Whether Brexit turns out to be good or bad -- or if it even happens at all as planned -- one thing is already clear: it has triggered a lot of anger by the younger generations against the older. Based on polling, 60% of the 18-24 age group favored the "Remain" position, while it was the exact opposite for those 65 and older. Now the younger generations are accusing the older of betrayal, of condemning the younger to a future the older won't be around to see, of voting based on emotion, nostalgia, a silly notion of pride or patriotism or -- if all else fails -- senility.
My favorite is a piece on Vice by Joel Golby, who also writes for the Guardian. The headline is "Oh, my God, Grandma, what the fuck have you done?" and it includes a number of gems, including this one:
Hey, grandma: weird that you are allowed to vote on a future you will never, ever see, but 16-year-olds aren't legally allowed to vote on the hell you are making them live through, and 18-to-24s are not actively targeted in voting campaigns, isn't it? It's almost like the only excuse you've had to leave the house in the last year-and-a-half is to go and carefully – with a pen you bought from home, because you're mad now – decide to fuck up the future for me and everyone I know...
I am leaving, now, grandma, but I just wanted to say this is war now. We are at war. Oh, you'd like to sit down on the bus? Well, I'd like to not live through another recession, so I guess it's tough shit for both of us. What – you wanted to go to the garden centre with us on Sunday? Well, I quite wanted to go to Croatia this summer, but that's immediately costing me about 25 percent more thanks to your shonky voting. Oh, you'd like me to come visit you now and again? Dunno, grandma, a lot of my friends are now quite worried about their status in this country and whether they have to get visas now and I think I'd rather hang out with them. Nah, but at least you've got your national pride back, isn't it? Sit here, grandma, with your doilies and your scones and your Keep Calm and Carry On tea towel, and your well dressing, and your framed photograph of the Queen, and your little Union Flag. You did it. You voted for this. Thanks a fucking bunch, grandma.
If Mr. Golby had deliberately set out to satirize the whining sense of victimhood that gives Millennials a bad name today, he couldn't have done a better job. We can read it and all get a good chuckle. But his rant - and the intergenerational hissy fit set off by the Brexit vote -- distracts from some issues that deserve a more serious and -- dare I say it? -- mature evaluation.
- It is not true that the older generation voted for a future they will "never, ever see." (It's possibly true of Golby's own grandmother, who may be in her 90s - I have no idea.) The 50-64 age group, in the latest poll before the vote, showed 42% in favor of "Remain" and 49% in favor of "Leave." The group can look forward to another 25-30 years, and quite possibly more as lifespans continue to lengthen. The 65+ group, except perhaps for those who are 80-plus, are looking at 10-15 years, maybe more. They will certainly be around to see the outcome of their vote.
- The older age groups contribute more than 50% of income taxes collected in the UK. Why is it unfair for them to vote, in at least some measure, for their own interests as they perceive them? This is a hot topic, of course, in Canada and the USA, where Baby Boomers are accused of being greedy even as they continue to bankroll the failure-to-launch Millennials.
- It is idiotic to invoke World War II imagery (Keep Calm and Carry On) as a driving force for the older vote, and to accuse the older voters of being motivated primarily by nostalgia. A 70-year-old Brit was 27 when the UK became part of the EU, has spent almost his/her entire working life under the EU system, and has had ample opportunity to judge whether or not it is working satisfactorily. Why is it unfair for that judgment to be applied?
None of this is to suggest that the "Leave" vote is the "right" decision or that things will work out well. But the notion that the older generations must forfeit, to some degree, the legitimacy of their judgments and decision-making rights for the sake of some imaginary entitlement on the part of the younger generations is both foolish and unjust. And might even be highly dangerous, if the intelligence level of a Joel Golby is what steps into the vacuum. Don't you find yourself wishing that he never makes it to Croatia and that his grandma lives to 120?