a progressive falls into the trap of scapegoating “the old”

The New York Times devoted much of this week’s Sunday Opinion section to a staggeringly ageist article, “Out With the Old, In With the Young” by Astra Taylor, which blames “young people’s inability to effect change” on a “hoary establishment.” As I’ve explained in the Guardian (How did old people become political enemies of the young?), pitting old against young is wrong-headed for countless reasons.

Seeing the New York Times embrace this line of thinking is distressing; seeing a progressive activist like Taylor fall into the trap is even more so. Most younger lefties, of whom Taylor is among the most eloquent, don’t seem to take ageism seriously, perhaps because they have yet to acknowledge their own internalized bias. As I see it, hitching age to the intersectional sled, so to speak, is critically important if we are to join forces against all the problems facing the planet today.  I’d love to have a public conversation about it.

Here’s my Letter to the Editor:

It’s true that older people have more power and millennials too little. Likewise, men have more power than women, and white people more than people of color. The driver of this inequity, however, is not age, or race, or gender. The fundamental driver is capitalism, which perpetuates itself by privileging one group over another.

Those in power are mostly older, male, and white because they benefit from racism, sexism, patriarchy, and all the other mechanisms that disempower the rest of us. It is not because they’re old. Likewise, their priorities are a function of their privilege and the ideology that sustains it—not their age. Class, gender, and race all predict voting behavior better than age does.

Yes, we should absolutely lower the voting age and further enfranchise younger people, but frame these measures as pro-equity, not anti-old. Prejudice pits us against each other, and ageism is no exception. In a world riven by deep divisions of class, race, and gender, we cannot afford to add age to the mix.

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For a more detailed analysis of Taylor’s “logically flawed and stunningly ageist article,” read this post in Yo, Is This Ageist? by my very smart colleague and policy wonk, Paul Kleyman,

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