves–all of us, young and old alike–to things that truly matter. Here’s a hint: it’s not about stuff or status.

– Alexander


One thing anybody can be is a writer. Thanks to the Internet, you can find communities of like-minded writers, publish your work, and find readers who want to read what you have to say. Best of all, you don’t need a college degree. Check out Pulp Rock, an anthology of musically inspired short fiction I put together with a bunch of my friends:

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