A confession: I’m an American millennial.
Popular lore holds that I enjoy lazy, booze-filled brunches; binge-watching Netflix with my significant other; the faux healthful benefits of working at a standing desk; and taking long sits on the couch staring at a glowing rectangle in my palm.
And if you believe the latest headlines, I’m also part of the biggest generation of marks since the 17th-century Dutch bought up tulips like gold-flecked holy water. “Millennials lost money to scams more often than their grandparents,” USA Today reported. “Millennials more likely than seniors to fall for online scams”, says CBS. “Forget the cliché of the vulnerable senior citizen falling victim to scammers,” admonishes Market Watch; “a larger share of young people reported that they lost money to fraud than older individuals did in 2017.
Each cites the same Federal Trade Commission report that shows that Millennials are as susceptible to online scams as they are to avocado toast. According to the data, 40% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 29 who reported fraud last year were the victims of a con. This compares to just 18% of seniors, age 70 or above, who reported being swindled.
Now, because static data can be so easily misinterpreted, there are a few factors impacting the vast age-response discrepancy. Seniors, being more stoic and prideful than the young, are less likely to report being duped. Likewise, as retirees with large financial cushions, they have much less to gain by taking a chance on a get-rich-quick scheme. Then there’s the reticence of the aged to open themselves up to new technology, closing off potential avenues for an advanced form of three-card Monte.
The cautious reputation Millennials have may also raise doubts as to the degree to which they’re fooled. Since the Great Recession, and the uncertainty it threw into the economy just as Millennials were coming out of college, many young men and women have been hesitant to settle down. This aversion to establishing roots isn’t limited to signing a mortgage; it shows itself in delayed marriage; fewer children; lower church attendance; and a premium put on purchasing experiences over large, tangible items.
David Brooks describes Millennials as a generation “with diminished expectations.” The average Millennial, he writes, has lived through confidence-shattering events like “the Iraq war, the financial crisis, police brutality and Donald Trump – a series of moments when the big institutions failed to provide basic security, competence, and accountability.”
A generation raised in the shadow of economically and politically uncertain times is bound to put off major life decisions. But it should also create a kind of weariness of the world – a jaundiced eye aimed at the core American promise: work hard, and things will turn out OK.
So what explains the penchant for gullibility? Why is the most educated age sect also the dimmest?
If you’re incredulous as to how the careful generation can be so naïve, the first question that needs asking is, have you ever spoken to a Millennial? If you can get past the robotic repetition of “like” and “you know,” you’ll discover a not so subtle mind filled with banal platitudes about equality and diversity. Millennials are by and large liberal with socialist tendencies. They can quote Harry Pottermore than Scripture. The education they’ve received was not so much an education, but rather a sterile, rubberized version of pedagogy.
Instead of learning from our cultural patrimony, many my age have been taught a contradictory mix of relativism with an absolute belief in moral fluidity. We believe in the truth of untruth. We live by the nihilistic Heraclitean dictum that “all is flux.” And, as the proverb goes, we stand for nothing and fall for anything.
The Great Recession, contrary to popular opinion, didn’t callus our consciences. It made us less trusting of the system, but not of each other. We’re optimistic about the future despite our diminished earning potential. We’re more open to unorthodox trends, such as the notion that biology has no bearing on sex. We’d rather risk it all at a startup than put in the work at an established company.
Our forebears did it the opposite way. Raised in the Great Depression and in world war, they experienced hardship, famine, poverty, and death. Few modern Millennials have experienced real deprivation. An entire generation toiled through the Dust Bowl, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lehman Brothers’ collapse, by comparison, doesn’t register.
What Millennials really lack is an abiding sense of evil within the world. In a wide-ranging 2008 study, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith interviewed hundreds of young adults about their beliefs. What he found was a lack of affirmation of what’s right and wrong. The respondents – who were college-aged then and are entering their 30s now – had no way of articulating if something was inherently good or bad. Worse, they were never given the intellectual tools for discerning moral character. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” one interviewee said.
Someone who can’t tell the difference between virtue and vice isn’t going to make the distinction when presented with an illicit offer. Millennials too often mistake their intelligence for wisdom. The former is learning in books, or, as is the more the trend today, on Wikipedia. The latter can be earned only through experience, “that most brutal of teachers,” C.S. Lewis supposedly said.
Without the wisdom forged through adversity, Millennials are stuck stumbling through a life they’ve been told is flexible and subject to positive change. When a chisler comes along promising easy money, the overconfident Millennial, puffed up with intellectual pride, is obliged to hear him out, if only not to offend his own tolerant sensibility.
The trap is laid, and the money is made, all in short order. Millennials are left with nothing but an empty hand and a sense of betrayal. But there’s always an upside to getting scammed: you’ll know better the next time around. A sucker rarely stays a sucker for long if he can help it. Every Millennial, if he hasn’t already learned that hard lesson, will learn it soon enough.