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Musings on Germanwings' Flight 9525 and the Millennial Generation
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-03-30 12:36:46
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As most people know by now, only a few days ago, on Tuesday 24th of March 2015 a Germanwings airbus A320 originating in Barcelona with destination Düsseldorf crashed in the French Alps killing all the 149 people aboard, 75 of them were Germans. The tragic event was first thought to have been caused by a technological malfunction which brought the aircraft down. By the next day, however, rumors began to circulate that the aircraft was brought down on purpose by the copilot Andreas Lubitz who shut out the captain from the cockpit and programmed the plane to crash in the mountains. This was not an accident but a criminal act of mass murder. The black box has more than confirmed as much.

The realization began to sink in that those kinds of actions can be committed not only by Egyptian Moslems imbued with fanatical ideologies (as indeed happened in 1999 off New York when an Egyptian plane was brought down by its pilot), or irrational fanatical ISIS cutthroats but also by rational, technologically savvy and efficient  modern Germans. This was shocking to many observers, not excluding Chancellor Angela Merkel who characterized the crime as “a new simply incomprehensible dimension.” Modern people are not supposed to be irrational.  It appears that to characterize psychology as a science may be a misnomer, given that man is capable and at times willing to commit the most outrageous and reprehensible of crimes, and when one least expects it. As Dostoevsky put it: place man in a completely rational and deterministic universe and he will blow it up simply to prove that he is free.

What is going on now is the constant chit chat of journalists and psychologists and airline experts who are giving us all the details surrounding the incident almost on a 24 hours basis. The rules and regulations of aviation are being examined, so is the health of Lubitz, the training he received, his mental condition, his doctor’s prescriptions, his travels abroad; a plethora of expert analysis that has by now become rather tedious and banal. We have been offered everything but a complete integrated psychological picture of the tragic event which considers man in its totality: physical, mental and spiritual. Since I am currently teaching four philosophy courses on Ethics I discussed the event with my students. Most of those students belong to the millennial generation, that is to say, they were born after 1982 and are now between the ages of 32 and 17. Lubitz, by the way, was a millennial since he was only 27 years old. I thought they could furnish some insights in self-knowledge, but I was to be disappointed.

The students too seemed to be baffled and could not explain what happened. Then a colleague shared an insight that so far I have not heard uttered by any of the reporting journalist. He told me that I would never get an answer from my students since they were part of the problem, not part of the solution, just as the chit chat of the journalists is also part of the problem. What do you mean? I asked. Well, my colleague replied, this is a generation characterized by a sense of entitlement, rampant narcissism and absorption with oneself, network with friends (social media) replacing institutions, incapable of a coherent logical discourse, they talk in fits and starts and express banalities, just as they do in their 350 character texting, with a higher level of student debts and unemployment after graduation, their lives dominated by the internet and the smart phone, entitled to become millionaires (75% believe they will become wealthy), with only 35% keeping abreast of political events (compared with 50% of the preceding generation—generation X), most revealing, only 35% (compared with 75% of the preceding generation) consider finding a meaningful philosophy of life as important as making money; only 21% consider environmental clean-up as important as making money (compared to 33% for generation X); switching jobs more frequently than generation X, delaying the age of marriage and the start of a career; less likely to practice a religion with more than 38% declaring themselves atheists, addicted to social networking; rejecting cultural wars of any kind, albeit much more open-minded on controversial topics such as use of marijuana and same sex unions.

I asked my colleague what all those statistics (which he has extracted from a rather popular book which came out in 2006 by Jean Twenge and titled Generation Me) had to do with the Germanwings’ tragedy. His answer was that this is the generation that considers the word “famous” a noun rather than an adjective. Again I was puzzled and asked him to explain. He replied that in a survey conducted on millennial generation students, to the question “what do you want to become later on in life” the most frequent answer was “ I want to become famous.” They were not saying that they wished to become famous doctors, or famous lawyers, or famous scientists, or famous actors; no, they simply wanted to become famous. Famous is for them a profession of sort. Becoming famous is an ideal worth pursuing in its own right, and the inability to do so may be considered the worst tragedy in life.


Mel Gibson in the Drunk Celebrity Hall of Fame
Not an ideal role model for the millennial generation

At this point I began connecting the dots and began to see where my colleague was driving at. Lubitz, after all, was a millennial with a huge debt and some sort of sickness which he was hiding from his employer; to reveal it might have implied that his passion, flying, may have had to come to an abrupt end or at the very least his career as a pilot might suffer. In other words it might have begun to dawn on him that he would never be famous, that rather than be a “somebody” he might remain forever a “nobody.” So, how does one recapture the fame one craves? Committing suicide in one’s home would not do; nobody would report that and he would die in obscurity. What you do instead, is take a plane with 149 people aboard and slam it against a mountain. Now you are a celebrity, at least for a few days: you will appear on all the newspapers and TV screen in the world and everybody will know who you are and your name will go down in history. You may reply: farfetched!  Perhaps. But then I have not heard anything better from our politicians or from the constant boring chit chat of the media.

A day after this reflection was written a significant revelation surfaced about Lubitz which confirms my basic intuition about his motivation for the mass murder he perpetrated. One of his ex-girlfriends has revealed to the media that he told her once that “one day everyone will know my name.” He was obviously correct in that respect: everybody knows his name now; where he was grossly misguided was in the belief that his nefarious deed would go down in history as “famous.” Indeed, it will go down in history but not as “famous” but as “infamous.”   


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Mirella Ionta2015-03-30 16:41:09
It is a grotesque generation and it looks even bleaker for the younger generations. I remember teaching twenty year olds for awhile and it was a disaster. They were on their phones for the duration of the entire lecture, the female students looked like prostitutes and kept on talking about their abortions and the male students looked like their pimps. Basically, it looked like a rap ghetto music video that would air on MTV. I have been observing my generation since high school and all I can say is that ALL THE QUALITIES in a person that were once seen as nice qualities to have ARE NO LONGER viewed as being good qualities. In other words, qualities like INTEGRITY, INTELLIGENCE, DIGNITY, MODESTY, are now seen as "weak" qualities. Image is everything in the newer generations so it does not surprise me that Lubitz would try to hide his illness because, like many people in this society, he did not want to look "weak."

Anther observation I have made about the newer generations is their wishy-washy quality. One day, they will say one thing. The next day, they will say the opposite thing. They are unstable. They are not steadfast in their views. They want to be open-minded but they are open-minded about things that are clearly WRONG. They will justify what is wrong and argue it is right BECAUSE IT SUITS THEIR EGOS and BECAUSE IT IS AN EASY WAY OUT.

Gerard Farley2015-03-31 07:23:59
Well, not a bad try at "the anatomy of destruction." With all the other types of destructive madness e.g.ISSIS, el Queda, are we now to be on the lookout for "the millenials" in our own backyard?

Emanuel Paparella2015-03-31 12:38:18
Indeed, I worry about it everyday in the classroom as I observe some students addicted to texting who simply cannot stop their so called “socialization” during class while ignoring the colleagues around them and the professor and his lecture. I suspect some of them do it while driving too, and that is surely a suicidal tendency. I conducted a poll of the 100 or so millennials I currently teach and was somewhat reassured by the fact that it did not quite match the grim statistics in The Me Generation; on the other hand about half of them did declare becoming rich and famous their number one priority in life and the only reason they were taking a philosophy class in ethics was that it was required for graduation. I suppose one can back to Aristotle’s famous quip that “youth is wasted on the young,” but perhaps Shakespeare had it more on target: “maturity is all.”

Mirella Ionta2015-04-01 14:26:52
Another point I want to make is that the newer generations are so used to advanced technology: Calculators for equations that should be computed mentally, computers that practically do everything for them, I-Phones, internet for research instead of library resources, etc. It is no wonder that they also try to find shortcuts in their personal lives as well. Instead of going through the process of acquiring information, wisdom, self-knowledge, they seem to have this false sense of confidence based on the convenience and accessibility of technology, of the comfortable state of their world. They never really had to face war, famine, or extreme economic crisis. Because of lack of hardships, they do not develop virtuous qualities such as patience, compassion, dignity, etc.

Emanuel L. Paparella2015-04-02 09:38:09
Yes one can find some of those traits in the millennial generation, but is it wise to paint them with a wide brush when the jury is still out on them? After all, they have not proven themselves yet; they are still in college presently. And how about the preceding generations taking a modicum of responsibility for the world that they are about to inherit?

Kay2015-04-16 23:59:56
I don't believe the millennial generation is to blame for one's stupid and inconsiderate decision. Not everyone in the millennial generation is obsessed with technology, and social networks, and image. Even though we were born during the same time period, doesn't mean we're all the be characterized in the same category. I actually find it rather offensive. Me, personally, doesn't care for following trends and the media or worrying about what the celebrities are doing. I like to live in the now, as in I like to focus on practical matters such as my future, getting my doctorate, and finding success in my career. What this man did was selfish and inexcusable. He is to blame for what he did, not his generation. He, himself, was psychologically ill and needed help, which unfortunately he didn't receive. My heart goes out to the victims' families because this shouldn't have happened. He shouldn't even have been allowed to be in charge of other people's lives if he had a neurological disorder. I hope in the future a mental competency test is conducted on all pilots even if they have already become a pilot.

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