Evolutionarily speaking, humans are wired to distrust outsiders. In the very early days of humanity, about 50,000 years ago, humans lived in very small bands of hunter-gathers. The reason for this is the species was hyper-violent and hyper-aggressive. In a world where even the ape that looks like you could and would crush your skull with a rock at any minute, identifying friend and foe was vital.
The mechanisms for identifying friends evolved over time along with our complex relationships with one another. The mechanism for identifying foes was much simpler. If you are not a friend, it is assumed you are a foe. Evolution does not pick the best solution. It picks the simplest ones that work.
People who study these things tell us that altruism was one of the first modern human character traits to evolve. Trusting strangers is a big deal in human evolution. You cannot have much of a society without the capacity for trusting unrelated people. Males in particular have to have a way to trust unrelated males. The reason should be obvious.
Otherwise, you have to guard your women all the time. Figuring out how unrelated males can coexist was a big deal in human evolution. It made settlement possible. Eventually, it made civilization possible. A bunch of dudes who are unrelated, but agree not to bang each other’s women, working in concert is a force multiplier, civilizationally speaking.
Without getting too deep in the weeds on evolution stuff, the point is that civilization is about trust. That encompasses a lot more than just being able to leave your house without worrying about your old lady getting it on with the mailman. It is about willingly taking on obligations to society, even when the payoff is not obvious. It is about agreeing to settle disputes within a set of rules, administered by the rest of society. It is about preserving today for those who have yet to be born.
Anyway, what got me going on this is this post from Jim Geraghty. Most of it is nonsense, but there’s something of value lurking in it. That would be my great comment.
Well, the next generation is more transactional. This is something business and the military are struggling with as they hire, train and develop millenials. This generation puts lifestyle and personal goals ahead of all else. They are not interested in work that is uninteresting or routine. They need constant positive feedback either from superiors or through participation in a team.
The result is this generation has little emotional investment in work. They will walk away from a job if they don’t feel it is satisfying, even if that means leaving co-workers and friends in a difficult position. Anyone watching millenials take over a family business has seen them cut ties with long term employees and vendors on a whim.
How this will play out in society is seldom discussed. The military is spending a lot of time and money trying to get ahead of it. Retention of young officers is an enormous concern right now. Politically, we may be a facing a generation of sociopaths incapable of seeing past the immediate value of policy. These are not the sort of folks likely to carry a heavy burden to finance their parents retirement.
I’m not the first person to pick up on this. In fact, the military has been spending a lot of time and energy trying to figure how to adjust to the new generation. This paper from the Navy on the challenges they face in retaining young officers is very interesting. If you scroll down to page seven you get this:
Numerous studies have been conducted that evaluate the differences between significant workplace demographics, most notably between Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), and Millennials (1981-1995). One of the most concise is a recently concluded study jointly conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, University of Southern California, and London Business School. This 2011-2012 joint study collected data from more than 40,000 respondents, including a set of 13,150 PricewaterhouseCoopers employees (9,120 Millennials and 4,030 non-Millennials) at the same point in their career. Some notable differences between Millennials and their Non-Millennial counterparts include:
- Millennial employees are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life.
- Millennials say that creating a strong cohesive, team-oriented culture at work and providing opportunities for interesting work—including assignments around the world—are important to their workplace happiness, even more so than their non- Millennial counterparts.
- While the same basic drivers of retention exist for both Millennials and non-Millennials, their relative importance varies, with Millennials placing a greater emphasis on being supported and appreciated
Addressing retention, the report notes “Generational differences do exist among Millennials and non-Millennials, and should be taken into account by organizations that include employees from both groups. For example, Millennials are more likely to leave if their needs for support, appreciation and flexibility are not met, while non-Millennials are more likely to leave if they feel they are not being paid competitively, or due to a perceived lack of development opportunities.” This has alarming implications for senior leadership, since the traditional top-down approach and differences in generational perspectives are likely to hinder cross-generational communication.
Another concern is the Millennial’s perspective on employment, which takes a more “transactional approach” than that exhibited by Baby Boomer or Generation X officers. In general, this younger generation is not emotionally invested or tied down by 4-8 years of naval service. Instead, Millennials are more willing to vote with their feet if they feel their needs aren’t being met, forcing the service to adapt or subsequently fall victim to a lack of talent as disenfranchised service members leave – reducing the talent pool that will produce our future senior leaders.
As I wrote in my post on NRO, anyone who has seen a Millennial take over a family business has probably seen the behavior described in the Navy paper. Long time employees are jettisoned and vendor relationships are broken. It is not a money grab. I’ve seen situations where the old vendor was a better value, but the Millennial did not like the salesman or did not think the product was cool enough. The quest to be the most special snowflake of the bunch can get very expensive. As I type this I’m thinking of a firm that spent a lot of money on software just because the bosses son thought it looked cool.
Employing this generation is a challenge to every business owner. I know of a few companies that quietly avoid hiring this generation. They will hire a college grad, but they avoid hiring the 25-35 year olds. The reason is they are, as one guy I know put it, “lazy clock punchers that make more demands than they are worth. I’d rather hire a retired guy or a single mom. They may need time off, but they work hard and are grateful.” The guy I’m paraphrasing is not a geezer, but a guy in his forties.
A generation that has no loyalties and no concept of loyalty is going to be a problem in a welfare state with staggering debt obligations. Throw in the fact that these folks are only interested in that which elevates their self-esteem and you have a serious problem on the horizon. A generation willing to say “fuck it” and walk away from a good job, leaving friends and colleagues to struggle, is not going to be paying high taxes for granny. They would very likely support turning granny into dog chow if that’s more convenient.
That leads me back to where I started. This is a low-trust generation. They have to be. If you’re willing to cut loose a long time employee because you feel like it or send granny to the dog food plant because you can’t be bothered, no one is going to trust you.
A generation of perpetual toddlers unwilling to commit to anything that does not make them feel like special little snowflakes is hardly going to bite the bullet for societal obligations. I don’t think we’re looking at Late Bronze Age collapse, but American society is about to veer off into a low-trust direction. History says that brings consequences not good for civilizational progress.
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