Cantwell: Generation “Why Us?” — How the Baby Boomers Left Gen Y High and Dry
- Mar. 14, 2012
- 331 Comments
If there were just one over-used, gag reflex-activating cliché that I could wish away, it would be, “You are the future.”
Why my distain for this phrase?
First, to imply that there is a magic switch or time in which Generation Y will just jump in and take over leadership of our society is not only misleading, but is more disempowering to our generation than it is encouraging. It implies that we have no agency in the progression of politics and that we should simply be sitting around waiting for the previous generation to give us to the keys to governance.
With this apathetic discourse, it’s really no wonder the voter turnout for the 18- to 24-year-old demographic is so painfully low in every election cycle. For our entire lives, it has been reiterated that we will eventually, some day, in a very, very long time from now take over.
The second, and more important reason why I hate this cliché is it represents a national attitude that Generation Y is building on the successes of the previous generation. It implies that the previous generation has left our society and our planet in a better position than the previous one had — a contention I believe to be false, at best.
The Baby Boomer generation has economically crippled Generation Y through deficit spending; this, coupled with increased tax breaks for the wealthy and cutting social services for younger generations in need of assistance has set Generation Y on a murky and uphill path.
The Baby Boomers were able to accumulate wealth and success because of the collective ability to stand on the shoulders of giants from previous generation, and thus progress themselves — and society — light-years ahead. The Baby Boomers benefited from progressive taxation, which put a significant amount of money into public goods such as educational and cultural development as well as infrastructure.
As the Boomers became more successful, they did so with the accompanying rhetoric of “lifting yourself up by your bootstraps” that was being touted by politicians. This rhetoric created a sense of entitlement and protective instincts over wealth, prompting a wave of tax cuts and slashes to progressive public works programs.
Somehow, our generation is not only supposed to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we are expected to kill the cow, beat the hide and use the leather to cut and sew the straps onto the boots. Even Superman couldn’t perform under these conditions.
Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One’s Own, excellently expressed the notion of intergenerational obligation to success. She mused:
“If only [women] had left their money, like their father and their grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex, we might have looked forward to a pleasant and honorable lifetime spent in the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have been sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or going at ten to an office and coming home to write a little poetry.”
Although Woolf’s sentiments refer specifically to the context of women and education, the concept can be applied to society in a broader context. Simply put: The Baby Boomer generation has not only emptied the public “purse,” but has run away with it, leaving Generation “Why Us?” high and dry.
If American society is to still flourish in coming generations, those still in power of the Baby Boomer generation need to realize that public goods benefit all: the poor, middle class and wealthy — and the young. Our generation needs to heed the lesson of what has been done to us and claim agency to reform our society to benefit not just a few, but all.