Are you feeling guilt-tripped or “Boomer-blamed” by all the election chatter about soaking better-off oldies to appease a less well-off younger generation?
For all the recent fuss about the identity politics on race, religion and sexuality, there’s a far more ancient battleground between the generations and it’s now more central thanks to the key election battlegrounds of retirement incomes, super, the housing market and even climate and refugees.
And I’m probably not alone in feeling our guilt is being abused and manipulated to make us feel the older half owes the younger half much more.
But will it work?
Without getting bogged down in policy debates as to how realistic the options are, guilt-tripping remains a crude and ineffective device to drive change.
Amongst the more bloody-minded, with whom I proudly identify on this one, our indignation is more likely to provoke a quite opposite reaction.
And the once hippy term ‘guilt-tripping’, which was first published in the Summer of Love of 1967, just keeps coming to mind.
To quote from Wikipedia a guilt trip “…is a feeling of guilt or responsibility especially an unjustified one induced by someone else.”
It continues the guilt trip as a form of intimidation in which the manipulator suggests that the other party does not care enough, had it too easy or is too selfish.
Just look at bogged-down debates such as those around climate change and refugees which have suffered their fair share from sanctimonious guilt-trippers.
There are powerful arguments and few simple solutions but trying to convince the sceptical by seeking to exploit guilt has, I’d claim, largely failed and led to even more entrenched positions.
The counter-argument would be: stoking guilt is a fair and effective means of driving change by making one group feel uncomfortable about their responsibility/privilege/power.
But I’d still call it for what it is: guilt-tripping.
Back to the generation game. It’s hard to disagree that we might want to ‘give back’ to those following in our footsteps, especially since many will be our own children.
But the detail as to what and how much we hand over is far more contentious, especially as we are really talking about regulated enforced ‘taking’, not the true ideal of ‘giving’
The methods of these ‘reparations’ implicit in current policies include superannuation changes, franking credit reductions and tightening of negative gearing and capital gains tax options.
It’s all framed by the argument the older generation have never had it so good with endless tax breaks, super concessions, asset appreciation, free university education, no climate change concerns etc.
In short, it’s about us owing them something largely because we were lucky enough to be born into an unparalleled period of world history when prosperity and relative peace were abundant.
But that’s hardly our fault.
Arguments around equity and fairness are important values, but they can be bandied about to justify almost any demand with sometimes scant evidence.
According to Jennie Bristow a sociology lecturer at NZ’s Canterbury Christchurch University: “One of the nastiest narratives to have developed over the past decade is that of “boomer blaming”, where the alleged good fortunes of the generation born in the 20 years or so after World War II…are presented as the cause of myriad social problems.
“Everything from environmental destruction to the problems of the economy, the housing market, the welfare state, youth unemployment and children’s mental health, has been laid at the Boomers’ door.”
So when you hear someone, especially in this election, make claims along these lines, ask for some real evidence beyond a mere guilt-trip. That might actually work.