KAITLIN WALSH. Don’t trust anyone over 30. The division that transcends race, gender and religion – and why a #SSM plebiscite could become our #Brexit

Jun 27, 2016


The increasing vitriol between the Boomers and (mostly) Gen Y has singed more than a few nose hairs in recent years. You’d be well advised to approach any discussion between active combatants with full hazmat gear. And now the #Brexit has brought matters to a head.

News of the #Brexit result has unleashed a frenzy of global soul searching. Even as we hoisted our jaws from the floor with one hand, we were pointing the finger of the other one … everywhere. There’s been no shortage of excellent analysis of what happened and why and no doubt there’s much more to come.

Nor can there be any doubt that we are all infinitely wiser in hindsight.

The common theme in the commentary, pre- and post, has been that the Brexit is the apotheosis of futile and destructive division. Of ambit, irrational protest. In fact I am sure it will soon become the vernacular for just that. It is the perfect storm that has blasted even wider the growing schisms between conservatives, liberals, races, religions, classes, haves and have-nots, the 1% and the 99%, the employed, the unemployed, the underemployed and so it goes. No surprises there – it’s age old stuff. Which makes it all the sadder that we’re not so much still grappling with it as slipping backwards. Fast.

But what’s really been crystallised in the Brexit fallout is the divide (nay, chasm) between generations – as evidenced by voting patterns. Accuracy alert – the following figures are not perfect. Then again, what polling has been? (But that’s another story …)

As has now been widely reported, older voters made up the majority of “leavers”. According to Lord Ashcroft Polls, of the “remain” voters, 73% were aged 18 to 24; 62% were 35 to 44. More of the over-45s voted to leave than remain and 60% of those aged 65 or over wanted out.

So, more than gender, ethnicity or religion, age, along with educational status, was the common factor affecting the vote. These younger “leave” voters (loosely, but reasonably accurately, Gen Y), along with their cohort in Australia and elsewhere, are not happy with their elders (again, loosely but substantially accurately, the Boomers). To put it mildly.

Let me be perfectly clear (as our current PM would say – hi Malcolm!). These Boomer / Gen Y “wars” are nothing new, either.

Over recent years, throughout traditional, but especially social, media there are entire sites, hashtags, themes, threads and memes dedicated to gleefully cataloguing Boomer ills. (Just google “I hate Boomers” for a taste – if you haven’t already.) “Lucky” Boomers lived in a “Golden Age” of economic prosperity and free education and in their greedy self-interest have failed to secure similar benefits for their children and grandchildren, destroying the future prospects of the following generations.

Boomers cop it for everything from the entrenched inequities in the tax system and (related) monopolising the housing market, to failing to turn their keyboard sound off when texting (with one index finger) in public.

Boomers, for their part, give as good as they get. Indeed, arguably, the Boomers kicked off the proceedings about a decade ago with their decrying Gen Y’s work ethic (or, in Boomers’ view, lack thereof), among other shortcomings. Boomer bugbears include Gen Y’s supposed sense of entitlement, need for constant praise and approbation, lack of loyalty, inability to focus or stick out hardship for meaningful periods, lack of respect for elders (read: Boomers), willingness to jump company ship for any better offer and so on.

It’s a set of characteristics that has led to another Gen Y soubriquet, Generation Snowflake, presumably because these delicate creatures will dissolve with the application of the merest suspicion of heat.

Not surprisingly then, the Brexit, with its yet-to-be-fully-understood but certainly far-reaching, long term implications, has become a flashpoint that will intensify these generational wars. As the younger generations point out, they are the ones who’ll be forced to live with the consequences of (not their) Brexit decision far longer than the Boomers and their preceding generations who will soon (or at least sooner than Gen Ys but not soon enough, one surmises) be dead.

As Giles Coren put it (not that he’s exactly a spring chicken), “Brexit: The wrinklies have well and truly stitched us up” (paywalled – just google the headline.) It’s a sentiment echoed over and again by younger Australians, who’ve joined with their UK counterparts in decrying the outcome and slating it firmly at the “wrinklies” door.

It’s a state of affairs that had one (older, Australian) commentator (perhaps jokingly) calling for the value of a vote to fall 1% for every year the voter is aged over 30. It had another (seemingly) seriously suggesting that only voters aged 60 or under should be eligible to vote on an issue of the Brexit’s import. Another, also perhaps not entirely seriously, suggested: “don’t let Boomers vote, that is the lesson”. And so on and on, and on, it went.

These “solutions” are likely to appeal to the more strident Boomer haters … until they turn about 45. (Which happens faster than you think, btw.)

As my lovely Welsh (remainer) friend put it when the results came in: “It’s all gone horribly, horribly wrong”.

To bring the discussion back to the here and now in Australia, the way this generational divide is playing out can’t lead anywhere good.

There is never (in my observation) a resolution from what are essentially slanging matches with profanity warnings. Both sides remain firmly in their trenches (with Gen X’s pretty much where they’ve always been – in No Man’s Land). If we were to substitute “Muslim” or “Woman” for “Boomer” or “Gen Y” in these exchanges … well. Say no more. But it makes about as much sense that all Boomers or all Gen Ys are the scourge of society as it does for any other group to be deemed so.

I am not suggesting that a generation gap and tensions between age groups is anything new. Or that there are not merits in the “arguments” of either side. You can read up on all the whys and wherefores for accelerating differences between generations and the very different life experiences and expectations that lead to very different world views over ever-decreasing time frames.

The real concern is that in our society there are major problems – structural problems – facing people at either end of the age spectrum.

Youth unemployment and work casualisation and housing affordability. Unemployment benefits that fall unconscionably short of what’s required to live. An affordable, accessible education system that is constantly under threat. A growing ageing population that finds it increasingly difficult to get a job over 50, a majority of superannuation balances that are way, way, way under the $1.6 million leading to real concerns about poverty in retirement (especially for women – ironically enough the mothers of GenYs). An affordable, accessible healthcare system that is constantly under threat.

And who even knows what state the planet will be in to sustain any of us if we continue as we are.

There’s enough disaffection already within our society without failing on yet another score. In the UK, the Brexit became a proxy protest vote on … everything. Was it a dumb idea or just a bad job on the part of the “Remain” team? Or both? I don’t know.

But it does sound yet another warning that we need to unite, not divide. And, heading into a neck-and-neck election – and the horrifying prospect of a marriage equality plebiscite that will almost certainly descend into Brexit-esque levels of ambit, irrational protest – I am not sure we are doing so well.

Kaitlin Walsh is a writer and consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in corporate communications. Her (more amateur) interests extend far beyond the corporate sphere to politics (when she can stomach it), social justice, cooking, what’s on telly and reading. Twitter: @hourlyplanet

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