Friday, March 30, 2012

Why some commentary from members of my parents' generation annoys me

This entry was sparked by the tenor of some commentary from members of my parents' generation about why members of my generation should be grateful to them for our good upbringing, instead of criticizing them for the structural problems that they perpetuate in society and in the physical world. The commentary was from people that I don't personally know, but it did remind me strongly of what I hear - both in person and in interviews - from older generations about the viewpoints and actions of my generation. Like any rant, it tends to be somewhat disjointed, but I did go through and try and correct for some of it, while also trying to revise some of the more angry parts. Here goes:
Geez, some older people are really taking intergenerational criticism personally and are completely missing the point when 30-somethings (or younger!) make this type of commentary. It's almost like they want us to be grateful that they cared for us, their children, which is a logical fallacy made into a double standard when the my generation says, "Hello, I'd like to have a career like most of your generation could aspire to when you were my age or younger. Why? Well, it's because I don't currently have a lot of social benefits and fewer career options the longer I wait. In comparison people who are my parents' age already have accumulated far more wealth than I will likely be able to, currently have guaranteed government health care, and are in a far more stable financial and social situation than me. They are also exhorting me to get a job and stop complaining. So... can I please have a career in which I can work for the next thirty years; which happens to be about 15 to 25 years longer than you are likely able to?"

Why is the argument of "children should be grateful to their parents" a non sequitur? Well, of course, non-abused children ought to be thankful that they weren't raised by abusive parents who did the absolute legally minimal requirements of childcare. However, being thankful for being loved, taken care of, and provided with opportunities is different than an obligation of thanks for being cared for lovingly. In fact, it is about as much of a non sequitur as that child saying that it is the parents that ought to be thankful to the child for being a good child in a family into which I didn't ask to be born. In other words, it's a logical fallacy, and to further state that a child's obligations to a parent extend to that child having a blanket obligation to not be critical of the parent or of the parents' generation as a whole is a mind-boggling logical failure. In short, we all have the right to criticize our parents. We all also have the right to criticize our parents' generation. If members of my parents' generation don't like our criticism, especially when they are well reasoned (although not always coolly delivered), then that's too bad, but basing that dislike for criticism on a logical fallacy is not only poor argumentation, it is also dishonest. Finally, it is - in this case - a non sequitur to make the argument that "children should be grateful to their parents" when the person in question is (A) an adult, who is (B) trying to be successful based on the rubrics of their parents' generation, but who is (C) systemically hampered from being able to reach success and is then (D) blamed for inaction against a scale of actions and outcomes that are no longer valid while (E) being told how selfish that person is for continuing to rely on their parents. Does anyone else see what's wrong with the situation, or is it just me?

I'm sorry that my parents' generation's pensions were negatively affected by the housing loans disaster and they were mostly wiped out. But you know what? Many among my parents' generation have pensions that they accumulated for 30+ years; I will never have that. I'm sorry that the 401(k)s of the members of my parents' generation aren't doing so well. But you know what? They have 401(k)s that have been invested in for 30+ years; I will never have that. I'm sorry that Social Security and Medicare don't cover all the medical needs of my parents' generation. But you know what? They have Social Security and they have Medicare; even if I were able to pay greatly into these programs, it is unlikely that they will be available to me in 30+ years. And you know what else they have? Accumulated wealth and a governmental system that is structurally set up to pay out more for them than for us.

What do a lot of 30-somethings and younger have? Jobs that don't have pension plans, very few opportunities to save money (i.e., to accumulate wealth), few jobs for which we can fully extend the abilities that our parents' generation's good upbringing has trained us for, and a future in which many of us will have serious inabilities to attempt to have a fraction of what our parents' generation had promised us, mostly because of the actions that our parents' and grandparents' generations have had in shaping the current world. For example, while it does matter what one's current environmental footprint is, what matters more in the next 100 years is the footprint of my parent's generation, and in the next 50 the footprint my grandparents' generation. The anthropogenic global warming that is expected to submerge most coastal cities and cause global economic hardship (at best) or catastrophe (at worst) is already baked into the system, and these impacts weren't caused by my generation.

Are we happy? No. Are we saying that the current social structure doesn't actually allow as many 30-somethings to fully actualize their potential (like what was available to the Boomers) is due (in a significant way) to the collective individual actions of Baby Boomers? Yup, because It. Is. What. Is. Happening. Does this recognition mean we should euthanize old people, divest them of all wealth, lock them up in retirement communities, etc? No, and any imprecation of that is flat out nonsensical and a plain attempt at obfuscation.

Let's all face it: we men and women who were born in the 1970s and 1980s are not children anymore. (Perhaps our parents might like us to still be children, but that's a different point altogether.) We do have the ability to form thoughts about complex social and global systems that perhaps our parents never had any reason to investigate. This ability is in a large part thanks to our parents' feeding us, clothing us, ensuring our education, providing the intellectual muscle to have large research universities that we would attend, and conducting the scientific and social research that we would then learn, among a vast array of other actions taken directly or indirectly to help us (i.e., my generation).

To those of my parents' generation who find all of this appalling and atrocious:
  • Don't turn around and act all shocked when we state that we're not satisfied with what our learning, cognition, and investigation show us to be a problem for us and our children; one that you won't likely live to see.
  • Don't get shocked when we explain, as one set of adults to another set of adults (admittedly in various tenor, style, and volume), why we aren't satisfied.
  • Don't get petulantly passive-aggressive when we explain that the baby boomer generation - being the unique social feature that it is - causes many structural problems in the current setup of our society.
  • Don't get righteously indignant and cast imprecations against us for being "uppity", for being "snotty", for being "entitled", for being "lazy", for being "unworthy", for being "uninformed", etc. These forms of address don't deal with the issues about which we are unhappy, and that attempt at distraction is also annoying. Stop it.

We aren't very happy, because we plainly see how structural conditions of current society are leading to untenable positions in our futures (not YOUR futures, but OUR futures; you won't likely be alive in 2050, that's just a plain - if hard - truth). One of those structural conditions is the baby boomer generation. Another - which intersects it at several points - is anthropogenic global warming. We caused neither but we will be (and are being) negatively affected directly by both, and the education that we have been given heightens and sharpens that understanding even more greatly. People of your generation might not like to hear that you have bequeathed us a world that is - in all likelihood - worse than the one you had and worse than the one you had promised us. However, petulant passive aggressive arguments based on non sequiturs is a piss-poor way of addressing a group of people who have the knowledge that the world won't be such a great place; it's even more of a piss-poor way of addressing a group of people who are simultaneously being told that they should just work harder (even though this no longer really makes much of a difference), be more responsible (even though we are being responsible with what we are able to be responsible over), be grateful (even though it's not really clear about why we should be grateful for inheriting a future world that's worse than what we started off with), and be happy to have it so easy (even though the people most affected by the recent recession were disproportionately people 30 years and under); it's a really piss-poor way of arguing about what is, ultimately, a demographic transition problem: your generation will continue to die off and my generation (and subsequent generations) will continue to live with negative legacies; and finally it's a piss-poor way of trying to deal with someone who's justifiably unhappy.

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