Why Old People Aren’t As Cool Anymore

What it says about the past and what it means for the future

Jared Barlament

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I remember my history teacher in middle school reciting Plato’s famous quote on the youth of ancient Greece: “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions.” The quote itself is dubious of source, but that’s beside the point. The idea is that the phenomenon of “generational welfare” isn’t anything new, and that the young have rebelled against established social norms and offended the elderly for time immemorial. To a degree, of course, that’s true, but in today’s world, I argue it actually masks two more pressing phenomenon defining generational relations and complicating the future. For one, social change in the industrial era has proven itself far faster than it had been in eras past; generations today experience more differences between them because the world changes faster now than it ever did before. For another, as I will argue further here, several generations through the 20th century, and the Baby Boomer generation especially, genuinely fucked up.

There is one generation, roughly corresponding to younger of the Silent Generation and older of the Baby Boomers, who have run American politics and international policy for decades now. At one time, their ascension to power was seen as natural, considering both that every generation has its moment and that this generation in particular was the largest in American history up to that point. Then, they overstayed their welcome. Now, it seems as if every American institution is on the verge of ruin. It has become clear that their rule has worn out their welcome, and it has become evermore difficult to see how any generation is going to lead us out of this mess. I’m bold, I know. Let me slow down and show you where I’m coming from here.

The focus of this article is on the faults of the generation of people holding the offices of the highest power today, not because they alone caused the world’s problems, but because they now have the greatest ability to fix them and it is their current inaction which is hurting us all most acutely. This is the oldest demographic of significant size and political sway in the United States; especially post-COVID, older generations no longer have any ability to steer the future in new directions, despite some politicians who have trouble standing up would have you believe.

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Jared Barlament

Author and essayist from Wisconsin studying anthropology and philosophy at Columbia University.