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At the barricades - Boomers vs Gen Y

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 14 February 2013


Like many kids raised in the early 1960s on a diet of Marvel comics, I enjoy a good apocalypse, Armageddon or bloody revolution.

It's only a matter of time before we starve to death, drown under rising sea levels, evaporate in a meteorite strike or choke on our own bodily juices due to a pandemic virus.

These are sexy but I can out do them all. Prepare for a civil war against your parents and grandparents. Recent media reports state that generational inequity will rip families apart and forever destroy the tranquility and equanimity that was once dinner with the folks.

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Last year two British journalists Ed Howker and Shiv Malik told the Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas that the next civil war will be between the young and the old.

''What you will have is an increasingly disgruntled younger half of the population. What happens when people don't have that security? What do you end up with? You end up with a confused bunch of young adults who end up acting a bit more like children," Malik said.

Being a confused young adult with a chip on your shoulder may be a precondition for a career in politics or journalism, but it does not mean you will, as Monty Python said, be living in a shoebox and eating gravel for the rest of your life.

Malik and Howker's book 'Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth' stated that increased longevity means the folks won't be passing on the inheritance anytime soon. So kids, its looks like you're going to have to move out of home and get a job.

The other alternative is more romantic but riskier. Generation Y could rise up (like a tidal wave caused by a meteorite) and in the dead of night (insert I am Legend) and take over. I'm right with you, even though I'm 53 and part of the problem (insert Logans Run).

I used to have a job in Canberra where we'd count all the Boomers and work out how much it was going to cost the Government to provide them with healthcare and pensions over the next 30 years. How much you ask? There's not much change out of $30 billion. You're right, it's time to knock off Ma and Pa.

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Much of the pressure for intergenerational war comes from the cultural left. A typical example was Jeff Sparrow's article in The Drum, 'Skyfall as a parable of reactionary generationalism' (13 December 2012). It was a cracker.

"Generational conflict has come to the forefront of contemporary politics because it's so central to climate change, the key issue of our time. Denialism doesn't necessarily correlate with age – there are plenty of older people concerned about the environment and lots of young fogeys who aren't. Nevertheless, climate sceptics skillfully play on generational resentment, mobilising retirees who see environmentalism as an attack upon the values upon which they've built their lives," Sparrow wrote.

Climate sceptics are mobilizing retirees? So sceptics are organising like the Weathermen Collective and are holding secret briefings in retirement villages across Australia? Note how by denying that older folks are involved in this revolutionary activity, it leaves open the possibility that there are fifth columnists at work spreading dissention and hate against clean cut greenies. Also, how did we end up talking about climate change?

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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