Interview with Daniel M. Harrison

You have a new book for which the second edition has just been released. It's called The Millennial Reincarnations. Tell us a little bit about the book if you will. Why did you choose the word Reincarnations?
The book is about a number of things. It’s about the choices – or the lack of choices – we actually make for ourselves today as a result of having the opportunity to make an increasingly abundant variety of them open to us. It’s also about the nature of spiritual belief and practice, and by association, to some extent at least, religious practice and belief, and how these concepts are becoming exponentially more bound to the concepts we discover in science, such as genetics. Finally, it’s about our obsession with scale and celebrity – the mass-media market if you like. Technology has driven all these events, fundamentally, and that’s why technology is a big theme in the book. By setting it between 1990 and the present day, I was able in many ways to mark the upward climb of the technology during the past 25 years in narrative form, which shows how remarkable it has been. Really, really remarkable. As a result, we as a culture, as a society – and in turn, as a new emergent adult generation – have changed. The term reincarnation is applicable here, not just because the characters are in a sense reincarnations of their earlier 90s past life selves, but because society is in a sense undergoing a reincarnation. That’s really what disruption is, at the end of the day. It’s a technological reincarnation, which is in turn, a millennial reincarnation in the contemporary sense of that term.
What was your motivation for writing The Millennial Reincarnations?
I am not sure there was a specific motivation other than those general desires to share ideas and points in a more abstract sense than I might, say, giving a talk. But here’s one thing I will confess to: about 75 percent of the way through the book, I met a girl socially, at a friend’s house, who was really quite remarkably similar to several of the characters in the book I was writing. In many ways, it was as if she was these characters in combined, unified human form. I have had a number of things like this happen to me before – sort of premonitionary things, whereby you end up writing something that actually happens in some way – but never before had I met in the flesh what looked like, acted like, spoke like, and once I got talking to her, I discovered had a history so like many of the characters in the book I was writing! Anyway, the last quarter of the book was when I realized that the reincarnation theme was the real driver here, since I saw how these different characters were so completely interrelated. It was a fascinating and brilliant experience!
What would compel someone to pick up a copy of The Millennial Reincarnations?
A desire to see the dark side of the wee hours in the most beautiful afternoon light you can imagine it bathed in.
Are you hoping to enlighten the millennials and hopefully make them aware of themselves? Would a millennial even be interested in knowing how his or her own generation is perceived?
Of course, enlightenment is an important factor for any generation or person, and enlightening someone is the role of writing really, so sure, I would like to thank there is a benefit – however ancillary – someone gets from reading the book other than just sheer self-gratification. But also I think we are a generation not just with a little self-interest, but more or less with a self-obsession about all things us. So I think it’s inevitable that the book was going to be popular. It has gone to No.1 on Amazon already in Category Fiction, and it has only been out a couple days, which sort of backs up the point I guess.
Tell us about yourself. What made you decide to become a writer?
I’ve always been writing, really ever since I can remember to be honest with you. I think writing is something you do in order to progress and further ideas, to experiment with them in a slightly more theoretical and maybe at times abstract sense than it's possible to do in real life. So I guess a lot of my rationale and drive to become a writer was really about expressing a lot of ideas, and perhaps some feelings, that I had about the world that I don’t see so many people talking about. Writing should be like that – it’s responsibility is to challenge the conventions of society really. And inform and educate.
You mentioned that the world is headed in one direction or another. What is your honest opinion of the direction we're headed in?
I think it’s fifty fifty, honestly. Either the acceleration of innovation and productivity that characterized the previous century will come to a grinding halt or everything is going to move at such an re-accelerated rate of progress that maybe only 20 percent or so of the moral values, scientific facts and artistic trends of today will survive in tact. And you know, it’s honestly the thing that scares me most of all - although of course there's tremendous upside in it for the winners. The other thing that scares me is how like the early turn of the 20th Century we are. At that point, no one considered war a possibility at all. It was all careers, money, economics that was the talk of town. And that is what ruined Germany, essentially, and then Europe. You see similar things happening in the Middle East and parts of Asia now. It’s frightening.
In The Millennial Reincarnations, do you dissect the millennial mind and explain why they act the way they do?
No – because it’s a story. But it’s a very insightful story, so there are aspects of the millennial mind that readers seem to pick up on. A lot of people have told me, ‘Oh, it’s so interesting how you have a different take on millennials.’ I am not really sure what that means, to be honest! But that gives me a sense of the feeling in society that while there’s a lot spoken of about millennials as a culture, little opinion or insight is actually expressed in that dialog.
Some typecast the millenial generation as "too self-reliant and flippant in attitude". Do you agree with that assessment? Why or why not?
I definitely don’t think it’s a self-reliant generation. If anything it’s the opposite. That is somewhat the message in the book. The generation has a pile of cash at its disposal, but to what extent is it really in control of its destiny? More so than that of the baby boomers? No way. Then again, it’s not a dependent generation, emotionally-speaking. There’s much less marriage and attachment among millennials than there was in previous generations, so its independent in an emotional way. A whole cluster of people who are all ultimately dependently wealthy and emotionally detached – that’s the message in the book. Why that is is really because the boomers brought their kids up to be that way. Long hours at work and multiple marriages etc. brought about a type of emotional independence among the children of baby boomers, while the extra cash they had as disposable income became an emotional cruch in a way that no other generation alive today has used money. We use it as a kind of emotional form of support. That’s new.
Why is escapism such a huge problem with this generation?
Well, it is not so much escapism as a lack of realism. This lack of realism is the result of all ideas – any idea and every idea – being encouraged by boomer parents who always felt that their own ideas were not fostered enough and were keen to emotionally compensate, I think. Many innovations are still in the nascent phase right now, anyway: as in, it's too early to tell if we're escaping something or building something. It's probably a bit of both.

It remains to be seen, for example, how social media will affect society. We will know when it’s just us – the Millennials – using it. Before that point, which is to say, with Baby Boomers still very active on social media, there are lots of positive and negative trends which will probably turn out to be more artificial. The positive side is the level of engagement. I doubt Millennials will use social media to engage as much as boomers do, which is sad, but it is what it is. The negatives though we’ll find get lost with the drop in boomers are far greater. They include stuff such as PR, sales campaigns, marketing and so forth. So by that measure, the effect of social media is probably more negative on balance as an influence today but eventually, that will change. If it doesn’t, it kill itself, simple as that. But it will, and ultimately it will become a more positive force. Then a neutral one. That’s the point its permeated all social levels.
Why is The Millennial Reincarnations set in China?
Part of the book is set in China and other parts are set in New York. For one, the premise of the story is the return of the Mandate - the figurehead of the East who would return after 9 or 10 generations and restore order to China when the elite were getting out of hand. I find this a comparable example to how life is today everywhere. Think about it - in the United States alone, it's been, since the 1980s, Bush, Clinton, Bush, then Obama - who fought Clinton - and now it's Clinton fighting for the Presidency again. There is not a lot of difference between this sort of leadership cycle and the one in modern China, where the leaders are chosen by an elite circle and sold to the masses as the best possible bet. The Chinese don't get to elect their leaders, that's true, but with the kind of line up where two families are constantly in poll position in the largest democracy in the world for coming on 30 years, you have to ask yourself what sort of democratic model that is.

My point is not to get into the political argument for or against any of the candidates however, but rather to illustrate that over time, China and America have grown much closer together in the way they are set up and work, like it or not. China has broadly loosened it's cabal, while the United States has broadly tightened up its cabal. These synergies make the two places fertile ground for commentary, and sure, storytelling. Especially when it's storytelling of a more spiritual nature, as these sorts of political issues, once you get to the bottom of them, are fundamentally spiritually motivated. Policy is and has always been shoved into action by the will and desire of the human spirit. That's what makes it work. That's what makes it so powerful.

On a more basic level, I suppose too I wanted to set a big part of it in China as it's the obvious place today that you hear about all the time on the news – the boom-bust economy and so forth - but you don't really get a lot of exposure to much of the nitty gritty. At least the average reader doesn't. But how much do you really know about life there? I think most people would answer ‘almost nothing.’ And it’s a fascinating life to read about. In fact it’s a fascinating life to live. I share a lot of affection for it having grown up myself for many years in Hong Kong. That definitely influenced my decision to base part of the book nearby in Shanghai, which has a very similar social dynamic.
What's next for you?
Sometimes I feel like the question is – ‘what’s not next?” First of all, I'll confess that I am always working on another book!
But I have a lot going on right now outside of writing too - I have businesses to run, a couple huge negotiations in Asia that I am wrapped up in. I am giving aa series of talks on the concept I discovered called Factory Banking. I love doing those talks. Last year I literally spent the entire year travelling or riding out to some far-flung business somewhere in Asia to take a look at buying it. I expect it’ll be doubly-intense in the back half of this year, too, to be honest. I’ll accumulate a lot of air-miles this year, I know that much!
Published 2016-05-04.
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