The boomer mentality goes like this: get a good education. Get a well-paying full-time job. Find a stable partner. Buy a house and a car. Preferably, have a child. Failing any stage of this process is a reflection of your self-worth and indicates a lack of moral fibre.
With regional variations, millennials have absorbed our parents’ world view. We consider these expectations reasonable, and we blame ourselves for not living up to them.
Of course, it’s all a trick. The global conditions that enabled a middle-class existence are evaporating, and are being replaced by an economic system whose function is the transfer of wealth to the lucky few.
The boomer mentality has an odd amount of sticking power considering it only briefly bore any relationship to reality. For thousands of years, wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a select few, who have used this power to exploit and oppress everyone else. The economist Thomas Piketty writes that in all known societies, the bottom 50% of the population has owned virtually nothing.
Globally, this is still true today. The situation grows ever worse. Knowing this about human history, it seems profoundly delusional for the boomers, a generation permitted a fleeting taste of a dignified existence, to believe this occurred because of their superior work ethic.
Yet this is what boomers want us to think, and we oblige. Never mind that none of it is true. Never mind that believing these toxic fictions is making young people sick, sad and hopeless. Never mind that this is exactly the same process that causes poor people of all ages to believe they are at fault for their poverty.
And never mind that the point of this ideology is to discipline young people’s behaviour through weaponised self-loathing. Instead of demanding better, we engage in futile competition over crumbs. Instead of questioning why life often feels meaningless, why we feel so alienated and inadequate, we turn these beliefs inward. Instead of using this shared experience to build solidarity with each other, we feel shame.
Eleanor Robertson, Why are the Baby Boomers Desperate to make Millennials Hate Ourselves
I’m not a millennial. I’m at the tail-end of Generation X and my parents were war babies. So this doesn’t apply to me directly, but there are important points made here I think.
“For several years, we have operated with a cultural and moral worldview which finds value only in ‘winners’. Our cities must be ‘world-leading’ to matter. Universities must be ‘excellent’, or else they dwindle. This is a philosophy which condemns the majority of spaces, people and organizations to the status of ‘losers’. It also seems entirely unable to live up to its own meritocratic ideal any longer. The discovery that, if you cut a ‘winner’ enough slack, eventually they’ll try to close down the game once and for all, should throw our obsession with competitiveness into question. And then we can consider how else to find value in things, other than their being ‘better’ than something else.”
William Davies, ‘How ‘competitiveness’ become one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture’
Another thing bereavement has done for me (and this is no bad thing) is make me really aware of some of the ways in which I’ve constructed my sense of self. One way I’ve done this over the last 15 years or so is to see myself as very professional, efficient and hard-working person. Other people appreciating these qualities in me makes me feel valuable and important.
Bereavement is helping me let go of this self (at least a bit) because I simply can’t do it at the moment. I’m completely worn out, physically shaky and feeling unwell, mentally vague, preoccupied and forgetful, struggling to concentrate for more than half-an-hour at a time. My levels of work productivity have inevitably dropped and the illusion that I had of myself as this energetic, well-organised person who never asked for help has taken a battering. I’ve had to take a day off work today because I just don’t feel well enough to go into the office. And I’ve realised that I’m going to have to adjust my working practices and ask my colleagues for a bit more support over the next few weeks. Well, I said I wanted to get rid on my workaholic tendencies and it seems I don’t have much choice about that now. It’s really made me think about how I value myself and whether I want to carry on valuing myself in that way.
This professional persona is really a reaction to an old script from adolescence in which I was constructed as a lazy, useless sort of person, and an underachiever at school. As I grew older, I reacted against it by creating this super-efficient persona. Stories build on stories and it takes work to unravel them all. The “lazy” persona was nothing more than a reaction to a lot of other stories that got told about me for various reasons – mainly these were stories that enabled people to avoid dealing with the fact that I had depression as a teenager. I’m really beginning to understand why my counselling course tutor asked us to make a list of all the stories that people tell about us.
But then I caught myself thinking that I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that cuts me a little slack during bereavement. I was shocked to realise that I’m feeling “lucky” to work for an organisation that doesn’t sack me immediately over a slight drop in productively! Talk about being conditioned by capitalism. That’s an appalling situation, but it counts as a privileged position in the UK. Lots of people have to go to work and try and be productive no matter how terrible they feel because if they don’t go in, they can be sacked and instantly replaced by one of a hundred others waiting for work in the class war that our conservative government is currently attempting to inflame to even greater levels.