A A few years ago I went to a morning rave: exactly how it sounds, like a rave, in a classic rave hall – the Ministry of Sound at Elephant and Castle – except at 6am. There were some hardy old campaigners, but most of the spectators probably weren’t born in the club’s heyday in the 1990s or, if they were, they wouldn’t have been ready for the rave. There was a water station but most people drank green juice; there’s a limit to how much hydration you need, absent intoxication, when you’re just dancing. Conversely, you can never have too much kale.
I’d been there a few times before, but this was the first time I’d really observed the place, having been – to drop a technical term from the 1990s – crushed on my boobs. The dance was very purposeful and effective, like an exercise class. The people were very tense and well cared for, what we used to call hardbodies (we didn’t mean that as a compliment). There was a lot of glitter on the face, which I think still looks like a fun am-dram performance, rather than real fun. My main observation is this: dear Gen Z, try not to max yourself out all the time.
Listen, nobody wants to be an ambassador for MDMA, or cheap lager in plastic cups splashing around. So let’s keep the details and stay very general: it is important to sometimes make the wrong choices; do things so regrettable that you are still laughing in shame 30 years later. Why it matters isn’t a nebulous question about letting your hair down, it’s very specific; you can make all the right choices, practice self-care and sleep hygiene, exercise, meditate, reflect, be grateful, eat healthy, and things are still going to go wrong. Relationships will still break down, careers will still fail to launch, you will still be in your own head. If you’re constantly striving to be your best self, the obvious solution is to simply try harder. You’ll end up like a New Labor government of your mind and body, constantly setting goals, measuring things, recalibrating the KPI, wondering why, when all the boxes have been checked, the result hasn’t not reached – then go back to add more boxes.
But a lot of the problems are outside of you: your salary isn’t high enough because of your employer, not because your alignment is out of whack and it’s interfering with your hustle. Sure, the hangover gives you anxiety, but so does the rent. It is reasonable to bring your serious spirit to these difficult times, but self-discipline is a solitary credo and solidarity is more fruitful.
I think a lot about the intense hedonism of the long 1990s and whether there’s a connection between that and Gen X’s failure to make a political impact; all the winnings we managed to let slip through our fingers; the scarcity of talent in the Cameron/Clegg/Miliband age group. I guess you could plausibly argue that not being drunk all the time has already made you more politically effective, more empowering, more radical, more researcher. Realistically, however, the social fabric has been under sustained attack by late capitalism throughout this century, and I’m not sure Generation X drinking fewer snakebites would have made much of a difference.
We are entering a time of great material hardship, and no one knows it better than Gen Z: all the joy in life, all the beauty, will come from sex, companionship, revolution and the living of the mind. . Do you know where all these things start? They start in a pub.