Millennials: Workaholics and Slackers

Do American millennials take too much joy in working?

It’s an odd question to ask, really, considering the stereotype of the average young adult as an anxiety-ridden snowflake hooked on anti-depressants. But for every sociology major squalling about wage slavery, there’s an equal-aged finance major working 16-hour days with alacrity. And this enthusiasm for endless days at the office is just as troubling as the B.A. degree-holders who won’t stop reading Tumblr in their mom’s basement.

In a recent New York Times article, reporter Erin Griffith outlines the rise of a new kind of workaholic: the rise-and-grind braggart. These go-getters aren’t burning the midnight oil out of a sense of duty. They actually find fulfillment in getting to the office at 7 A.M. and not leaving a minute before half past nine at night. In other words, they live to work, and work acts as a centripetal force, drawing every waking activity into the laborious center.

This is called “hustle culture,” according to Griffith, and it has infected a certain class of urban-dwelling millennials. These work-first focused individuals are “obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and — once you notice it — impossible to escape.”

They don’t live by innocuously trite sayings like “live, laugh, love.” Instead, they have their own psalter of aspirational language. “Owning one’s moment”; “do what you love”; “don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.” Presumably, there’s an entreaty to go to the doctor to check that heart palpitation only after your client gets the revisions on that Illustrator graphic.

By diving fully into their occupation, with mind, body, and soul, these busy little worker bees believe they’re getting the most honey out of our mixed capitalist economy, and, thus, of life. They have become what theorists call homo economicus–a humanoid being that exists only to increase their personal contribution to the gross domestic product.

This isn’t living in any meaningful sense. Yes, it might bring home a paycheck. It might even ensure peace of mind. Constant toil is a good way to, at the very least, appear to be adding to your company’s bottom line. (That coworker who sends midnight emails that contain nothing edifying and are a mere act of performative labor is an example of what T.S. Eliot called the “hollow men.”)

“It’s not difficult to view hustle culture as a swindle,” Griffith concludes. “After all, convincing a generation of workers to beaver away is convenient for those at the top.”

Just as congressional Republican candidates endlessly promise to get a hold on illegal immigration to voters’ faces while, behind their back, accepting big-business donations to keep the stream of low-wage workers flowing, so it is with corporate can-do slogans. The motivation behind them is to blend what Aristotle kept separate: work and leisure. “We work to have leisure,” the philosopher wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics. He noted that amusement should be used as a salve for one’s labors - not as a form of work itself.

Young workaholics, it seems, didn’t pay enough attention in their Philosophy 101 course. Or church for that matter. They’ve created an idol out of industriousness -- a golden yoke for their calf.

Overwork is a defect of modern life. But, it’s antithetical corollary should not go unmentioned. Laziness and idleness—sloth, as the seven deadly sins had it—are just as much of malady to young men and women. A false sense of entitlement is pervasive among college-educated millennials. Even more than that, indolence itself is seen as a virtue in need of reward.

Millennial-aged congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made her first foray into the heavy world of policy wonkery with her introduction of the Depression-era-inspired “Green New Deal.” The policy package is an enviro-socialist birthday-wish list that reimagines America as one light rail-connected metropolis and not a diverse geographical mass that extends for just under 3.8 million square miles.

In a now-deleted F.A.Q. section for the proposal, a stipulation was included that guaranteed economic support for those “unwilling to work,” or, as Ned Flanders described them, “the folks who just don't feel like working, God bless 'em.”

Socialism has always relied on a romanticized vision of the masses frittering away their days, secure in the confiscated production of capitalists, like a wide-scale return of the artist-patron relationship. Scratch a socialist enough and the only principle you find is an aversion to work.

Between the work-obsessed and the labor-depressed, American millennials have a disordered view of how a job fits into their life. For too many, it’s a cut-and-dry, either-or scenario: either work consumes their life, or they’re so hostile to it that they want all the rewards without any of the drudgery

The proper way to view work is still Aristotle’s: it’s a necessary part of life that enables more fulfilling endeavors like leisure and family formation. If you’re living for the spreadsheet, then you aren’t really living.

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