OK, people

I’m barely back from a tour of Australia sponsored by EveryAGE Counts, their terrific national anti-ageism campaign. It was fascinating to look from another continent at how views on age and age bias are changing around the world.

While I was in Oz, the #OKBoomer meme broke the internet—ageland’s little corner of it, at least. One accelerant was the use of the phrase in Parliament by a young New Zealand politician, Chloë Swarbrick, to rebut an older colleagues after the man heckled her during a speech about the climate crisis. As Swarbrick explained in a subsequent essay in the Guardian, the remark was an “off-the-cuff, albeit symbolic of the collective exhaustion of multiple generations set to inherit ever-amplifying problems in an ever-diminishing window of time.”

Every generation points fingers at the one that came before it and finds fault with the generation that follows (“kids these days”). But young people are coming of age at a time of profound uncertainty, in anxious times we look for scapegoats, and they do have it harder than their parents did. I was born in 1952, right in the middle of the bulge in the proverbial python. Youngers have many reasons to envy my generation’s extreme demographic good fortune, and it is tempting to frame us as the enemy. The song that started it all described boomers as racist, fascist Trump supporters with bad hair. It’s tempting to rise to that hateful bait—ageism cuts both ways—or to go on the defensive. Then everyone loses, and the planet smolders. Bushfires destroyed millions of acres during my few weeks in Australia.

The old are not the enemy and age is not the issue. As historian Holly Scott pointed out in the Washington Post, the problem with #OKBoomer is that “generational divides distract from deeper questions of power.” And privilege. The issue is inequality, which does not discriminate by age. What stands between us and a more equitable world are the structures and systems that benefit from oppression—racism, sexism, ageism and all the rest—because prejudice pits us against each other in order to maintain the status quo. Like auto workers in the US competing against auto workers in Mexico instead of organizing for better wages, pitting young against old is a time-honored tactic used to divide people who might otherwise unite to change things.

OK, boomers: it’s time to reach across the “generational divide,” itself a myth promoted by the mainstream media. It’s time to really listen to what youngers have to say and figure out how to work together. It’s time to act like ancestors—because the stakes have never been higher.

9 thoughts on “OK, people

  1. Welcome home, Ashton! Your message is so important and gets right to the core of the issue which masks as intergenerational hostilities (which is really scapegoating, isn’t it). “generational divides distract from deeper questions of power.” The issue is inequality, which does not discriminate by age.”

  2. I’m glad your trip went so well, Ashton! I agree with you 100%. Divide and conquer is the strategy – pitting generations against each other, people from different backgrounds and socioeconomic “status” against each other, etc. We must come together in intergenerational dialogue to get to know each other and work together for the benefit of all.

  3. Right on! It’s a call to us Boomers to match my call to GenZ (see Nov blog). The question, as always, is what concrete steps should we take to narrow the gap and how can we sustain the movement. Do I know-hell no, but would love to work on it with others.

  4. I completely agree. It’s about inequalities of power and access to life opportunities. Those issues cut across all generations…think of an older woman struggling to cobble together some secure housing, or a young tech millionaire. If we put the focus on dealing with access and equal opportunities for all we can combine to solve these ‘wicked’ problems.

  5. Congratulations, Ashton, on this spectacular accomplishment! “Age ain’t nuthin’ but a number” is a nice idea, and oh so true when it comes to discrimination, but there are realities to the physical process of aging on the body. Kudos to you for pressing on in the face of a daunting schedule, in spite of what I’ve come to refer to as “the vicissitudes.” Not only does this chair rock, but its author rocks mightily as well.

  6. I love this post. Thank you, Ashton. It has been a distressing phenomenon for me when I hear people blaming my entire generation for the state of the planet and have long argued this point. I, too, am angry with those of my generation (and the generation before them and the upcoming generations) who seem not to care or be willing to take necessary action – worse, have contributed to the mess we are in. You express it far better than I ever could so thank you.

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