Flipping the Line: The olds need to stop whining

Max Fawcett: The wealthiest generation in human history should get a grip. The world is not discriminating against you.

The Line welcomes angry rebuttals and responses to our work. The best will be featured in our ongoing series, Flipping the Line. Today, freelance journalist Max Fawcett responds to Barry Rueger’s “Oh, so you think you know us olds?”

Even in the hellscape that is the year 2020, sometimes things work out for the best. After learning about the imminent publication of a new book by Jill Filipovic called “OK Boomer — Let’s Talk,” I wrote a Twitter thread earlier this week about the book I’d written more than a decade ago that put the Baby Boomers on trial — one my Baby Boomer publishers refused to publish. And then, as if the universe was presenting me with a consolation prize, I read Barry Rueger’s piece about why we should be nicer to the Boomers.

First, let me be clear: as an avowed dog lover, I’m very sorry that he and his partner were rejected by a Great Dane breeder, although I find it a bit hard to imagine that a breeder would really discriminate on the basis of age when Great Danes only live an average of eight to 10 years. If anything, an elderly Boomer would be the perfect owner. And, of course, he never actually said with certainty why the breeder didn’t come through on their end of the deal — instead, he assumed that it was because of some bizarre bias towards “cool young couples” living in “Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown neighbourhood,” notwithstanding the fact that Yaletown hasn’t been trendy for the better part of two decades.

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But I digress: these quibbles are mere appetizers to the main course, which is his belief that seniors are somehow an easy target for a wide variety of quiet bigotries, from being condescended to by tech companies to being overlooked by servers in their local restaurant. He even complains that popular culture treats senior sex as comedic relief rather than a subject of serious examination, as though every aspect of the collective Boomer libido hasn’t shaped Western culture for the last 50 years.

And then there’s the best part of all: the suggestion that poverty among seniors (which is, to be clear, the lowest of any demographic in Canada) is worthy of prioritizing because younger people “still enjoy health, energy and time to get ahead.” This ignores the fact that, for many of said younger people, it would take two or three lifetimes to even catch up to the levels of wealth that Baby Boomers accumulated by virtue of little other than good demographic and geographic timing (ask anyone who bought a house in Vancouver or Toronto in the 1980s). We didn’t benefit from a labour market in which unions still enjoyed meaningful clout, we didn’t get to invest in bonds and GICs when they were being offered with 15% yields, and we didn’t enter our peak earning years right as global stock indices embarked on the biggest bull market of the 20th century.

Instead, we tended to graduate into precarious employment, in industries that were being disrupted or destroyed by technology, and tried to build our wealth in the face of two of the biggest economic dislocations in 100 years. And what did the Baby Boomers, in the aggregate, do to help us through this? Nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sympathetic to individual cases of Baby Boomers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t take advantage of all of these demographic tailwinds. I’m particularly sympathetic to women in that generation, who still had to face enormous amounts of sexism, institutional discrimination, and other cultural bullshit. And I’m also sympathetic to the idea that we need to build bridges between the generations, and break down the misconceptions that we often have of each other. Seniors like Mr. Rueger still have plenty to offer, and we would be stupid to overlook the contributions to society that they can still make. 

But Boomers like Mr. Rueger need to understand the frustration that younger generations feel towards people like him. We’re dealing with a climate crisis in large part because his generation decided it wasn’t worth doing anything about it. We have a Baby Boomer in the White House who threatens almost daily to burn down the institutions and pervert the values that have defined the better aspects of the United States over the last century. And we continue to see Baby Boomers petition for a larger share of our social, cultural and economic resources despite them having enjoyed the vast majority of all three their entire lives.

Boomers like Mr. Rueger also need to understand that the plural form of the word anecdote isn’t data. I’m sure there are special cases out there of Boomers who haven’t benefited to the same extent as their peers, or have fallen on hard times. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. And the rule is pretty clear: Baby Boomers, and especially Baby Boomer men, walked a path that was far easier than the one current generations have to travel. That doesn’t diminish their individual accomplishments, and it’s not to suggest that they’re not good or hard working people. It’s just a statement of fact. They have generational privilege, and they should acknowledge it.

Here’s what I’d suggest, in case they’re open to a bit of friendly advice: stand down. Enjoy time with your children and grandchildren, tend to your hobbies, and stay involved in your communities. Be active politically, and use that activism to make the world a better place for the next generations as well as your own. But please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t try to play the victim or pretend that you’re somehow getting the short end of the proverbial stick. Yes, power is finally starting to flow into the hands of other people, and they’re going to use it in ways that may make you uncomfortable. But any effort to contest or contain that transition is probably going to end badly for the Boomers. Rather than standing in our way, consider stepping to the side for a change. 

The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Or drop us a line.