Friday, 21 November 2014

Inherited Entitlement Brings Out The Worst In Us

[This article is an experiment in writing in a particular style, one which I don't especially admire. It shouldn't be taken as representative of my views necessarily, & certainly not of how I write.]

As a child, my white anglo-saxon protestant grandparents served as an excellent counter-point to my white anglo-saxon parents. However, as I grow older and the time approaches for me to have children of my own, I lament the new generation of grandparents as they increasingly fail to live up to the high bar set by the Greatest Generation.

They weren't always perfect, with their casual racism and gender essentialism, but they were colourful characters, possessing a kind of black-and-white morality mixed with almost pagan ideals about virtue. World War II gave them a strange mixture of optimism and pessimism - anything was possible, but at the same time the entire banking system could collapse at any moment. They were stoic, no-nonsense people who taught me the value of respecting my superiors and of unfailing politeness, yet would frequently have a couple of whiskeys at the senior's bar & start singing bawdy songs at the top of their lungs. These contradictory attitudes and behaviours helped me understand that nobody is ever one thing, that even the most white-bread battle-hardened patriot was a patchwork of virtues and flaws, jostling each other to create people who always focused on doing what was right for their family and country. Their approach never made much sense to me, as a child more interested in my Game Boy than stories of the horrors of war, but I learned from them all the same.

I look at their replacements, the so-called " Baby Boomers", and despair. Gone is the world-wearied wisdom of their predecessors, replaced with an endless, high-pitched narcissistic whine about negative gearing and the cost of immigration. Don't get me wrong, my grandparents' generation could be racist as hell, but their racism had a purity to it - a genuine belief that some people were just Better. I never thought I'd come to view this kind of prejudice with the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia, but the Boomers have found a way: by framing their own particular brand of self-aggrandising racism in economic terms.

Non-white immigrants, for Boomers, aren't a problem because of differing cultural beliefs, or even an absence of Good Breeding, but instead by presenting an imaginary economic burden. Immigrants are stealing jobs, costing valuable tax dollars, having anchor babies all over the place. This self-interest is the most tiring kind of racism I can think of. Gone are the spurious virtue-based justifications for xenophobia, replaced with the cold, detached greed of the bean-counter. What kind of example is this going to set for my own children? Reducing people to mere economic inconvenience? For my grandparents, the threat presented by the Other was existential. For the Boomers, they're an unacceptable dent in the bottom line.

How can these Boomers be trusted to offer my children a useful counter-point to my own values, as my grandparents did for me? While us sorry Millenials struggle with the tribulations of actual economic difficulty, of a depressed job market and skyrocketing rates of mental illness, how can these self-interested martyrs be relied upon to teach a new generation the harsh lessons of history? My grandparents' generation derived their understanding of suffering from tank warfare, from the Kokoda Track, from the Depression. Boomers are haunted instead by the spectre of The Youth failing to surrender their seat on the train, or having their headphones turned up too loud. The Greatest Generation taught me that unimaginable sacrifices could be made in the interests of safety and prosperity, that you could survive the most lethal circumstances and go on to live an exciting life where every moment is a miraculous gift. The Boomers, inheritors of this hard-won prosperity, will teach my children that even if you have three investment properties it's an unacceptable affront for unemployed youth to expect the kind of free education they enjoyed in the '70s.

If this is the kind of example my children can expect, I despair for the future. Boomers have no concept of responsibility, no concept of hardship. They're softened by technology, with one hand out grasping for middle-class welfare while the other taps an email to The Australian demanding we close our borders to those suffering overseas. The Greatest Generation understood all too well the realities of war, but these Boomers consider refugees nothing more than a cost-benefit analysis that doesn't weigh sufficiently in their favour.

My grandparents didn't teach me to be a racist - my own parents were on hand to put that particular nonsense in its context. They did, however, teach me spiritual lessons. What it means to be an Australian, what it means to pay the cost for prosperity in blood and suffering. What are the Boomers going to teach their grandchildren? To view people as economic inconveniences, to treat young people with scorn for failing to enact the same courtesies their parents earned, and they expect to inherit with no effort? This concept of inherited entitlement is at the core of the Boomer ideology: a constant, justified fear that their own example has failed to garner them the same respect their parents earned the hard way. The Greatest Generation died in droves to ensure their children would have safe access to free education, but Boomers balk at merely paying their taxes. This isn't the example I want set for my children.

I see little reason to hope for improvement. Boomer entitlement is a pervasive influence in our national media, and as my children grow up and use their technology to access their national discourse, I fear they'll be wired-in 24/7 to a narrative of petty economic wrangling and political self-interest. They won't be fooled by the smokescreen of endless think-pieces about public transport etiquette and the ways sharing photos will somehow un-make our presumably excellent national character, but the underlying message will seep in: Australians are greedy, self-absorbed narcissists, inheriting an unearned prosperity that exists only to be squandered, while ensuring none of it is shared with those experiencing real hardship.

My message to these Boomers is simple: grow up, and start taking your responsibilities seriously. Put down your stock portfolios and cease this empty-headed staring at the Murdoch press. Your country is decaying under your sorry influence, and your grandchildren deserve the same kind of gravitas and depth I was fortunate to absorb from my grandparents' generation. Worry less about where young people sit on the train, and more about how they're going to retire after a lifetime with no job security. Stop talking about selfies, and start talking about a lifetime of student debt.

And for crying out loud, stop being suckered by chain emails. You're embarrassing everyone.


  1. Finally got around to finishing this (I subsisted off the first few paragraphs initially). Fantastic, borderline poetic, and couldn't be directed at a more deserving generation.

    On a related note, I decided to take a peek at what other triumphs of opinion the author of that train article had put out... God damn that Kevin Donnelly is a piece of shit.

    Between praising the inherent, not-at-all-class-related merit of private Catholic schools (while doing advising work for the Liberal party), and insisting that no amount of trade or human exchange will (or should) dislodge Australia's primacy of the 'anglosphere', I was able to gleam that he is a senior research fellow at my former place of employment, Australian Catholic University.

    It's always sobering to identify someone who is ideologically monstrous, and then realise you've worked for his colleagues.

    1. Kevin Donnelly is one of my favourite examples of the complete emptiness of "meritocracy" as a meaningful aspect of Australian media.