The Precariat, Again
A couple of years ago I commented on how the older generations were preserving themselves in comforts at the expense of the young — that the young were being screwed by political and policy trends, much like an old growth forest deprives the seedlings of their own day in the sun and of the nutrients they need to flourish.
Current data, as published in today’s Guardian, bear that out (“the 30-year economic betrayal dragging down Generation Y’s incomes“). This generational gap probably accounts for the attraction of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the United States, although, as the data reveals, the problem is global. Sanders’ relative success, particularly amongst the young, can also be seen as coming from the Occupy and Snowden Effects as well.
So, it’s not so much the case of being “no country for old men” as it is no country for the young. That is also reflected in the polls. The young don’t feel they have a stake in their respective nation’s economic and social arrangements, and as such memes like “homeland security” have no traction with the Precariat who live in a perpetual state of insecurity anyway. This might account for those polls that show the young quite concerned about economic inequality but much less concerned about environmental degradation. Frustrations with economic arrangements apparently trump concern for environmental health.
It is not a good situation when the young don’t feel that they have a stake in the commonwealth. But then, the commonwealth has been quite rapidly eroded through neo-liberal privatisation schemes that have left little left over for the young to feel that they have a share and a stake in.
The problem is as old as Aristotle’s commentaries in Rhetoric on the generation gap of his time, probably voiced in the context of the decadence of Greek civilisation, and which I quoted at length in an earlier post (“The Golden Mean in Everyday Life“). Aristotle’s comments on the mikropsychos (the “small-souled”) and the megalopsychos (the “great souled”) seem as pertinent today as they did in his time.
Of course, the problem this presents for the ecologically-minded is somewhat obvious. It’s going to be difficult to get the young interested in environmental health when their primary anxiety is their present and future social and economic security. Sanders’ charge that the game is being rigged against them not only resonates with the Precariat, it seems quite evidently true from the data published in The Guardian. A personal anecdote might be illustrative here. Recently I attended a political meeting about local environmental quality issues. It was very well attended, except there wasn’t a single youthful face in the entire assembly, which I found quite disconcerting.
One must be cognisant of the fact that when the old secures itself only at the expense of the young and the new, and to the extent that the young no longer feel they have a common stake and share in the commonwealth, then this is a symptom of civilisational decadence. The Guardian, in any event, thought it alarming enough to be the lead article in today’s edition. I don’t think they were necessarily in error to think so, either.