Our generation has built so much, and changed so much, and controlled so much. But do we know when to stop? Here’s an interesting perspective from a fellow baby boomer, who happens to be the Bishop of London.
The Bishop of London’s call for his generation to make way for the next finds an unlikely ally, reports Bonnie Greer at the London Telegraph. I know that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, but it’s time for my fellow baby boomers to step to one side and allow the next generation to take over.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, certainly thinks so. At 65, a baby boomer himself, the bishop this week raised the question of “intergenerational equity”, saying that our “fortunate generation” who have enjoyed dramatic improvements in living standards are today “absorbing” more than our fair share of taxpayers’ money.
I couldn’t agree more. The other day I was introduced as having been born in the “luckiest year” – 1948. I have always known that. My fellow ’48ers know it, too. We were the apple of our parents’ eye, the new beginning after the worst catastrophe the world had ever known. Life has always been pretty much as we wanted it.
Ever since the boomers – that arc of people born since 1945, peaking at 1956, and finally slowing down in about 1960/61 – exploded into a grateful world, we have pretty much run the show. All things referred back to us in the end.
The welfare state was created for us. We’ve outlived it. This was predicted, but no one listened. Our stunned elders were too busy standing in awe of the “Youth Quake” that was us.
No generation in the history of humankind has ever been so powerful, so rich, so healthy, so long-lived. Ours contains the greatest cluster of 65-year-olds that have ever existed in human history. The term “late-life crisis” is being invented just for us. We are fit. We use our bus passes to go to the gym. The law was changed so that we can keep working.
True, the silver pound adds billions to the economy and we have property and savings. Of course, there are those among us who are poor and ill. But as a demographic, we ain’t doing too badly. In short, we boomers are not about to go gentle into that good night. But unless we find and make ourselves a new space, the next generations will be out in the cold, unable to get started.
The ongoing row about the absence of older women on TV, which has enveloped everybody from Selina Scott and Joan Bakewell to Anne Robinson and David Dimbleby, is yet another baby boomer cri de coeur (or, passionate outcry).
We boomers don’t want to take on the fact that humans are hard-wired to prefer a young female face. It’s cruel and unfair and unequal, but this preference is a hangover from harder times; times when it was all about survival of the species; times when women did not get old because we died first – in childbirth, from starvation, as a result of war and general brutality. Our species is still evolving a brain template that takes in the older female face. Of course, it’s right to kick ageism and sexism out of the 21st century. But boomers are left with one dilemma: there isn’t enough room at the inn.
When I asked a prominent political journalist recently why pollsters aren’t interested in the views of under-40s on immigration, the economy, the NHS, crime, Europe, issues that will affect them, his reply was simple: “They don’t vote.”
So, instead of encouraging the future to get involved, we boomers are out there doing what we’ve always done since we were old enough to talk: busily and noisily shaping the agenda. An agenda for a future – let’s be frank here – in which we will have little or no part to play.
It’s the young who know which way the world is headed, because they are shaping it. I see David Cameron, under 50, trying to hammer home the reality that if the Conservative Party doesn’t speak to the next generations, then it’ll be out of power for another 20 years. Barack Obama understood this in 2008, and again in 2012. That’s one of the reasons he won.
I see far too many young people, bright, eager, aware of how the world is moving forward, knowing how it will be, simply unable to earn a good living. Boomers are, in many instances, still in place, unwilling to make way for the succession. And yet, here we are, right in the midst of a digital revolution as profound as the invention of the printing press. Like that revolution, the new technology is dividing the world into the “natives” and “colonists”, the ones who know the terrain and those who don’t. Social networking, in particular, is creating new realities, new ways of thinking.