Gen Y’s Curious Paranoia Complex

Posted on December 29, 2009


“Did you hear what happened?” Dad tells me excitedly the other night.  “They caught some Nigerian-”

I cut in: “-scammer alleging to be royalty? That’s not news.”

“No,” he says, “he tried to blow up a plane.”

We all heard about the Christmas miracle that occurred when a prospective human barbecue onboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 was unsuccessful in detonating himself, and I found that there should be another so similar event taking place only two days later to be peculiar and, at worst, indicative of things to come.

Can you blame me? Our trusty Homeland Security Advisory System has us at Code Yellow: color-coded to match the urine content you’ll expel worrying about the “significant risk of terrorist attacks” lurking as an omen above our multi-misinformed little craniums. The system has any been around since 2003, and since 2005 (with the exception of the one “Code Red” alert issued in ’06 in response to reports of the disrupted transatlantic terror plot) we’ve been at a pretty constant risk level of “elevated.” A constant if elevated (if the constant is elevation itself) takes us on an upward climb to which there is no precipice – Something bound to frustrate even the most ardent of climbers.

Thus it is no surprise that over time the Government-That-Cried-Wolf’s declarations would become an icon of derision, something you hear mentioned maybe briefly on the news, a footnote worthy of a dismissive snort.

The Nigerian guy, for a few moments, was doomed himself to be remembered in history as a footnote terror statistic, until of course it was discovered that he was no threat, therefore of no interest to the media, therefore from thereon out the Nigerian guy was doomed to not be remembered in history at all. His fifteen minutes of infamy reduced to an error, a little blip on the mass media spotlight radar. Oops. Sorry to slander you, Ndugu Click-Clack or whatever your name is. Our bad.

My dad didn’t seem too apprehensive about the media’s own apprehension in being too quick to nitpick the reality of the situation, which from my understanding amounts to a mere “disruption” caused by the Nigerian man’s sickly and erratic behavior and nothing more. The media, competitive as it is vast, hurriedly put together the details of the story hoping to get the scoop on what could only mean ratings in the form of a terror-plot panic. In this case, the error exposed can be summarized as a fluke caused by overzealous and sloppy investigation; often however we find that there is a far more sinister and manipulative agenda that surrounds the circumstances. That agenda being one manifest in what we colloquially refer to as our ‘Culture of Fear.’

Is it any surprise then that post-9/11 paranoia has had a mutagenic effect on the rising Millennial generation?

Factor into your consciousness the following table, borrowed from a ’05 era The Venture Catalysts newsletter:

Contrasting outlooks between the three dominant generations

Contrasting outlooks between the three dominant generations

While the extent of our commitment to social change has yet to be determined, it can generally be agreed that as a collective Gen Y is very socially liberal, volumes more than the generations preceding us. Intellectual, inventive, and inquisitive: Gen “Why?” seems to be dangerously close to becoming Gen “WTF?” unless we can learn to harness those attributes in such a way that our ‘sense of entitlement’ (read: sensible questioning of status quo) that we often hear clueless bloggers/journalists/employers deriding does not impair our sense of reason.

In the business world, Gen Y is often viewed as being a quirkier Gen X with more demands and more direction (albeit proportionately and appropriately medicated). A lovable bunch where no one is a loser and everyone is special and unique. Through the microscopic lens of culture, Gen Y best resembles a hierarchy of “M”s: motivated through medication, multitasking through multimedia, manipulated by many moguls. Until the Internet enveloped us, TV was our idol: Telling us what to do, what to want, what to wear. What to be afraid of. Every day something new can kill you in new ways. Smoking was good for you in the 1950s. Not so much anymore. What can save you one minute can kill you the next and vice versa. The Bayer company produced heroin to pacify babies in the 19th century. An unwise idea in retrospect. McDonalds and Burger King and countless other fast food chains got away with pumping trans-fat into their patrons for decades until it was decided that it was bad for us not long ago.

Gen Y has home field advantage in communications and technology, and as our information resources expand they themselves – by varying factors (ideology, accuracy, validity, omission of info., etc.) – begin to contradict one another, and before you know it the news is not news anymore but merely a version of the truth;  the holistic entity formerly referred to as “news” might very well be re-dubbed “variations on current events,” where objectivity breaks and no truth is unquestionable. In order for the truth (as we understand it) to be considered the whole truth and nothing but the truth, there must be at the very least some consensus based on third-party perspective.  Consensus among inconsistent outlets has proven itself to be quite evasive, especially in the past ten years. Where consensus rests undefined, so too does our sense of security, our trust in each other and in ourselves.

So what is real, Gen Y?



a.) Fear: Right before 9/11, our biggest fear was being eaten by sharks after the summer of ’01 witnessed a string of attacks. The media sensationalized the attacks, John Williams’ score sardonically invoked at every opportunity. School shootings scared our parents into thinking their brood to be ticking time-bombs that can snap at any minute – to the point where I often wonder if that was what jump-started the bandwagon of middle-class parents liking their kids better on Ritalin. [Insert 9/11]. War on Drugs Terror. They hated our freedom, they said. We bought it, in addition to all their trinkets and buzzwords and troop-supporting, morale-building, freedom-loving mass-produced merchandise (“Buy War Bonds!”). Distraction #1 “Diseases That Kill”: Started with anthrax in ’01 and ’02, SARS in ’03 (repeated in 2005 as “avian flu” and again in 2009 as “swine flu”).  The younger generation shrugged with indifference. Then they came for us, with their wiretaps and their sixteen snooping agencies, their video and surveillance cameras. Security check-points.  Secret prisons. Signals intelligence. Drug czars (whose violations of the fourth amendment have been justified by the PATRIOT ACT to break up drug smuggling rings). Their Information Operations Roadmaps and their PSYOP mind control agents. We are going to be safe even if it fucking kills us, goddammit. 


Shifting gears for a moment, allow me to address the relevance of the introduction. Yesterday ABC News reported that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who attempted the Christmas Day bombings,  warned of future attacks based out of Yemen. If this were to happen in 2004, the Bush administration would have simply raised the terror level willy nilly for any or no reason*. The advent of the new decade apparently calls for much more elaborate, expensive, time-consuming, and invasive means of preventing future attacks: according to an article in yesterday’s The New York Times, Uncle Sam has decided that our best line of defense rests in the installation of 150 “millimeter wave”-based full-body scanning devices into our airports (Up from the 40 already in 19 U.S. airports; Amsterdam has the most machines in one airport in the entire world, at 30).  And apparently that number is laughably short of the amount required to satisfy every scanning lane in the country.

The icing on the cake: We’re still not safe enough.

2.)  Want: …is the next thing I will address, and in today’s world the fear from the above point is something that has ingrained itself into our psyche and warped into us a paranoia complex. Everyone is scared these days. The Baby Boomers are afraid of terrorists and furrinners. Gen X is afraid of losing their houses/savings. Gen Y:  terrorists, (your parents) losing houses/savings, nuclear war, paying off student loans under the weight of living costs, global warming, mass surveillance, being unemployed, big business, small business, conspiracy theories, discrimination, the Man, the Fuzz, Iraq, Iran, Sudan – What don’t you worry about? Our demographic has been lauded by employers as having immense drive, ambition, entrepreneurship, and creativity. This attributes are undeniable assets, but we must also not overlook our shortcomings – our biggest being misunderstanding the breadth of resources at our disposal; we’ve been in the 21st century for almost ten years now, and we still have yet to shed our 20th century attitudes.

I was reading another blog the other day in which the author commented on how Gen Y is constructing an  “I’ll call you later” mindset that utilizes our sense of self-importance to rationalize procrastination, laziness, simply just not giving a fuck.

Later. Not now. Too busy. Why do we feel this way? What is it we want out of this, or anything for that matter?

Consider the following:

Gen Y Characteristics

10 Gen Y Attributes

So what do we make of this in the end? The first thing I noticed was how many of these attributes co-exist as a result of convenience because they are (aptly so) as interconnected as we are. #1 and #4 are symbiotic of each other (If you are connected 24/7 and so are your friends, you will likely at least share some mannerisms over time; conversely, if all of your friends are connected and you aren’t… you can imagine how easy it might be to succumb to the pressure to network), as are #8 and #9 (A.D.D.), #5 and #10 (We can DO so much and we KNOW we can… of course we have high hopes), and #2 and #6 (Gen Y humor is seen as quirky by those outside of the jargon-loaded insider network). If this  heuristic for gauging Gen Y psychographics is assumed to be accurate, from that I can deduce from the parallels I’ve made that what Gen Y wants is this: Liberty, security, and meaning.

Liberty to say and do as you wish, to work and live in a world free of violence, war, hate, inequality, and envy. Quite a demanding expectation for a world still living in the second millennium. 

Security of knowing that there will be enough necessities to keep us alive and enough amenities to keep us sane. Knowing that all the years of labor to come will have ultimately been meaningful.

Meaningful? In what regard? What does that mean?

Whatever we want it to mean. That’s the point.

And how is all this related to our paranoia complex?

The reality of the situation is that we are not free enough, we are not secure enough, and we struggle to find meaning partially because of it. On a daily basis Gen Y men and women will bite their nails and grind their teeth as they struggle to adapt to a climate in which we don’t know which phones are tapped, who might be listening, who might be watching, who might be trying to scam or libel or rape you over the Internet. It is our uncertainty that keeps us paranoid, and our culture of fear continues to fuel that uncertainty every day. Is the president who he says he is? Is he even really American? What really happened on 9/11? During the 2000 election? Did they lie to us about the WMDs, about Iraq- what else have they lied about?

Undercover police. The Environment. The energy crisis. Natural disasters. Debate over evolutionary theory. Skynetian artificial intelligence. Death panels. 2012 Apocalypse. Foreclosure after foreclosure. And then back to terrorism again. At the end of the day, does anything make sense anymore?

Did it ever?

III.) Need: Food. Water. Rest.

Make something out of that.

Gen Y: Are you having trouble finding your absolutes? Mass media bias render your sense of reality hollow and uncertain? Is your cultural identity eluding your efforts to find it? Whineol may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Wynol is a new cultural prescription designed to relieve you of any existential identity crisis, symptoms of alienation, and media-manufactured body dysmorphic insecurities. Consult your conscience to find out if Wynol is right for you.

* Fact: They can pretty much do this.