The world really has changed, and fast. Internet accessibility has allowed the Millennial Generation to be the most well-informed demographic in history, unquestionably. When I was a kid, being smart meant that you knew a lot of facts, interesting and not. With instant access to facts, nobody argues about facts first of all, but there’s a reasonable argument to be said that knowing too many facts might actually be maladaptive.
Anyway, a lot of people who read blogs like this are young. To old people, it’s fantasy. Big ideas, bitcoin, libertarians, all of that. Big picture ideas are things that philosophers muse about, wholly unrealistic and fringe, except that when it actually picks up steam, it’s outright scary. “What the fuck, these young kids actually support this crazy shit? This is insane!” Everything is too radical, and even dangerous, and yet they see young people more and more interested in the “extremes” which confound them. In fact, most of the shit that young people think about are, in fact, ridiculous. Certainly Internet hasn’t decreased the amount of ridiculous conspiracy theories and utter drivel that people will believe; it’s increased crazies of all varieties. Often I talk about political polarization and the echo chamber effect of social media, but this is actually about another kind of polarization: Generational polarization. Older people and younger people are losing connection.
We currently have a massive cultural divide between old and young people. One clear example is the divide in the Democratic Primaries. Bernie Sanders wins 70% of voters under 30 overall, and 82% in Pennsylvania on exit polls. Among older democrats, there is a similar blowout support for Clinton. There is a clear gap, a clear divide even among Democrats (although this is far from a monolithic group). I noted a facebook discussion recently between one of the younger Bernie supporters and an older Clinton supporter. Ignoring the name-calling which has become standard as bitterness escalates, the substance can be seen as “incremental change vs revolutionary change.”
It’s a common divide, historically speaking and usually, I think, the older people are right, all things being equal. There’s always the temptation to believe that you are living at the pinnacle of history (which is true, but is it special?), that your movement, your issues, your generation is more significant, more real compared to the struggles and movements of the past. Young people are more idealistic, sure, but it’s also easier to feel a kind of historical inevitability, having nothing else in their life to compare it to. Those who have a past to look at have the wisdom to see past that perhaps having experienced themselves similar blind enthusiasm first hand, seen movements rise and fall, and understand ideas and movements within a historical context. This usually results in a tempered, milder feeling about these things compared to impassioned youth. In fact, many will see the passion from Sanders supporters and Trump supporters as the same rise of a dangerous destabilizing malcontent to civilized society –opposite sides of the same coin. In short, the argument is that “young people are over-reacting.” Nostradamus predicted the end of the world, as have many others. Luddites have talked about there being no more labor due to machines. We see paintings of “The Scream” in various places and we see these relics as evidence that everyone overestimates and over emphasizes their place in history, and it requires a long view to discern things in context. This is usually right, except, this time, I urge older people to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.
I’m arguing for a kind of historical exceptionalism — that is, that “this time really is different in a fundamental way, and that our generation’s problems are in fact, more significant, and more urgent than at any other point in history, uniquely so.”
I think Tim Urban of Wait but Why, put the idea of escalating timelines nicely: “If you brought somebody who died 100 years ago back to life and showed them life as it is now, they’d be mind-blown.” What about that guy? How long would that guy need to go back in history to find a person’s whose mind would be blown away? It’s reasonable to believe that the guy from 100 years ago has less in common with how we live than a person living 1000 years ago. That is, history is moving faster, exponentially, in how it affects people’s lives. Technology is not incremental; it’s exponential. Look at any graph representing human history by almost any standard: GDP, population, pollution: The curve is not linear. AI and self-learning machines have the potential to change the game in a way that will again, completely overwhelm any human’s limits of imagination, and in an extremely short order of time. Decisions that are made now have so much more absolute impact on everyone than it ever has, and future decisions will have even greater impact.
You wonder why young people are disenchanted with politics? Corruption, sure, but that’s always been a part of politics. Politics moves at a snail’s pace. It’s a long-game struggle of incremental change that fits a slowly changing, slow-moving world, with many redundancies and processes that purposely limit the speed of change–it’s safer that way. To young people though, it’s an out of touch world, out of touch with their experiences, with their language, and the realities that they’ve lived through. There is a strong sense of “what the fuck are you even talking about, you’re not even talking about the world we live in; stop playing games.” To put it simply, the speed at which politics moves is increasingly becoming out of touch with the speed at which the real world moves. There’s always been a lag between society and law/legislature, but as technology moves societies in exponents, the gap is now so far off that young people see politics as a kind of sick game that old people play, for humor.
The result, of course, is that old people gain disproportionate power in politics. Politicians overwhelmingly pander to the interests of old people, who actually vote, which makes the problem worse. Old people are also the ones who invoke the “duty to vote,” and “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain” type of talk, which I think they solemnly believe. What they don’t understand is just how far from reality their pace of change and their methods of moving forward are, relative to how fast the real world moves, socially, fiscally, morally. Increasingly, and more rapidly, politics is disenfranchising young people who politicians care about less and less (they vote less than old people). Should the young be involved in politics? Sure, absolutely. Consider this though:
-There’s a self-perpetuating loop between political disenfranchisement of the young, and the behaviors and self-interest of politicians seeking to get elected that further disenfranchises the young.
-The world is in fact moving faster than at any time in history, and this trend will continue.
-Politics (and likely you) are no longer keeping up with the pace of change in the world.
When politics gets old, the country gets old. We don’t want to be like Japan, politically. When I see the images of their cabinet that looks like an old folks home, it makes me cringe. The young generation have become a pseudo-slave class in that society working suicide inducing hours, while in poverty, without opportunity, in a zombie economy, lead by a cringeworthy racist who openly denies Japan’s role in World War II and continues to troll Korea and China, (like, what the fuck world in what year are you living in?) by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, with the support of politically privileged old people with retarded sums of savings who don’t spend a dime while blaming the economy on the lacking work ethic of the young.
I get it; you don’t share the same language with young/old people, like conservatives often don’t share the same language as liberals. Please though, talk to your sons and daughters; listen to them. Whether you’re young or old, be flexible in your thinking and talk to different people with differing viewpoints, yes, even the ones that use language that doesn’t mesh with you, and even the crazies.