It’s really hard to remain respectful in some arguments. For instance, I fully support the proposals of several progressive politicians that we make university education free. Every other industrialized country in the world does it, so why can’t we? Well, one argument that comes up again and again is, “But won’t that make all the people who had to pay off huge college debts angry?” My first response is, speaking as someone who spent many years trying to pay off his education loans, and only managed it because he was lucky enough to be an early employee of a tech start up that succeeded (so guess where 90% of my stock option earnings went?), “No, I would not be the slightest bit angry if no one else had to go through what I went through!”
My middle school wrestling coach (who was also my 8th grade math teacher) was old enough that he nearly died of polio as a child. He had to wear a leg brace the rest of his life, among other negative health issues left over from that ordeal. And while the anti-vax movement hadn’t reached its current level of penetration in society, back when I was in school the early stirrings of the movement existed. There was a story in the news about someone urging parents not to get their kids vaccinated for reasons that indicated they didn’t understand how vaccines or the immune system worked while I was his student, and so one day before we had our math lesson, we were treated to an impassioned talk from Coach about how 1) he wished the vaccine had existed when he was a child, and 2) how could any parent be so irresponsible as to not want to spare their child the pain and suffering or a preventable illness?
Almost every year during Pride Month I wind up writing at least one blog post where I say I am proud of myself and my fellow queer survivors because we survived the bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and oppression and have managed to create beautiful meaningful lives. But while I’m proud of having survived that, I don’t think any less of anyone who didn’t get bullied as much as me. What kind of psychopathic monster would wish that kind of pain on another person?
Part of the answer, I know, is that most of us have been taught from a very early age that misery builds character—that we become a better person by enduring these experiences. It’s reasonable to infer that I believe that from my comments such as that in the previous paragraph. But that isn’t quite what I mean. Misery doesn’t build anything.
It’s like exercise: you’re probably familiar with the notion that engaging in exercise which stresses the muscles will stimulate the body to increase muscle mass. That’s true enough, as far as it goes. But it isn’t the exercise which is building the muscles. It’s your body that is building extra muscle mass, and it can only do that if your diet includes enough protein, and if it has time to rest in between periods of exercise. Exercise is a specific type of stress placed on your muscles. It isn’t random. Beating a person will also stress the muscles, but that kind of stress doesn’t elicit the muscle-building activity at a bio-chemical level.
Similarly, it isn’t the bullying to built character, it’s several other things. One factor is how the person experiencing the suffering responds to it. Some survivors of abuse become abusers themselves later in life. That isn’t what people usually mean by “building character” even though it is a perfectly predictable response to being abused. Another factor is whether the person had other positive things in their life. Were they getting emotional support? Did that have someone in their life who loved them unconditionally? Were the places or times when they could escape the abuse?
I’m proud of people I know who survived bullying and worse not because of the bullying, but because they have embraced kindness and compassion despite the bad times. It’s what they did with it that matters.
Life will always have challenges. But some challenges are artificial. People forget that the very notion of money and private property are things humans just made up. They aren’t like laws of physics. We can change how the system works. And it isn’t that hard, because we do it all the time. Every time we change a tax (whether an increase or a decrease), we’re changing how the financial system works.
We live in a world where nearly 40% of the food we produce each year is just wasted. Yet there are people who can’t get enough food (or enough nutritious food) to survive. We’ve reached the point where large financial institutions are starting to panic a bit because of the sheer volume of wealth that is being hoarded in non-productive ways by the billionaire class. People are finally beginning to realize that the old truism (usually attributed to Henry Ford—hardly a progressive icon) that if workers are not paid enough to afford whatever products industries are producing, those industries will collapse.
I want the world to be a better place. I want people who are small children now to grow up and not have to struggle against problems that are entirely arbitrary and artificial—problems that we know how to fix—even though I had to fight those problems. I’m perfectly okay with them growing up in a better world than I did.
Don’t you agree?
Mostly I’ve ignored them. If someone I follow on social media makes a comment ridiculing one of those clickbait headlines I might re-blog it or click “Like.” I don’t have to read the articles or the commentary to know that rather than looking at the actual socio-economic forces at work, the article is just going to make a lame connection between some out of context statistics in a way that will make clueless people of a certain age nod and congratulate themselves on being a better, more mature person those “those darn kids!”
The one that broke me was soap. I kept seeing slightly outraged comments on Twitter about bar soap vs other kinds of soap that I didn’t quite understand. Clearly all these folks were commenting on some article or something that I hadn’t seen. Then I saw one comment tied the term millennials to soap, and I thought, “Oh, no! Now what?” So I had to go find the articles in question.
“Millennials Aren’t Buying Bar Soap and It’s Killing the Industry!” —it really isn’t any more ridiculous than the others, I suppose, but I found myself feeling a little outraged, too. The actual statistics buried in the article are this: sales of bar soap have been going down an average of 2.2 percent per year for the last five years or so, and the vast majority of bar soap that is still being sold is being purchased by people over the age of 60. But the other statistic buried right along in there: sales of soap overall have been increasing over the same period of time at a rate of 3% a year. And the same companies manufacture and sell body wash and liquid hand soap, so there actually isn’t any problem for the industry at all. But they tried to hide even that part by changing the time scale of how they described it.
Before I’d reached the point where the article undermines its own headline, I was already getting irritated because I’m under 60 and we buy bar soap regularly. And let’s be honest, it’s my husband, who is ten years younger than me who buys most of them because he prefers bars. I’m the older one who loves body wash and keeps multiple dispensers of liquid soap next to every faucet in the house. (Not because I believe the myth that soap bars harbor dangerous bacteria; it’s because I’m clumsy and drop bars all the time, and because I like having a choice of scents when I wash my hands or hair or whatever. The shower has four or five different scents of shampoo and matching conditioners and complimentary body washes because I’m a weirdo.)
So it’s ridiculous clickbait you can dismantle in a few minutes. I decided I’d already wasted enough time thinking about it and I should definitely not write a blog post about it. Then, this weekend, I couldn’t look at any social media stream (unless I used the filters that only showed me the tiny subset of those streams being written by people I know personally) without seeing all the backlash. There was a lot of backlash–joke after joke about how clueless Boomers are. Many were at least chuckle-worthy. But I kept seeing, again and again, jokes that mentioned specific ages. It was clear that a lot of the people posting them thought that the term Baby Boomer referred to anyone older than, say, mid-thirties.
That’s how I found myself typing out an explanation about the definition of the Baby Boom, the sociological arguments for why one of the definitions made more sense than others, the economic arguments why yet another definition was better, and so on. The fact is that the whole “generation” thing is a silly mess no matter how you look at it. And I was ranting about why these jokes were as intellectually-shallow to the situation as the original headlines and… and… and…
Of course the jokes are parodies. A parody is supposed to be even more ludicrous than the thing being parodied. Meanwhile, if I posted my mansplaining, I would be even more ridiculous, still!
But, there are a couple of things I do have to get off my chest. One of the academic definitions of the term, “Baby Boomer” puts both myself and my mother in the same generation. And it puts my father in the generation before the Baby Boom, yet he was only 10 months older than my mom. I know we’re a weird case. I was born six days before my father’s 18th birthday. My parents were both 17 years old when I was born. On the other hand, my dad was 34 when my youngest half-sister was born. Going strictly by the arbitrary dates some people use, then, dad was a Silent Generation man who married a two different Baby Boomers, sired another Baby Boomer, and sired a bunch of Gen X-ers.
If you, instead, use the dates on the info graphic I swiped from Price Consulting, well, we spread out a little more, with me landing smack in the middle of Generation Jones, my oldest sister almost getting in the same generation as me, and then the younger siblings all solidly in Generation X.
Any cut-off dates have to be arbitrary.
My childhood didn’t include any of the 1950s. That makes my culturally programmed expectations different than those of my parents’ generation, for instance. My childhood includes the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. That gives me a slightly different impression of the world than my husband who was born after all three. I voted against Reagan—twice! And was close to tears the night he was re-elected. That gives me a different impression of the 80s than friends who were born while Bill Clinton was in the White House.
But, due to a variety of complications (including the fact that my father refused to sign financial aid applications) I didn’t go to university until I was in my mid-twenties. So friends I graduated from High School with came out of college practically debt-free, whereas I had student loans that added up to more than the assessed value (at the time) of my dad’s house or my grandparents’ house. Which means economically I have a bit more in common with the cliché Millennial than my own generation (whichever one you stick me in).
All of which is a really round-about way to get to this: the economy is f—ed up for almost everyone.
Maybe the stereotypical Boomer owns their own home, but not all of them by any means. And even the ones that do are finding themselves being buried under medical bills and the like, can’t afford to retire, and often are trying to help their own kids and grandkids keep their heads above water. Folks a bit younger than that are sandwiched between aging parents or other relatives whose failing health (and sometimes mental faculties) are throwing unexpected responsibilities on them while they’re still trying to get their own kids out of the nest. Folks a little younger still are stuck in jobs they hate, paying rent that keeps going up faster than their wages, trying to explain to their grandparents why they don’t feel the need to own (and try to pay upkeep, insurance, et al for) a car, trying not to be a burden on their parents who they see are spending a lot of time worrying about the grandparents, and don’t see how they’re ever going to get their heads above water to begin with.
And the clickbaiters have succeeded in getting us all making fun of each other. Meanwhile parasites like Donald Trump and Peter Thiel and Martin Shkreli are happily siphoning billions out of the pockets of middle and working class people of all ages, and into their off-shore tax-sheltered accounts.
Maybe we should find a way to unite against the actual enemy?