Millennials are lazy, ungrateful, terminally distracted brats who think they deserve a standing ovation just for rolling out of bed in the morning.
Baby boomers are a dark scourge upon the earth who have conspired to destroy our economy, political system, environment and collective future.
And other ridiculous myths perpetuated by the click-collecting pop psychologists of our age.
Not a day goes by in which a representative of one of these arbitrary generational groups launches a highly Tweetable attack at the other in the common pursuit of Internet traffic. Many of these adolescent yelps into the interwebs appear on high-brow sites like Slate.com, snarkier venues like Gawker and in newspapers around the country, but rarely do they take a position that is anything beyond reactionary.
Take, for example, a recent Slate article by psychotherapist Brooke Donatone, in which the author blithely diagnoses millennials with a host of maladies, including a low “frustration tolerance” and emotional underdevelopment.
She draws these conclusions based primarily on her personal experiences with those she encounters in her line of work: That is, young people with psychological problems. Mind you, I’m no social scientist, but I think you might call that a skewed sample. Donatone throws in a couple of studies to give her hunch about millennials a dull patina of actual research. But like most recent emissions into this growing cloud of generational smog, the piece is really one big prejudice masquerading as a considered analysis.
“A generation ago,” Donatone writes, “my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup.”
Translation: “My generation is better than yours, because we treat our problems with overeating and alcohol abuse.” Or, as my editor, himself a reluctant baby boomer, likes to jokingly say: “You kids with your long hair and your rock and roll music.”
Of course, similar attempts from millennials (of whom I am supposedly a member, having been born in 1982) are just as animosity-driven and hilariously off-base.
A case in point is a well-written and very funny YouTube video in which millennials sarcastically apologize for being such a terrible group of people while accusing boomers of leaving them a terrible world. They are right insofar as the economy and environment are in much worse shape than when boomers were coming of age. But the trouble is that this transfer of blame to the boomer bogeyman perpetuates a negative trend to objectify and generalize about categories of people that actually don’t exist.
The boomers, as P.J. O’Rourke suggests in his recent book, are an unclassifiably vast cohort of disparate trends and ideologies that are often at odds with one another. As are millennials. As are members of generations X and Y, whatever the heck those labels are supposed to mean.
Nothing good could possibly come from all this uninformed hand-wringing. It’s not as if, once we are all sufficiently convinced of the millennials’ supposed entitlement syndrome or the boomers’ apparent self-absorption, we would be in a better position to confront our common problems.
What this kind of commentary appeals to is not a desire to work out solutions, but a base need to transfer blame for the perceived problems of the world onto some “other” – this being a hallmark of every generation since the dawn of man. That approach is certainly tempting – I am kind of doing it right now, in an attempt to transfer some of the blame for our collective failures onto traffic-hungry bloggers and journalists – but ultimately fruitless.
We would be much better off spending our intellectual efforts on the ideological forces that most shape our economy and society. These forces – liberalism and conservatism, namely – know no generational bounds and move through the imaginary divides we have constructed like water through a sieve.
Any honest reading of recent American history demonstrates one thing clearly: We are, every last one of us, implicated in the problems we face. And once we stop the name-calling, all of us can participate in the solution.