When you’re a millennial, people are always trying to define you—and often, their summations are less than flattering. However, sometimes, their millennial conceptions seem pretty spot on. Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s article “Rise of the Hipster Capitalist” nicely describes what seems to be a common thread amongst many of today’s young adults, as encapsulated by their most infamous poster child, the “hipster”:
The hipster ideal today is neither a commune nor a life of rugged individualism. It’s the small, socially conscious business. Millennials are obliterating divisions between corporate and bohemian values, between old and new employment models-they’re not the first to do this, but they are doing it in their own way. Armed with ample self-confidence but hobbled by stagnant prospects, millennials may be uniquely poised to excel in an evolving economy where the freelance countercultural capitalist becomes the new gold standard.
These “hipsters” take ideas that used to fit a “liberal” or “conservative” box, and mix them together. Things are loosened from their ideological labels, and are instead taken at face value. Take, for instance, the idea of “entrepreneurship” or “innovation,” incredibly popular ideas amongst many conservatives and libertarians—ideas that motivate many of the business savvy on the right. This love of business and for-profit ventures is no longer limited to conservatives: as the owner of BeGood Clothing told Brown, “profit isn’t seen as such an evil thing anymore. It’s more about how that profit is used.” Thus, the old world of non-profit and human rights work—often lauded by the left—is now married to for-profit ventures, giving business and capitalism a more charitable face.
Brown’s article notes that millennials prefer artisan foods, local produce, mom-and-pop stores, and unknown bands. All of these trends seem to speak against the “bigger is better” trend, the love of convenience at the cost of quality, which characterized much of the 20th century. One wonders whether millennials are responding to the industrialization of their landscape with a consideration that is neither completely reactionary nor entirely enamored: they use iPads, but drink water out of mason jars. They post photos on Instagram, but can their own foods and raise their own chickens. They use Airbnb and Uber, but prefer to walk to local coffee shops on the weekend. As William Deresiewicz told Brown, “The hipster world critique is limited. It’s basically a way of taking the world we have now and tweaking it to make it better.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t flatter ourselves quite this much—there’s no telling for sure whether the “hipster capitalist” trend will be viable or beneficial in the long term. But we can hope that this marriage of localism and entrepreneurship, love of capitalism and love of charity, classical conservatism and cultural cosmopolitanism may produce good fruit. The only ingredient here that makes me wary, perhaps, is our cultural cosmopolitanism, which often necessitates a sort of cultural globalism that counteracts loyalty to place, and can even necessitate a degree of moral relativism. However, love for and loyalty to the city is vitally important.
Millennials seem to appreciate our culture’s need for smallness and limits, for local culture and private associations. We may be a bit spoiled—our desire for flexible work hours and self-employment are perhaps a bit aspirational, considering the current economic environment (not everyone can start a successful artisan jerky business). But hopefully, as we mature, we’ll be able to apply our passions both practically and successfully, to build a healthy and wealthy culture.