Note: The first Taki post of the year is up. I start the year off with some soothing words about race. I also have a post up behind the green door on the move The Searchers, which is ranked #96 on the top-100.
Generational politics has been a part of American culture since the middle of the last century when the Baby Boomers started making noises. Youth culture started in the 20’s during the Jazz Age, but really came into its own in the 50’s and 60’s. Today it is just assumed that each generation has its own unique identity. Zoomers, Boomers and Millennials are separate tribes with nothing in common. On this side of the great divide, “boomer” is commonly thrown around as an epithet.
One of the great ironies of our political culture is that whites are never allowed to play identity politics, unless it is generational identity politics. That because generational war is pretty much a white thing. Zoomers can rant and rave about the Boomers, because it is assumed that both groups are white. You never hear the gatekeepers lecture us about the danger of generational identity politics like they do with other aspects of identity like race, sex or even region of the country.
Putting all of that aside, there is a generational aspect to our politics that will be front and center in the near future. The Baby Boomers get grief for the cultural revolution, but in reality, they were just consumers of that revolution. Despite all the radical rhetoric, the Boomers emerged into adulthood with a high degree of institutional trust. The Left has a deep faith in government and the process of government. The Right has a deep faith in capitalism and the process of the marketplace.
This institutional trust is apparent across the political spectrum. The mainstream Left demands absolute fidelity to the institutions they control. For example, skepticism of the mass media is treated as a dangerous conspiracy theory. The mainstream Right was in a constant state of panic over Trump challenging the system. Even dissident Boomers maintain faith in the system. They are sure that getting the right people in the right offices will result in polices rooted in demographic reality.
This is to be expected. The Baby Boom generation came into a world that not only worked, but worked amazingly well. They were raised up in a high trust society with a booming economy. In their youth they got to enjoy a flourishing popular culture and in their adulthood, they were gifted a robust economy. Through their middle years, they got good schools for their kids and great health care for their parents. The system has been great for that generation, so their loyalty is sensible.
This deep trust in the system will only become more intense as the Baby Boom generation gets older. The first wave of Boomers is either on the cusp of retirement or already retired. Right behind them is the second wave that perks up every time an ad for retirement services comes on the television. What old people do not want is for things to change. Despite the obvious problems in politics, the culture and economy, the Baby Boom generation trusts the system. They have no choice.
Despite their vast influence, the Baby Boom generation will soon begin to give way to the next generation, which is the Millennials. Generation X is too small, and they have been shut out by the massive generation ahead of them. The Millennials are now ready to start taking up their place in American society. The first wave of that generation is approaching forty now. Over the next decade, as the Boomers head into retirement, their children will take over for them as the dominant generation.
Unlike their parents or possibly grandparents in some cases, the Millennials have a different lived experience, as the beautiful people would put it. They came into easy times like their parents, but they never had to fear war, recession, or the ideological threat of Soviet communism. They never had to think much about the system or trust in it in anyway, because the system was never under any threat. For them, the current order was just a part of nature, something taken for granted.
One result of this is an unrealistic sense of entitlement. You see this most acutely on the Left, where the new generation of radicals sound like spoiled children. Their demands are those of a toddler faced with a toy that is not working. They look around and demand to know why diversity is not blooming wherever they look or why there are things within eyeshot that hurt their feelings. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is a petulant child, but also the face of the new American Left.
Another feature of this generation is an absolute faith in themselves. The doting of their parents and the hours of esteem building lessons paid off. Millennials are a wildly confident generation. This makes perfect sense. Things just worked out well for this group, especially those who entered the managerial class. As long as they ticked the right boxes, the treat came out at the bottom. A generation raised on participation medals reached adulthood highly confident in their ability.
They also have a deep faith in their sense of right and wrong. They start from the assumption that their desires are the moral high ground. Whatever they want is not the right thing in the empirical sense, but the right thing morally. This means they receive criticism and failure as a personal affront. Add in their sense of entitlement and this is not a generation built for struggle. They expect and demand things work the way they want them to work and that’s the end of it.
For Millennials, politics will be intensely personal. They define themselves by their lifestyle choices and the opinions they promote. Personal accomplishment plays a minor role, because everything that matters has always been here for them. Gesture politics is all about moral signaling for a generation that conflated everything into some aspect of their personal identity. This is why mainstream political discourse increasingly sounds like a fight between a divorced couple.
For an aging empire showing signs of decay, this sets up an interesting dynamic over the next decades. As the system begins to break in serious ways, the older generation will want to protect it at all costs. On the other hand, the people tasked with fixing the system will be their overconfident, sanctimonious kids. Compounding it will be the fact that the Millennials have come this far assuming the system is just a part of the natural world, like the weather. It does not require maintenance.
The generational war that is shaping up is not between the Zoomers and the Boomers, but between the Boomers and their kids. One side maintains a deep trust in the system, while the other has a deep trust in themselves. One side will demand the system be repaired and defended, while the other will take this as a personal affront. Meanwhile, the people capable of maintaining the system will be too old to do it, while the people tasked with it will be too self-absorbed to be bothered. Good times.
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