A recent health survey predicted that one of the most serious medical conditions for fatalities in the youth would be burn outs. And rightly so, as millennials and the present generation as ambitious we are, we feel tired and fatigued at our lifestyles, our opportunities, our miseries and our circumstances. And this is why I call the ‘millennial existentialism’, the ultimatum we face everyday as we drown in jobs, workloads and academics while committing to move beyond our barriers.
But the main concern present is to grapple with the constant dilemmas we continue to swim in. But these existential conundrums don’t only present themselves at dead ends- they are omnipresent and ominous. And it does speak to a chunk of us when it comes to conceptualizing existentialism- it is not often a philosophical battle to grip with but more of an experience to account for.
Owing to how fast paced millennialism has become and the consistent search for safety while being able to exercise agency encompasses our struggle to be both hidden and recognized. It is about navigating and deciphering, aligning and separating all while remaining conscious of the ever-present politics involved with almost everything that you touch.
But what happens when the generation you live in teaches you how to be awake and alive but intoxicated and unconscious? Scoring firsts on tests to securing investment loans, from marrying sweethearts to coping with mental health- our time faces an oscillation of experiences better described to fit in with what we see as existing as millennials and implanting the mentality of immortality. Immortality being a ‘You Only Live Once’ pedagogy that selects activities better to push up the adrenaline rushes.
With the drunkenness of ambition and pillars of corporate culture climbing on to our backs to hold on to basic survival, we are thrust on to this uncertainty. The uncertainty of constantly working towards a goal but having no direction after that. Or some may have the direction but no means to drive on the direction. It is official- existentialism is the current human condition and it thrives on millennial heartbeat. From early office and lecture times, to breaking dawn in clubs, youngsters have personified the rule of ‘work hard and play hard’.
But there are drawing concerns as to where this constant culture will take us, especially in the socio-economic and political circumstances. But we have finally arrived at a time where digitalism peaks and so does fatality. As the morals of modernity has soared and so have the globalization era kick in, we see unnatural heaps of poverty, violence, crime and environmental crisis.
Why is it that as we hoped for the 21st century to bring in blessings, we serve some permanent curses. I think one of the answers to that is millennial existentialism. While we admire drive and success, we often neglect humanity and honesty; the thirst for ability and rewards has turned into a monstrous race of mental dilapidation and existentialism.
Depression, suicide rates, anxiety and peace has been stripped off from worldly duties while cuddling on to cosmopolitanism, metropolitan lifestyles and unending competition. Wars and instability never cease to end while vague institutionalism is on the rise to grapple with innumerable transgressions. As civil obedience becomes etched into democracies, personal freedoms have been threatened to be lynched, bombed and shot at. Interracial relationships are only celebrated on cover of celebrity magazines while caste, race and classes are steeped into division and deprivation.
Social media has amplified our lives and have numbed our souls; we live to capture it in a frame while miss out to relive through our screens. We know what Trump is upto but barely keep check of our own little prejudices and privileges. We know banking laws, economic security, academic scholarships and plastic card swipes but the soaring consumerism leaves us at debt and disaster. Materialism has gained a new culture, one that is well enveloped in millennialism; the hand that swipes is the hand that receives. Inequality is not only text book examples of disparity, but looking outside your airplane window as you land next to a slum gives you a shiver into how the less fortunate live.
Millennial existentialism is all of the above and not just the consistent burn outs predicted by the World Health Organization. The world is burning out, running short of fuel, oxygen, security and empathy. While some cause it, others reap it. Human nature has transformed from idealistic to opportunistic. And that’s not the concern, it’s the severe strain us as humans face everyday that we question all that lives. We strive for degrees yet fall short of consciousness. And our hopefulness has diminished sporadically while our individualism soars to express new found fears, desires and anxieties. And we cant blame ourselves, plunging into more uncertainty over the darkness of what the world has to take away, more than what it has to offer.
Millennialism isn’t bad, it simply has vices. Innumerable flaws that increase by the hour. But I encourage consciousness, security and compassion to ourselves as we gear ahead to intensified industrialization and globalization.
Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She has an undergraduate studies in Political Studies and International Relations and my Honours in International Relations.