By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA

The word “millennial” has three distinct usages. Most commonly, it is used to refer to someone in their mid-twenties who is bratty, self-absorbed, and obnoxiously up to date with the most recent trends in fashion or music or technology or whatever. There is no shortage of hatred for these people, even if the description only applies to a fraction of the generation in question, as the grand majority of millennials are now in their thirties, still struggling to find their bearings in a rapidly changing economic landscape, and consequently incapable of doing “adult” things like buying a home because the world’s elite keeps scooping up pieds-à-terre in our country’s coolest cities, thereby inflating apartment prices and rents, while corporations are buying modestly priced homes in other parts of the country and pushing homeownership increasingly out of range for the middle class. Most of us in this situation harbor just as much resentment for these twentysomethings out living their best life as you do.


The second usage refers to a period of one thousand years—a millennium. This would make a millennial an event that occurs every 1,000 years. It may also refer to an event that has a 0.1% chance of occurring in any given year (while a 100-year storm is a weather event that has a 1% chance of occurring, while a 10-year storm has a 10% chance of occurring.) Should this 1,000-year storm end up developing and destroying a major U.S. city, the media will most certainly not miss the chance to call it “the millennial storm.” This is because millennials destroy everything, including mayonnaise, golf, and even oil. In fact, if you pick a verb or a noun at random, there is a good chance that we’ve been accused of brutalizing it in some way.

The third and final usage, meanwhile, is more common than the second usage, but less common than the first. It refers to one who subscribes to any form of millennialism—the belief that there will come a day when the divine will stop working in mysterious ways, the wicked will be smote, and a new age will be ushered in wherein the good and just are rewarded for their behavior. When your weird uncle forwards you an email about the signs that Armageddon is coming or you see a lunatic on the streets of Manhattan carrying signs that read, “THE END IS NIGH,” you are seeing two different faces of millennialism.

Most religions have millennialist elements to them. For Christianity, it is one of its centerpieces. And while many like to consider Jesus the Prince of Peace, the Bible is pretty clear that the Second Coming isn’t a bloodless event. It means wars, pestilence, and death.

Given that we’re in the midst of one such pestilence right now, it begins to make those lunatics walking through Union Square seem a little less crazy, but it got me thinking: What happens when you remove religion from millennialism? What if we were to view the coronavirus plague not as divine punishment, but as proof that we as a species need to implement radical changes to our society without any assistance from the great absentee father in the sky? What if we began to see this era not as the end of history, but as a lesson about what happens when you forego the basic needs of the many for the gluttonous privileges of the few? What if we decided to act upon this lesson and remove from power those who consider profits more important than people, and what if we were to not just replace the person in the role, but destroy the architecture of the power structure and reimagine a more egalitarian model?

Jay Fox

Should we do this, then it wouldn’t be millennialism; it’s the kind of revolution that comes along every 1,000 years, and it’s the kind of thing that can only happen when those of us in the prime of our lives decide that the old ways have to die for us to survive—in other words, a millennial revolution.

Of course, this won’t be easy. The current power structure hopes to replicate itself indefinitely, to continue to expand, to continue to profit off the exploitation of the Earth and the working classes wherever they are, and to strip all governments of their ability to police these exploitative practices. They will fight tooth and nail to keep this system from unraveling, even as the inherent contradictions within this system increasingly threaten the stability of the current global economic order and cause utter havoc around the globe.

Another reason it won’t be easy is because a very large portion of this country, if not the vast majority, is almost pathologically opposed to change. And that is perhaps the lesson I’m learning now as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. I was used to it when the disaster always seemed just past the horizon. Even as our cities are being submerged by rising oceans, even as rainforests are being turned to farmlands (and then deserts), even as politically unstable regions are becoming more volatile, most people in the United States could postpone the inevitable. There was still time for vast swaths of the country to wonder, “How can things eventually return to normal without us having to change a thing?”

Here’s the answer: They can’t. They won’t. I would have thought that the coronavirus would be demonstrable proof that these kinds of calamities will be the new normal by now, but people continue to think that we can carry on with business as usual.

We can’t. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you’ll understand the reality of the situation, and the sooner we can start to work on ways to make this new reality better. If you continue to think of the past as normal, you are dead weight. If you continue to think that we can mobilize like we did in World War II to defeat the first iteration of fascism, you’re not recognizing that we’re not going up against a foreign enemy. We need to change something fundamental about ourselves, which means accepting that we’re part of the problem.

I write this while in self-quarantine in New York City, which is now serving as the epicenter of an epoch-defining cataclysm for the second time in less than 20 years. For those who’ve forgotten, the first go around was 9/11. Admittedly, I found it more terrifying than the current situation. I was just 18 and had left the safety of my parents’ house in Michigan for the City only two weeks beforehand. Moreover, even after the fires were choked out, the scent of death and smoke loomed eerily over Manhattan for the rest of September. It’s not a smell you forget. It would frequently get stronger as the trucks carrying the debris from Ground Zero made their way north up Broadway and past my building at the corner of East 10th Street.

With the coronavirus outbreak, the underlying sense of sudden vulnerability is similar, but the immediacy of the danger is confounded by the opacity of the threat. There is no imminent danger like the other times when I’ve almost been blown up or found myself in the crosshairs of someone whose ideology is a reactionary response to the forces of economic and cultural imperialism. There is no stifling redolence as there was during 9/11. As the days grow longer, there’s still the dread of anticipation, but you escape from time to time. The scene out my window is a sea of tranquility with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground and the suddenly silenced runways of Newark Liberty beyond. The quickening of ambulance sirens fading in and fading out while tearing down Fourth Avenue indicates that traffic is lighter than normal.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

It’s a slow burn. This is not just because of the creeping pace of this apocalypse or because the greatest amount of harm will likely occur in the long run because of the ensuing economic depression—which could, like the Great Recession before it, cripple a generation via depressed wages, unpayable student debts, spikes in drug addiction, and other problems that will grow more salient as time presses on—but because dying of COVID-19 is a protracted, lonely, and painful death. We’re beginning to learn of this just now. Rather than being quickly murdered by a suicidal fundamentalist or drowned in a storm surge during a hurricane, many New Yorkers in this disaster are dying alone in the hallways of hospitals while suffocating on their own phlegm over the course of several days because a 73-year-old boy-king doesn’t want to allocate additional resources to a state he won’t win in November’s election.

More than being a level of partisanship that borders on the criminal, it’s a reminder of what happens when you work tirelessly to make government so small that you can drown it in the bathtub: Profits soar until a crisis comes along. When confronted with crisis, the federal government is proven to be ineffective, the economy crashes, all those profits that were made during the evaporate, careers are destroyed, and people die. Yet another consequence is that this failure only reinforces the belief that the federal government can’t do anything right, which leads to the gutting of the “nanny state” and the celebration of even arbitrary cuts to “red tape” (oftentimes with gilded scissors). Eventually, a part of the “nanny state” that goes to the chopping block ends up being the executive branch’s pandemic response team. On top of saving millions in the short term so you can spend trillions in the long term, the move means you have absolutely no idea how to respond in the event of a pandemic—unless, of course, you’re one of the more crooked members of Congress, then the response is to order your broker to sell, sell, sell before anyone gets wise.

But wait, there’s more.

Worse than not having a plan in place so that we can respond to the threat, the Trump administration waited to launch a concerted effort to discover how many people had contracted the disease or exactly what the magnitude of this crisis was. There are six people I know in the five boroughs who have diagnosed themselves with COVID-19 as of today, March 26. They diagnosed themselves because there are no tests available. Granted, two did not try to get tested; they had minor symptoms, lost their sense of smell, and then recovered. For four of them, however, they felt ill enough that they went to the doctor. All four were told that they were probably right, they almost certainly had COVID-19, and that they should self-isolate. However, as they weren’t famous or suffering from an underlying condition, they were not deemed worthy of a test.

To be clear, we are experiencing a cataclysm on par with 9/11 that will likely lead to an economic contraction worse than the Great Recession, over half of New York City is just hiding in their apartments like troglodytes in a cave waiting for the storm to pass, millions of people across the country are filing for unemployment, and we do not even have an idea as to what the contours of this problem look like because we didn’t take the initial steps to ensure that there were adequate tests. Until we have a grip on that variable, it’s going to be difficult to form an effective plan to deal with this crisis.

When you’re in the middle of an honest to goodness cataclysm, time—like all social constructions—gets a little hazy. The consensus required to give it meaning begins to break down.

As I’m lucky enough to still be working, there should still be some meaning to the week as a seven-day construct separated into time for work and time for leisure, but instead all days are a bit of both. You’re working, but you’re not really working. You’re at leisure, but you can’t leave so you do some of the work that you were supposed to do during the week, but work has been impossible because you receive about a dozen dick memes from high school friends per day interspersed between emails from corporations reminding you that they care and push notifications that read like expository props from the opening act of a disaster movie. They’re kind of like the mile markers on the highway to hell. Between the memes and the updates, you also get calls and texts from friends and family members who were already struggling with anxiety or depression or other mental health problems; calls and texts from people who need to complain about the annoying frequency of the calls and texts of their anxious or depressed friends and family; and calls and texts from people who are sick or know someone who is sick. You even get strings of texts from people who can’t focus at work because they feel guilty about still having a job when so many others have been canned.

The workday ends when you try to do a virtual happy hour with five or six of your friends, but this is always abandoned quicker than you think it would be because one person’s connection is so bad that no one can understand much of anything. As you eat dinner, more texts come pouring in, then calls.

Despite our resistance to change, people are quick to adapt to new circumstances. Yes, they complain and they gripe and some may have debilitating panic attacks for weeks or even months, but most of us eventually become accustomed to these new conditions and learn to live them. We recognize that they are the necessary features of a new reality.

When it comes to survival, what other option do we have beyond adaptation?

(Millennials photo courtesy of the USFA-FEMA; COVD-19 - Coronavirus image courtesy of the CDC)


Jay Fox is the author of The Walls and is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.