In the 20th Century each successive generation fared better than their parents, both socially and financially. The likelihood is that trend will continue this century – if we all work together finding solutions to the very serious problems facing the environment and we leverage the benefits accruing from the emerging digitally-enabled global economy. There has always been a ‘generation gap’ and probably always will be but when it comes to existential matters solidarity forever I say!
Yes I’m an optimist. As a teenager I lived through the Cold War when it was widely feared a maniacal leader from either of the two superpowers – the US and the USSR – would press a ‘big red button’ and blow the bejesus out of the place. The fact is they all liked living far too much to risk self-annihilation via tit-for-tat nuclear strikes. Narcissism has its plusses.
My children, broaching adulthood, are like many other Millennials. They harbour fears that Climate Change will progressively achieve what was avoided despite the proliferation of nuclear warheads. Given what’s happening or, more to the point, what’s not happening in Canberra and among the power cliques around the world you can’t really blame them.
Ultimately though I remain confident that total disaster will be averted. Even if we do much more environmental damage than we need to in the meantime.
In addition to their very real concerns about the future of the planet – and perhaps a more galvanising factor – Millennials along with Gen X’ers and Y’s face the prospect that they may not match the life experiences of the so-called Baby Boomer generation.
Yet you could argue that they have already led more comfortable and privileged lives than their parents enjoyed. It’s worth reflecting that the Boomer’s parents’ generation was the first in which home ownership was the norm for a majority as opposed to a lifetime of renting. Many Boomers were the first in their extended family to go to university. Regular overseas holidays is not something that ‘ordinary people’ could afford until fairly recent times.
Life expectancy has dramatically increased thanks to modern medicine and the quality of life for everyone, for both younger and older people, is far superior to that in any other era – the Royal Commission into ageing notwithstanding.
Of course we’re primarily referring to a fortunate sub-set of the population. Talk to recently-arrived migrant families and Indigenous Australians and the picture is quite different. We still have a long way to go to achieve equality of opportunity and inclusiveness.
Young keyboard warriors using social media to vent their spleen and who’ve lately adopted the slogan “OK Boomer” have a well-developed sense of entitlement as the result of the economic prosperity achieved by their parents and from having been sheltered from any serious real-world worries as they’ve grown up in The Lucky Country.
Yet I understand why young Australians are angry when they see ageing politicians in denial about Climate Change, opposing what just seems right like same-sex marriage, and pursuing economic policies that ensure the rich get richer.
I get that we’ve allowed house prices in capital cities to reach absurd levels. And I accept that employment is much less secure than it used to be. There’s plenty for us all to get angry about, that’s for sure.
But in my opinion it would be a good idea if we tried to reach a mutually beneficial accommodation – if we found ways to make things better for everyone – rather than pursue a mutually destructive battle of the generations.
For a start it’s a very unoriginal approach. Fifty years ago parents raged against the insidious influence of rock and roll music. Young men grew shoulder-length hair and wore Levi 501 jeans while young women wore mini-skirts so short their mothers worried they’d suffer kidney damage from the cold.
Much of the most recent campaigning on environmental issues has been led by ‘student radicals’. But so too was the protest movement that railed against the Vietnam War. It is the right and the responsibility of each new generational cohort to force change for the better. They are entitled to be heard and to have their views taken seriously. But in the end the levers of power are always held by those much older who need to be brought onside for meaningful things to happen. Australia’s involvement in Vietnam only ended when enough political pressure came from the broad community.
A friend who was arrested at numerous protest rallies reminds me that while demonstrators disrupted the 1971 Springboks rugby tour it was the Whitlam Government that subsequently banned racially selected South African sports teams from playing here in protest at Apartheid. The famous BLF Green Bans that stopped the demolition of heritage buildings in Sydney were followed up with environmental and heritage protection laws by the Wran Government.
They say politics is the art of the possible. So let’s look at what’s possible – together!
Another old saying also applies: know thine enemy. The reactionaries – young and old – who are the real problem that progressives need to confront will sit back and rejoice if they see intergenerational warfare split their ranks.
In my opinion those of us concerned about the state of the planet, the state of the nation, or the state of our neighbourhood need to work together. Disunity is death! That’s the last cliché I’ll throw out here. Nobody knows everything and most people know something. OK Everyone!
Laurie Patton is a former public servant, ministerial advisor, journalist and media executive now working primarily in the NFP sector. This article first appeared in The Lucky General ().