The war between the older and younger generations has silenced the voice of reason which lies between them.
Baby boomers came to personify the the phrase ‘sell out’. In the 60s and 70s they were radical libertines rallying against conformity and the system, but by the 80s they had migrated to the suburbs and became yuppified consumer zombies who were obsessed with status. The free love generation was also the generation who would reinvent censorship ‘for the children’ during the 80s and 90s.
The children of Boomers, Gen X, seethed at their hypocrisy. Yet we shared their loathing for the bigotry and prejudice of earlier generations. In order to escape the image obsession and hatred we took it upon ourselves to erase all labels which grouped individuals into demographic fictions. We followed the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
And we applied that to gender, sexuality, and all of the other circumstances of existence that were not the result of an individuals own decisions. We thought we might be the last generation to know of intolerance in our lifetimes. We were wrong.
The generation which followed ours, Millennials, continued the tradition of trying to eradicate prejudice and bigotry, systematic and personal. However during their late childhood the internet came into our collective lives, and changed absolutely everything.
During our teenage years Gen Xers would defy you to label them, and often our image and attitude was one of defiance. The pressures to conform were there, but we fought against them, as well as against the semantic tools used to push that conformity. Millennials were confronted with a new medium which centered around image, the internet – and especially social media, and were swept up by that force. Their descendants, Generation Z, have been almost totally consumed by how online forums thrive on image and identity. And they have become destructively obsessed with it, in the same way that Boomer status obsession thrust us towards environmental destruction so rapidly. The identity obsession of Millennials, and especially of Generation Z, has become a social pollutant every bit as destructive as carbon dioxide or marine plastic.
We can see the destruction at play in what many people refer to as ‘cancel culture‘. We can also see it in the popularization of victimhood status, clapback culture and the insistence on deference based on identity. All of these phenomena are cowardly. They refuse to engage with things authentically and instead use the power of group fear to dehumanize and marginalize those who do not conform to every detail of a fixed, canonized narrative. There is hypocritical judgement and intolerance based on inverting historical paradigms of oppression. The way the younger generations are going about building a better world is reintroducing all of the toxic elements that Gen X tried ridding humanity of – judgment, labels, intolerance, division, segregation, puritanism, authoritarianism and the wanton destruction of people’s lives just because you don’t like who they are or what they stand for.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons that the younger generations have lost sight of, but which seemed obvious to my generation, was that almost all of us share a common enemy – the super rich and powerful. They want us so busy fighting among one another that we have no time or energy to spend deconstructing the foundational issues which lead to inequality, oppression and suffering. Issues of race, gender, sexuality are all exacerbated by the underlying class inequality. If you remove that one brick, the tower of power begins to crumble. But so long as we are wrapped up in identity, labels and policing one another – we are sitting ducks for the monopoly on power, wealth and force that the ruling class has over us all. We should not be in a competition to decide whose oppression and suffering is (or more often, has historically been) worse, but recognize all of it as having one source, and work together to eradicate it.
This is the wisdom of Generation X. The primacy of the individual and the need to cooperate outside of identity constructs to defeat a common oppressor. If this message does not seep back into our social consciousness soon we will destroy one another while the true beneficiaries of inequality, injustice and oppression continue to widen the gap of wealth and power between us and them. Together we are strong, but divided into identity factions we are sitting ducks taking cheap shots at one another while the predator just waits around to collect the bounty.
I am hoping to receive many thoughtful responses to this piece, and working from those I will soon write a follow up. Let’s figure out how to get out of this suelf-destructive mess we are in, and how we can get on the same page and create working solutions, rather than just an endless litany of finger-pointing, performative outrage and what-about-ism.