If you are going to watch the world burn, at least pull up a chair.
Right now it seems like the world is falling apart. The divisions that plague our society seem to have grown from a small, docile creek to a large, impassable canyon. One such example is the divide in the US between Millennials and the Boomers, which I have written about before. A battle between the generations does not seem to be anything unique in history, but considering the unprecedented position of the world today as a global society, one should wonder what is driving this divide.
Systemic Generational Neglect
It is my opinion that, what we are seeing in the US, and to a lessor extent in Europe and the rest of the world, is the effect of what can be thought of as Systemic Generational Neglect. What I mean by this is not to say that your parents, personally, have neglected you. I am sure that they are wonderful people (or not, I don’t know your life). Rather, what I am talking about is a social construct that is neglectful towards the preceding generation. The Boomers are leaving the US a broken world, one that their apologists deny breaking, and that their children, the Millennials, will spend their lives correcting.
Put concisely, Systemic Generational Neglect is when a preceding generation’s attitudes and actions (on a personal, political, and systemic level) ignore the future needs of the preceding generation/s, in favor of perusing shortsighted gains or blatantly refusing to address pressing issues. Before talking about what to do about Systemic Generational Neglect, I want to explore some of the most prominent differences between the Boomers and the Millennials that may be contributing to some of the divide.
Much of this article is not going to be able to address the nuanced differences between the experiences of various ethnic/racial/sexual/gender/religious minorities, or people with disabilities. This is not to say that these experiences are not worth talking about, only that the focus of this article is to talk about larger systemic trends. Additionally, I don’t feel confidently familiar with many of these nuances, from the perspective of generational differences, to speak about them confidently. This irony is not lost on me.
Divisions between Millennials and Boomers
In conversations with Boomers that I have had, one thing is consistently referenced as influencing their political leanings: money. It seems that money, specifically “their tax dollars,” is one of the most important factors when it comes to informing their politics. At the moment, this observation remains anecdotal, but if one were to watch/read the media targeting the Boomers, the influence seems apparent. As a result, the messages that the Millennials receive from the Boomers are that we are selfish, overly entitled, and prone to laziness.
However, I for one disagree with this sentiment about the Millennials. This is the generation that has dragged the world into the future, kicking and screaming, and we have done so during the worst economic crisis since the great depression. The U.S. GDP growth has been steadily dropping each decade for the last 60 years. You might look at this and think, “Wow the economy has done really poorly for everyone!” But that is not entirely the case. Peak earning years refers to the years where you have the highest potential to earn money in your career, and subsequently invest that money for retirement… or use it to buy unnecessarily expensive toys.
Peak earning years are typically between the ages of 35 to 44. The Boomers were in the midst of their peak earning years primarily during the 1980s and 1990s, which was an excellent time to be making money! Granted, the last third of the Boomers were not so lucky, reaching their peak earning years during the early 2000s.
Born in 1946 = peak earning years between 1981 to 1990
Born in 1955 = peak earning years between 1990 to 1999 (best economic decade in the last 46 years!)
Born in 1964 = peak earning years between 1999 to 2008 (worst economic decade in the last 46 years)
The argument that Boomers tend to make that Millennials are struggling economically because of laziness/entitlement/etc. is a poorly founded one at best. Broken down, the argument amounts to, “I grabbed my cash while the getting was good, and left you with an empty pot. Why are you Millennials so lazy!?” This is the economic argument that seems to fuel the divide between Millennials and Boomers, but not the divide itself.
It is my opinion that the real divide is that Millennials do not value money in the same way that Boomers do. Boomers seem to be more concerned with the accumulation of wealth for the sake of itself and using it as a measure of success. Millennials seem to value money for the utility that it serves. What I mean by this is that Millennials don’t want to accumulate vast amounts of money for personal glorification, but rather to meet their own needs. This may have something to do with coming of age during the great recession, seeing fortunes disappearing, and watching as wealthy bank owners robbed the world blind. But I don’t know, I’m not an expert. This difference of valuing money seems to be fueling the next great divide between the generations…
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Should I say more? OK, I’ll elaborate.
The current political and cultural climate is one that supports, not only the outright neglect of the needs of future generations, but the blatant disdain for the younger generation. Contemporary politics and popular media reflect these views. Nowhere are these attitudes more apparent, than when one looks at the Donald, and those who support him.
In general, Trump’s platform is regressive at best, and illogical at worst. I might later do a point by point analysis of each position to support this claim, but my head hurts already from reading his platform in the first place. In general, it promotes isolationism/nationalism over globalism, outright Xenophobia, and it has a ham handed approach to domestic policy. Overall, it’s like pounding nails into a wall with a sledgehammer.
But that’s the point.
It sounds more like a speech from a Charleston Heston movie than a political platform. He even quotes Heston at one point… but much like his wife he did not give credit where credit is due.
I’ll give you credit for this quote when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
All of this is targeted at the political leanings of the Boomers. It’s meant to appeal to days gone by, the good old days, the days of their youth. When men were men… men who were not held accountable to their terrible misogyny, racism, privilege, and general disregard for all those who were not white, male, straight, cisgender, Christian, and middle class… ahhh, the good old days…
When you compare this to the platform that Bernie was putting forward the differences are clear. Where Trump is regressive, Bernie is progressive, where Trump seeks to divide, Bernie is inclusive. Aside from the two of them both being populists, you would be hard pressed to find two more oppositional candidates. And support for Bernie was overwhelmingly split along generational lines.
This should come as no surprise either. According to the Pew Research Center, the older that you are, the more likely you are to be a steadfast conservative, and the younger you are, the more likely you are to be solidly liberal. Oddly though, the rate of liberals in society stays roughly the same at any age group. It’s typically about 54%. It’s only the “bystanders” that shrink, presumably becoming conservatives as they age.
Pew Research center
So taken together, we can say the following: The younger you are, the more likely it seems that you support liberal values that you take with you as you age, and if you are apolitical, you will most likely become more conservative as you age. This seems to be why Bernie was finding support among young liberals, as well as (to a lessor extent) old liberals as well. However, Trump supporters tend to be older and coming to politics later in life (e.g. former bystanders).
I know that I am being a reductionist when it comes to this specific topic, and there is way more nuance here than I am getting into. I put this forward as a single example of the types of divides that exist between the Boomers and the Millennials, and considering that this election season, most of the polls are geared towards that. There are SO many other political topics to explore that could look at the differences between the generations, too many to go into right now. The big message that I am trying to convey is that age and politics are related and divided by age. We are seeing this play out in a very real way when you compare Trump and Bernie supporters (R.I.P. Bernie campaign…).
3. Science and Technology
Science is important. Period. Within the last 1500 years, it has provided incredible advancements in medicine, technology, art, politics; the list goes on. Yet, there remains in the contemporary dialog a pervasive mistrust and general ignorance surrounding science. Nowhere is this more apparent than when talking about Climate Change.
The Royal Society and the US National Academies of Sciences both agree that “[i]t is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate.” There is an almost unprecedented level of agreement among scientists that climate change is human made. 97% of climate researchers publish papers supporting this position. NASA has even compiled a list of 18 large scientific institutions that have formally put out statements in support of human made climate change. The complete list of scientific institutions that support the notion of human made climate change is nearly 200 organizations long. As far as science is concerned, there is no debate.
But that is just the problem, the science is clear; the opinions about science are where the problems lay. When you look at it from that perspective you again see a divide based on generation.
Of those who are skeptical of human made climate change, only 10% are between the ages of 18-29 while those between the ages of 50-64 make 33% of climate change skeptics. Of those who are concerned about human made climate change, 23% are under the age of thirty. This means that more than 1 in 5 Americans concerned with climate change is a Millennial. To be fair, the most concerned group about human made climate change are those 30-49 years old. This generation is known as the Gen-Xers (the generation in between Boomers and Millennials). Oddly enough, they both are the most concerned and most skeptical about climate change.
Even politicians are beginning to recognizes this divide and warn other politicians that they need to start getting ahead of these issues. In 2014, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaking about recently proposed climate change legislation, had this to say:
[Advocates for policies] have to convince Republicans… that if they ultimately want to stop the hemorrhaging from young voters in this country, they need to start paying attention to this issue, because only 3 percent of voters 18 to 34 don’t believe that climate change is really happening.
Politifact later confirmed the accuracy of this statement too. Among young voters, there is no debate about the validity of the science of human made climate change. That is a debate that only exists with the older portions of the electorate.
Just looking at this single issue, the divide is clear.
I chose to dive into this scientific issue because it goes right to the heart of what Systemic Generational Neglect is getting at. Climate Change denial is the epitome of blatantly refusing to address pressing issues. It represents a massive problem that the Millennials will be forced to spend the rest of our lives fixing. This is despite the fact that by then it may be too late and that corrective actions are needed right now, not 30 years from now.
The issue of Systemic Generational Neglect is one that is larger than can be solved quickly, or adequately explored in a single blog post. All of this may come off as pejorative and combative, which is honestly not my intention. However, when one considers the gravity of this social construct, there is good reason to be passionate. Systemic Generational Neglect is having a real impact on our politics, environment, economy, and futures.
We, the Millennials, need to take the reins away from those that are leading the horse over the cliff of antiquated systems of thinking, and regressive ‘nostalgia’ politics. We need to take back the reins from those who lack foresight in favor of blind nationalism. We need to take the reins because they are ours to take up in the first place.
Despite the divide between the two generations, it ultimately won’t matter. Eventually, the Millennials will take over, and they will be the ones in the place of the Boomers and the ones making the decisions that affect the world. This process has already begun too. According to the Pew Research Center, “Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69).”
And what will the legacy be of the Boomers?
Their legacy will be the monumental challenges that the Millennials will be tasked to correct. Climate change, massive economic inequality, systemic racism/bigotry/misogyny/etc., corrupt political systems, mass surveillance, mass incarceration, the push towards nationalism, the list goes on. As Millennials, this is the world that we are inheriting, this is going to be our world to change and fit to our image.
The time is coming when the shortsighted actions and ideals of the preceding generation will be corrected. When the time comes, no longer will the world seem like the world is falling apart every time that we watch the news. This may seem a lofty and optimistic outlook to take, but I am confident that it will come to pass.
The youth of today, the generation coming after the Millennials, are watching this fight. Additionally, unlike the Millennials during their youth, this generation has near-ubiquitous access to the internet at this pivotal time. They are able to fact check things instantly. They will be less susceptible to the intellectual pitfalls of the past.
To make this idealistic future a reality, the Millennials need to leverage our greatest asset: social media. We need to organize. If we don’t, the world will march on in the exact same manner and we will become the Boomers ourselves. To avoid the past, we need to reverse the march towards anarchy of the past 60 years and we need to organize against the systems that are grinding down the youth. We have been given some of the most powerful tools of social organization ever created. Let’s start using them to do more than post videos of cats (but don’t stop posting those videos either, we all need a laugh), and start using them to push back against the pressure of Systemic Generational Neglect.
P.S. Here’s a cat vine for you.
Copy Editor B. Taylor