As the headlines tell it, the war between generations has begun. Millions of fed-up millennials and Gen Z’ers have used the viral retort “OK Boomer” to respond to their elders. The elders aren’t taking it well but instead with shock, disgust, and a doubling down of condescending attitudes.
In a recent Facebook post, I took aim at the Boomers while lamenting the choices that face a new college grad. Take off on a resource-intensive, privilege-fueled “finding yourself” trip, begin the long hand-over-hand climb into stereotypical success, or live out an ideological mission to try to do some good in the world. This set of choices is cross-generational, and the confusion of post-grad is hardly new, but today’s graduates have a different burden to grapple with. A ‘finding yourself’ journey is fine and dandy, but it becomes a hard choice in a world you know is deeply troubled. Climbing up the ladder in a system you find fundamentally objectionable isn’t any comfort either. My thought process goes like this: ‘If I believe the science that we have around 12 years to fundamentally change society or climate change will reshape the planet irreversibly and for the worse, then why do any of my choices matter?’.
The deal isn’t the same one our parents got. It’s not really a free choice. It is this frustration I expressed on Facebook that prompted my aunt to caution me not to alienate my elders — to try to understand where they are coming from. I have tried, but my question is this: When can I expect reciprocity? If there is a generation war, it was started when our elders left us a civilization on the ropes. It was fueled in every condescending headline declaring millenials have killed something else or Generation Z is the most entitled and lazy generation yet. How, after all the vitriol the older generation have dumped on the younger ones, is “OK Boomer” the final straw? Well, to use your words, get over it, Snowflake.
I wasn’t here for it, but I’m told generational squabbling is nothing new. The older generation will always decry the younger, and I get that, but things are a bit different this time around. The numbers at first look promising for younger generations, with global metrics like global poverty and education rates improving, the world is progressing (though stories of such success are often simplified.) However, no previous modern generation had to reckon with a lower life expectancy than their predecessors. The only other generation to face such an existential crisis as we do are the lovely Baby Boomers, who had to duck and cover under the Cold War.
Of course, we’re now in a post-9/11 world where just one year ago the entire state of Hawaii ran for cover after a false missile threat and the media constantly buzzes about nuclear-armed North Korea. We didn’t solve the existential threat of nuclear war, we just added climate change to the mix. In both scenarios, the solutions necessary require us to find the political willpower our elders couldn’t. We have to do it without their support and without their power.
It pays to keep a clear head amid ongoing generational tensions, Baby Boomers still have the world’s institutional power. The average age of a senator is 61, representative is 57, CEO is 50 (technically Generation X but close enough), and across the world our leadership is comprised of older generations. Boomers blaming younger generations for the world they built and still control is preposterous. This power dynamic, by the way, is why ‘OK Boomer’ can’t be considered any type of slur or oppression because oppression happens as a result of power. Ageism is certainly a real and oppressive force acting on a lot of senior generations. That ageism, however, often present in hiring and housing, is being perpetuated and run by other Boomers, not us. In fact, Boomers have created an economy so poisoned even THEY can’t retire and are instead stuck fighting a younger generation for jobs and blaming them for hostile contention.
Look, I don’t actually care to wage war against Boomers or anyone based upon their age, but I am also not one to shy away from a fight. There are hardly any dynamics I hate more than when a group of powerful people start a conflict, then get mad when the oppressed group takes a stand (think class warfare). If Boomers want to create the type of cross-generational, working-class, political revolution it is going to take to secure our future and our planet, then I’m sure I speak for most millennials and Generation Z when I say, let’s go. To get there, though, Boomers (oh, and yes, you too, Gen X) are going to have to drop the attitude and the condescension and the headlines, be understanding, and probably even give up some power.