Image Source: Geekalerts.
On 1 November 2011, I discussed the pernicious effects of generational labeling and its historical origins, here. This post follows up on that comment with regard to use of generational labeling in a recent New York Times article about Generation Y (Thanks to -M.).
20th century history testified to the evils of false positive and negative collective labeling for the purposes of social control. Nonetheless, that trend has become so commonplace that mass media labels easily become conventionally-accepted truths. One of the defining qualities of Millennial life is the gap we see everywhere between virtual hype and actual reality. This gap occurs for Generation Y as well: see here for my comment on their true reality.
It is almost impossible to discuss generational matters without resorting to the very generational labels this blog seeks to deconstruct. At the same time, it is important to observe that there is a general cultural pattern of group labeling evident in the MSM over the past 40 years. My discussion of that verifiable phenomenon does not imply my indulgence in that phenomenon. Again, group labeling has become part of the public discourse. That pattern of discussion coincided almost entirely with Baby Boomer domination of the discourse. Group labeling is stereotypically associated with the Boomers' primary modes of self-identification. Now, the Baby Boomers have not received great press from those coming up behind them. Moreover, many members of the Baby Boom generation may not have subscribed to a group mentality, or may not have aligned with group labels, such as the 'Me Generation.' Why then, do individual high profile members of the Boomer cohort constantly resort to group labeling as a means to understanding themselves and those younger than them in society? And why are so many of their contemporaries otherwise silent on the matter?
The origins of group labeling of this kind have to do with the history of conservative, liberal and socialist politics in the 18th and 19th centuries, which I touched on here. That history of corporate labels and rights could explain many disasters in the 20th century. But that history will not explain why collective labels continue to be used, despite their negative and even dangerous historical connotations. Perhaps group labels are still used because even the media have become a marketing machine. And marketing mentalities and logistics cater primarily to demographics, among other mass categorizations. The Internet has only exacerbated the trend toward group and mini-group classifications.
Group labeling informed a March 10 NYT article by Todd Buchholz and his Gen Y daughter Victoria, entitled, "The Go-Nowhere Generation." The piece, along with a similar Todd Buchholz blog post, "Born to Sit," provides a classic Baby Boomer analysis that rests entirely on a facile collective dismissal of a younger cohort. Interestingly, the authors skipped Gen X in their list of go-getting and non-go-getting generations completely. Apparently, Xers no longer even warrant mention:
The Buchholz pieces criticize Generation Y for refusing to move to other cities and countries to take up employment during tough times. The analysis of employment migration under current economic conditions is anecdotal and superficial. The commentary easily glides over the huge expenses and other barriers that go along with moving for a job, which younger employment candidates routinely face. It neglects the human cost, not so bad when job candidates are in their early-to-mid twenties, but a real burden as they get into their thirties and even forties: losing friends; or not settling in a job long enough to make them; loss of family connections; being forced into a loop of short term professional contracts; drifting from city to city and from contract to contract; shouldering moving costs with little or no support from the employer; facing micro-job contracts, which will not even pay the costs of the move to take the actual job; waking up in the morning - and not even knowing which country you're in.All this turns American history on its head. We are a nation of movers and shakers. Pilgrims leapt onto leaky boats to get here. The Lost Generation chased Hemingway and Gertrude Stein to Paris. The Greatest Generation signed up to ship out to fight Nazis in Germany or the Japanese imperial forces in the Pacific. The ’60s kids joined the Peace Corps.
But Generation Y has become Generation Why Bother. The Great Recession and the still weak economy make the trend toward risk aversion worse. Children raised during recessions ultimately take fewer risks with their investments and their jobs. Even when the recession passes, they don’t strive as hard to find new jobs, and they hang on to lousy jobs longer. Research by the economist Lisa B. Kahn of the Yale School of Management shows that those who graduated from college during a poor economy experienced a relative wage loss even 15 years after entering the work force.
Perhaps more worrisome, kids who grow up during tough economic times also tend to believe that luck plays a bigger role in their success, which breeds complacency. ... Maybe it’s time to yank out the power cords, pump up the flat bicycle tires or even reopen Route 66 — whatever it takes to get our kids back on the road.
These employment conditions arose due to the gutting of the liberal professions over the past 30 years by Boomer micro-managers and business theorists, who surfed the wave of institutional job security left to them by their elders. But Boomer bosses changed the rules to the despair of those who followed. This is a fate that some Gen Xers know all too well. Perhaps unlike the Millennials, Gen Xers were willing to move endlessly to take new jobs. And a portion of them still have the itinerant lifestyle to show for it. Many Xers who could settle lost their jobs and houses in the recession.
The conclusions drawn by the Buchholz NYT piece boil down to an ad hominem attack. Why will Gen Y not move? They are lazy. They are complacent. They fear risk-taking. They are "too happy at home checking Facebook." Their characters are intrinsically flawed. Oh, and they don't listen to lessons from Bruce Springsteen. They're not 'born to run.' Honestly. This is the level of serious public debate on this matter in the New York Times, one of the most important newspapers on the planet. It is a disgrace. Readers will remember the flashy negative catch-line though: the 'Go-Nowhere Generation,' just the way they forever remembered the fake term 'Slacker.'
All of this is highly ironic, considering that just a few short years ago, Boomer commentators were gushing about how optimistic and ready-to-work Millennials were. Millennials had great attitudes. Yes, they needed their hands held. But they were team players; and they were tech-savvy. In the early-to-mid 2000s, Boomer job management analysts dismissed Xers as has-beens. They proposed an alliance with Gen Y and promised to leap-frog their kids over those Slackers, who had never amounted to anything, anyway. Gen X always had such negative attitudes. And they were loners. Millennials, praised to the heavens as the kids of the future, the kids who would have it all, lapped it up. This was the 2000-2007 line taken in Boomer HR circles.
But now things have changed. In one big Reverse Mortgage moment, the conclusions in the Buchholz pieces become identical to the criticisms that were leveled at Generation X during the early-to-mid 1990s' recession. Both younger groups have been negatively and collectively defined, dismissed and thereby controlled by their elders during difficult economic crises. Yet Boomers just so happened to be in the economic driver's seat during both recessions. To class younger adults as 'lazy' when they are absorbing the shocks of the worst downturn since the Great Depression - a downturn they did not create - is unacceptable.
Nor is Todd Buchholz alone, particularly, in taking this line. I don't quite understand the logic of Boomer commentators here. Wouldn't it be wiser at this point to appeal to the better natures of those coming up behind them? In a decade or so, the picture will be different. In two decades, it will be even more so. It may be that Generations X and Y will remember the booms and busts not as standard economic fluctuations, which could have been remedied through vertical cross-generational cooperation and mentorship, but as 50 odd years of false and negative generational publicity about them. And they may remember that that publicity was created by those who came before them. It is hardly a promising policy for Boomers to pursue now, as they seek to secure their period of old age.
Addendum: One blog reader, J., suggested a piece posted on Zero Hedge on March 15 regarding economic conditions and Boomer legacies. I have not verified these statistics (these charts were drawn up by John Lohman), so in the context of this post, I take them only as an example of the kind of discussion currently taking place (Thanks J!). The Zero Hedge blogger comments:
While it is difficult to properly attribute blame for the collapse of the US economy, which commenced in the early 1980s, on either the Fed's policy of easy money starting with Alan Greenspan (and terminating with today's statement by Goldman that merely a suggestion of "not easing" may be equivalent to "tightening" - a symptom of a terminal junkie), or the resultant self-indulgent lifestyle of the maturing baby boomers, one thing is certain: the paradigm downturn of the United States began in the early 1980s. And here we are willing to break the cardinal rule of statistics and assume that correlation does imply causation. Because the 4 simple charts below don't lie: the US economy, as represented by its Balance of Payments, the profligacy of the US consumer, the massive expansion of consumer leverage, and the collapse in US manufacturing jobs, and specifically its current near-terminal state, is as much as legacy of the baby boom generation's actions (and lack thereof), as of everything else that has already been mulled over and scapegoated an infinite number of times in both the mainstream and fringe media.
Image Source: John Lohman via Zero Hedge.
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