On Zero-Sum Thinking and Millennials

Neil Howe wrote a recent article titled "The Return of Zero-Sum Thinking." It compared the thinking, causes and impacts of Positive-Sum Thinking versus Zero-Sum Thinking. Howe concludes that poor economic conditions contribute more acutely to Zero-Sum Thinking that creates a Doom-Loop of negativity. Howe concedes that Millenials and even GenZ are victims and perpetuators of Zero-Sum Thinking and that might not end well.

Highlighted excerpts are below:

"According to the sociologists, “de-motivating beliefs” are widespread in these regions—for example, the belief in the supremacy of fate, in the futility of personal effort, and in the malevolent power of social envy (and in the so-called “evil eye”)."

"These shifts are broadly consistent with the growing distrust, risk aversion, and exaggerated “community” focus among Millennials that I described in my recent book. It is also consistent with the declining enthusiasm for “liberalism” and “democracy” among Millennials throughout the high-income world compared to the views of their parents (born in the 1960s) or their grandparents (born in the 1930s)."

"Economist Benjamin Friedman made this argument nearly twenty years ago. In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, he concluded that liberal values in the West will wither and die without robust economic growth. Positive-sum thinking, he observed, never flourishes in societies that don’t experience upward generational mobility."

"They assume that all social life is about who has power and who doesn’t (“social dominance orientation”) and are more willing than others to favor cutting corners on due process or using violence to give power to the right person. They are hypervigilant to the possibility of loss. "

"The last time this happened was in the 1930s—the decade of Hitler and Stalin, FDR and Tojo, a decade in which millions of unhappy voters could imagine no viable future except fascism or communism."

"Emotionally, high ZST people tend to experience low “subjective well-being”—which is psych-speak for saying they are often unhappy. On the one hand, they see their success or failure in life as lying in the hands of others, not themselves. One the other hand, they don’t trust others, which leads to recurring feelings of betrayal."

"Either way, this trend would give us cause to worry about the future of our country and civilization. It would likely lead over time to the self-perpetuating triumph of ZST, including the weakening of liberalism, markets, and democracy and perhaps the halting of social progress itself. We would rejoin the norm experienced by most of humanity over most of its history, which is stasis—an endpoint that would gladden tyrants and a few anarcho-primitivists, but not many of the rest of us."

"One way to look at this generational shift is to interpret it as the beginning of a long-term trend that will likely continue for several more generations. We would have to imagine, for some reason, that the system will remain indefinitely unreformable no matter how great the public dissatisfaction—or that the public will remain indefinitely aggrieved no matter how effectively the system repairs itself."

Not encouraging stuff.

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