The Generation Gap Widens
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.” — Thomas Sowell
I FOLLOW THE TWITTER ACCOUNTS of Indiana journalists, many of them millennials. Hey, it’s my job. I can tell you that they feel unappreciated. It’s hard work and it’s underpaid. They want the government, their union, somebody, anybody, to do something.
It doesn’t occur to them that they themselves might need to change, to grow up. You will search their tweets in vain for awareness that they have broken the profession handed to them. Indeed, you won’t find awareness that journalism is broken at all. That is despite readership numbers at the level you would expect to find polling for the severely disturbed and overly medicated.
There is an explanation. It is they don’t know better. Their parents were members of a generation that didn’t want to grow up, the infamous baby boomers, the ones who believed nothing was important if it happened before they were born.
That is not pop psychology, it is a clinical diagnosis. In the analytical work of Carl Jung, the “eternal child” describes an older person whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. For Jung, this person (or generation) would lead a “provisional life,” or a life without absolutes, a life spent coveting independence and freedom, opposing boundaries and limits and tending to find any restriction intolerable.
Indeed, the professional standards of a journalism that had endured since Martin Luther first handed out pamphlets are dismissed. Instead, today’s editors have installed new standards, which, in fact, are no standards — anything goes, all is new again.
How bad is it? Well, a writer for the New Yorker magazine being sued for defamation argued that even though she invented the quote wrongly attributed to the defendant, it was “something he would have said.”
This new journalism might amuse the ruling class but common newspaper readers need trustworthy information on which to make life decisions on the margins of the economy and politics. That would take discernment and hard work on the part of editors and reporters. It would take adult supervision.
Even the comedians get it: “Other cultures figured out that older people are generally wiser,” says Bill Maher. “The more days you live, the more things you know. When you’re young you have beauty and when you’re old you have wisdom. Only this dumb country wants to posit both wisdom and beauty in youth.”
And there is a harsher explanation.
The Austrian sociologist Helmet Schoeck argued that one generation can be envious of an older one, and because of that try to cancel it. The baby boomers inherited unprecedented peace and prosperity — brought about by achievements (and sacrifices) that neither they nor millennials have so far been able to manage.
Schoeck says it makes sense in an obdurate way for them to throw everything out and rebuild on the whimsy of microchip games, social media platforms and slogans. “Build back better,” one generation says. Another counters with “Make America Great Again.”
But if all this analysis is too much, you can think of it as a simple trope: First there is a creative generation, then there is a mimic generation and finally there is a failed generation.
Let’s hope that applies only to journalism and not to something actually important such as national defense, fiscal policy or family structure. Or are we beyond that? — tcl