July 1, 2018The Gap
Sometimes those things that divide us are also the things that unite us, and that’s not always good.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve heard the phrase “generation gap,” as though this was something new and that, prior to some time-X, all people, young and old, were as homogeneous as a bottle of milk. Even today the phrase resonates if only because we see ourselves as socially, politically, and culturally a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. So I thought I’d dig into it a little bit.
It’s easy to say that the boomers invented a new form of music and that everything that has followed has been derivative hooey. The real point, though, is that our country, from the very young to the very old, is hooked on music. Whether we use ear buds or vinyl LP’s or subscribe to a myriad of music services, or attend any of the hundreds of, usually massive, music festivals, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like music in some genre or other and who isn’t exposed to it frequently during an average day. Any alleged gap between young and old is probably only a matter of taste.
It’s pretty widely believed that there is a big gap in that the boomers have seen that safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare – among the better pieces of legislation passed in the last century – do work, whereas there’s a large cohort of the young who think that those programs will either not exist for them or be so minimal that survival in their elder years will largely be a hugely personal and hugely expensive matter and something they may not even be able to adequately prepare for. That gap, though, might only be a bit of a lack of faith. This country is not going to abandon its elderly, not now, not in the future. Alleged problems in those programs are easily fixable, but, as is our wont, they won’t be fixed until they reach some crisis point.
One could say that there is a gap in that the boomers never had to worry about school shooters. It’s a shame anybody has to worry about that, but the boomers had to worry about nuclear war, about polio, about being drafted into a war, about AIDS, about inflation. What bridges the gap, of course, is that we are all united in fear, and that might not be good.
The young, it might be said, are all hooked on screens while the boomers sit there with their books and newspapers. The implication here is that the young live in a high-tech world and the boomers don’t. Not sure about that. I suspect there are few boomers who don’t have a cellphone (while, yes, keeping the landline), a laptop or PC, a smart TV, or a navigation system on their Buicks. They may not know who Siri or Alexa are, but they have long had a friend in Google.
As for those books and newspapers, it seems we are all united in doing very little “traditional” reading anymore. Just ask the writers and journalists and struggling publishers and newspapers and magazines (or consult the numerous surveys and sales statistics that bear this out).
Politics, of course, can be a big gap maker. I think there’s a perception that the young are open to change and new ways of doing things and the older populations are not, and that, while the young may be liberal or conservative, the elders are all conservative Republicans. That, of course, is untrue, but more importantly, our social fabric has been so shredded by the politics of selfishness that those distinctions seem meaningless. The politics of young and old are now determined by issues and not ideology. You are your views on Trump or immigration or gun control or abortion or climate change or trade, which means the gaps among us have little to do with deep-seated beliefs about the nature of the American experience and everything to do with whatever is pushing your buttons at the moment.
We are united, too, in anger. No longer do we put our differences up on the block of reason and argue our way through them. Rather, we seek consensus, as though a popular vote can make an invalid viewpoint valid. We demean our opponents and call them names. We try to negate their positions by digging up dirt on their character and highlighting lapses, no matter how minor, in past behaviors. We slam logic as being a biased tool of the opposition. We seem to have developed ridicule as an art form and no amount of slander is seen as too much. If you’re not with me, you’re not simply wrong: I hate you.
That’s all I have to say about that.
G.K.Wuori © 2018
Photoillustration by the author