The Generation Game
Back in 1999 Chris Sidoti, then-head of the Australian Human Rights Commission, called the baby boomers “the most selfish generation in history”. “I don’t think there’s been a generation like this that has been so unwilling to pay a fair share of taxation,” he said.
A Pew Research Centre released a report showing that just 24% of millennials, defined as those born between 1981 and 1997, considered themselves responsible, compared to 66% of boomers. This pattern is repeated across a number of self-reported virtues:
27% of millennials consider their generation self-reliant vs 51% of baby boomers
Just 17% consider themselves moral vs, 46% of baby boomers
29% think we’re compassionate vs 47% of the baby boomers asked
Of the surveyed generations, millennials had by far the lowest regard for their own cohort. Asked to reflect on his comments in June this year, Sidoti re-affirmed his opinions, saying that millennials are “hard done by” and labouring under an enormous sense of pressure:
“I see among the Gen Y and the millenials enormous levels of idealism and community engagement but they’re under high pressure and it’s difficult if not almost impossible for them to come near to the expectations placed upon them.”
Contrasting the Pew survey with Sidoti’s comments, a clear picture emerges: western millennials believe that we’re failures – immoral and irresponsible. We believe we’re not proper adults. We believe we’re lazy and self-absorbed. Basically, we believe what the baby boomers have told us. We’ve drunk their Kool-Aid.
Generation Y have every right to be angry at baby boomers' share of wealth:
The boomer mentality goes like this: get a good education. Get a well-paying full-time job. Find a stable partner. Buy a house and a car. Preferably, have a child. Failing any stage of this process is a reflection of your self-worth and indicates a lack of moral fibre.
With regional variations, millennials have absorbed our parents’ world view. We consider these expectations reasonable, and we blame ourselves for not living up to them. Of course, it’s all a trick. The global conditions that enabled a middle-class our parents had is evaporating, and are being replaced by an economic system whose function is the transfer of wealth to the lucky few.
The boomer mentality has an odd amount of sticking power considering it only briefly bore any relationship to reality. For thousands of years, wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a select few, who have used this power to exploit and oppress everyone else. The economist Thomas Piketty writes that in all known societies, the bottom 50% of the population has owned virtually nothing.
Globally, this is still true today. The situation grows ever worse. Knowing this about human history, it seems profoundly delusional for the boomers, a generation permitted a fleeting taste of a dignified existence, to believe this occurred because of their superior work ethic.
Yet this is what boomers want us to think, and we oblige. Never mind that none of it is true. Never mind that believing these toxic fictions is making young people sick, sad and hopeless. Never mind that this is exactly the same process that causes poor people of all ages to believe they are at fault for their poverty.
And never mind that the point of this ideology is to discipline young people’s behaviour through weaponised self-loathing. Instead of demanding better, we engage in futile competition over crumbs. Instead of questioning why life often feels meaningless, why we feel so alienated and inadequate, we turn these beliefs inward. Instead of using this shared experience to build solidarity with each other, we feel shame.
The Blame Game:
If all this is our own fault, what’s the point?
But it’s not our fault. If we’re ashamed of ourselves, we lose sight of the fundamental interdependence of human beings. We start to believe that because we’re worthless, people with more owe us nothing. Crucially, we perpetuate the problem by believing we have no responsibilities to those less fortunate than us.
Such a mentality makes us territorial, competitive and resentful. The ultimate outcome is the intentional waste of human potential, so that the tiny few who benefit may continue to do so.
Reading these latest statistics, it’s crucial that our generation – millennials, Gen Y, whatever we want to call ourselves – abandons this preposterous narrative. It is crucial that we acknowledge the socially determined nature of human existence and stop believing that running faster on the hamster wheel will get us anywhere different.
This is a myth that applied to a handful of people who grew up in the post-war period, and at no other point in the history of humankind. The only purpose it serves now is to legitimise the increasingly desperate situation in which we find ourselves.