One of the most impactful qualities that makes for a great parent and a shitty revolutionary: stability. When people inevitably give in to the desire to have a family (a lives-in-the-same-house, multigenerational family, not a framily of comrades) they start to see the merits of middle class life, even lower middle class.

Expand full comment

our general discourse about generations could be so 1000x more sensible if we rediscovered the distinction between "generation" and "age."

i long for the days of discourse about "teens," "twenty-somethings," "thirty-somethings," etc. i don't really understand why so many ~culture writers~ dropped those in favor of "Zoomer," "Millennial," "Gen Xer," "Boomer," etc. well, I mean, I do; the latter terms have a powerful sense of branding about them. but still, it's stupid and leads us in analytical circles such as you describe.

Expand full comment

"For the record I've seen the research that suggests that it's a myth that people get more conservative as they age, but I think it misses the point. I don't think most hippies changed in self-identification, either."

I think this 'what happened to the hippies??' thing is tied to the fact that pop culture histories of the 60s make it seem like every human being in America was somehow living in San Francisco at the time. There have always been conservatives, even young ones, and even when they're excluded from narratives they still...exist.

Expand full comment

As a GenXer (aka the forgotten generation—who grew up hearing about Boomers, Boomers, Boomers, until the constant media drumbeat changed to Millennials, Millennials, Millennials, which only faded once everyone agreed that they were hopelessly out of style with their side-parts and their skinny jeans: join the club of aging and therefore irrelevant and worthless women, ladies!) of course I had to click — but it turns out not to be about us at all, really! ;)

Even so, great point. Yes, no generation was ever going to save us, and especially the Zoomers aren’t coming to save us. Not only are the Zoomers not coming to save us — the Zoomers barely leave their homes to mingle among themselves, to learn to drive, to sneak off to get drunk or high, to have sex — all the things that earlier generations did for fun, before fizzling out into middle age. We have kept these kids so sheltered and infantilized that we send them off to college now like so many 10-year-olds. They conduct very busy social lives on their phones, punctuated with occasional get-togethers where they all announce how “awkward” they are. A bunch of middle schoolers in adult bodies.

They appear to be, at once, both the most acutely unhappy and the most passive generation. It may be a stereotype that describes only a few (as the hippies or the WTO disrupters or the Occupyers described only a few) but Zoomers have a tendency to embrace the safetyism of their youth, to wait to be told when and where to go, to appeal to authority to save them, to want to be saved from discomfort or “being triggered.” You will see them spurred to action, not as previous generations who hoped to improve the lot of the masses, but when they have a complaint to lodge on their own behalf.

Or maybe I’ve just become a very uncharitable old lady, made more so by the fact that her generation never had its moment in the media sun.

Coming next week: a diatribe on why you should all get off my lawn.

Expand full comment

The focus on the saving power of a given generation/minority has also smacked of "no, it's the people who are wrong" to me.

Is your political movement failing? Well, obviously it's because the country has the wrong sort of people. It's definitely not because you failed to explain your ideas, or failed to account for the needs of diverse stakeholders, or failed to strategize and compromise to gain allies, or just flat-out ran a bad campaign--no, no! It's because *those people* suck. They're selfish assholes. But good news! They'll all be dead soon, or outbred by Hispanics, or whatever.

There's an unpleasant eliminationist flavor to it. While I think it's likely a universal human desire to want your (perceived) political rivals to simply go away, shit like "the boomers will be dead soon and then we'll make utopia" is not the sort of sentiment that ought to be tolerated in polite company.

Expand full comment

I'm in the bridge year of boomers and millenials (1965, graduated college in 1987). I have to say, I always thought "youth" were pretty darn stupid! I'm a super practical person who has been blessed to travel extensively and live in developing countries, so maybe I just saw actual problems. We lived in Guatemala for my dad's work when I was 10 which was during the civil war. We'd often sit on our apartment balcony that overlooked some sort of grand house and talk to the soldiers who were holding machine guns. We've lived in Nicaragua and Uganda. I still work in Uganda. I've been in Egyptian slums, Ugandan slums, Nicaraguan slums, Guatemalan slums, Honduran slums, Mexican slums... you get the idea. There is a reason people have always wanted to come to the US (although that reason is probably dying like our liberty). And once you've seen it, it's hard to buy into the "America sucks" rhetoric.

Expand full comment
Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

Fantastic write up Freddie. I think there's a dirty little secret your piece is picking at: there's no great revolution brewing because life is pretty damn good in America*. The millennials weren't financially fucked, and no modern generation growing up in the most prosperous country in world history is. Wealth inequality isn't inherently evil or necessarily a bad thing at all if the majority of the population is relatively wealthy and healthy and moving up the ladder. This is a major reason why asian and latino voters aren't as reliably left leaning as dems had hoped-- why vote for dramatic change when the status quo helped you find a better job and buy a bigger house. Racism hasn't magically disappeared of course, but the US has made incredible progress on civil rights and today it is effectively career and social suicide to espouse racist or homophobic beliefs. So the fact that each generation grows out of their radical revolutionary phase doesn't mean they're a failed generation, but rather that they were lucky enough to be born during a time when revolution wasn't necessary.

*Obviously there are still lots of problems to solve around energy, climate change, housing, etc, but I tend to think our best chance at these is going to be through something like Derek Thompson's proposed "Abundance Agenda" which will be achieved via modern capitalism (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/scarcity-crisis-college-housing-health-care/621221/)

Expand full comment

Most of us are imitating our parents even when we think we are in open rebellion against them. Pretty much everyone post WWII has been reenacting the late 60s hippie "don't trust anyone over 30" youth radicalism and failings in the exact same ways. Every subsequent radical youth movement has merely been variations on that theme. It's a little like that often repeated Marx quote "First as tragedy, then as farce." We still live on the world the Boomers made, are still playing by their rules and understand things in their terms whether we admit it or not.

Everything iny experience of the current left is that they have no actionable plans to run society differently, and just have radical slogans and obnoxious, pious posturing instead. Everyone just humors them long enough to get them to shut up and then just tries to quietly get on with their lives, correctly understanding, I think, that eventually it will all burn itself out and go away.

Expand full comment

"[T]here was never a particularly coherent sense of what we wanted (soft social democracy or revolutionary communism?)"

As a US citizen who was born on the far side of the Iron Curtain, I say: hard pass on the revolutionary communism, too likely to cause mass death, destruction, and/or a totalitarian dictatorship, 0/5 stars, do not recommend. Leave that s**t in the history books where it belongs.

More broadly, I enjoyed this thought-provoking column, but something about it doesn't sit right with me. My apologies to Freddie if I misunderstood him completely, but my I get the sense that he's saying, how sad that once people grow up and acquire a house and a family/children, they no longer want to participate in mass political movements! It's like having a family/steady job/responsibilities is a liability, something to apologize for, a betrayal of The Cause.

If your cause is not appealing to people who have (or seek to have) a family, house, steady job, and some retirement savings, then your cause is not a good one.

(By the way, I struggle with this myself, because I'm terrified of climate change, and I want aggressive action on cutting down our collective CO2 emissions. I don't know how to do this without freaking out and alienating most middle-class Americans. I think the solution has to include building up our renewable energy capability, with nuclear power providing the baseload.)

Expand full comment

Gen Xer here. I agree with the fundamentals of the piece (that "radical" youth are trotted out by the radical media every few radical years to explain how they are going to radically change radicalism, not like those weak-willed faux-radicals from a few years ago who ended up being full of shit even after the New Yorker told them how to be radical, can you believe it?)

I will say, though, that while I agree that the WTO protests were bigger, better organized, and more serious than a lot of what came after, I never actually saw much political consciousness in my generation. Wesleyan might have been an exception. Otherwise we were pretty much stoned grunge folks, intentionally apathetic. Actually we were mostly perfectly normal human beings NOT being stoned or listening to grunge and just trying to get jobs and careers and spouses and babies, but why talk about vast majorities? The important stuff was on magazine covers.

That said, and while I agree that there's usually a lot of sound and fury in the analysis of the next generation that looks suspiciously similar to the sound and fury in the analysis of the previous generation, there DOES seem to be a lot more potency in the wokeness movement than there ever was in the PC movement of my generation. Just personally, we relentlessly made fun of the PC crowd at the time it was happening, and there was no retribution; there couldn't have been, the movement wasn't anywhere near powerful enough for that. Is that true for the Woke? What does everyone think of this argument that the Woke revolution has some legs under it (https://theupheaval.substack.com/p/no-the-revolution-isnt-over) as compared to Freddie's argument that it's another cycle in leftist impotence (if I'm characterizing you right, Freddie)?

Agree, though, that the socialist, climate change, gun control, foreign policy change (???), etc. movements are utterly dead in the water, and mostly never really got going. Maybe not climate change, actually. That's got real life to it, just not in the radical "everyone but me will have to do with less electricity and fuel" crowd. But the incrementalism crowd seems to be successful.

Expand full comment

Regarding Gen X and generational differences: FB served up a discussion to me a while back where a Millennial writer was arguing that Gen X shouldn't get a pass, that they were just as guilty of the Boomers of squandering their opportunity to change the world. Somebody, presumably an X-er, responded with "Awwww, that's so cute that they think that we give a fuck what they think". And that was the end of that.

Expand full comment
Jan 24, 2022·edited Jan 24, 2022

I hate claims that <insert your preferred group here> will save us. It's a gross abdication of responsibility. Let's fucking save ourselves.

Expand full comment

The biggest difference is that the Successor Ideology has gone waaaay beyond the campuses and has laid capture to virtually every elite institution, including (most shockingly) STEM-related ones. The ideology itself has at once both the depth of a puddle and the vastness of all the oceans.

Expand full comment

Gen X'er here, born in 65:

You fail to mention that living through one's formative and college years and seeing two Reagan landslides could lead to a lot of cynicism and political apathy. Or at least a fatalism that--in my case--led directly to expatriation for most of the 90's. Then there is the Bush Sr. Recession economy that smacked so many in the face just as they were joining the work force; though very few X'ers whine about that constantly.

X'ers have often gotten a bad rap, but--as one--I find them more pragmatically liberal than either generation that bookends them. If nothing else, we are aware and have too much self-discipline to virtue signal.

I would also like to see some data on people not getting more conservative as they age. As I age, I become pragmatically more aware of what is possible and what is a pipe dream. I am unwilling to join a movement that is nothing but quixotic, but remain liberal, just not enough for the Millennials.

Expand full comment

Good thoughts. A short piece with so many potential follow up articles.

Something I think about is that at some point political radicalism / morality = coolness. Which is strange because as you get older and the younger generations don't want you to be cool, they have to redefine you out of radical politics or not feel young and cool. Being written out of radical politics seems related to the youthfulness of media; it is even more for the young than it is for the left. Music, movies and television for people over 40? Hardly exists. Its hard to have a political voice if you aren't reflected in media and can't amplify your message.

Cool is such a fickle thing, really doesn't seem like the thing to hitch politics to.

Expand full comment

One of my best friends in college was Mark Berkowtiz, president of Wesleyan's Debate team. I routinely stayed at his place, partied on campus, we even debated together a couple times on a hybrid team. My UMBC partner and I won the Wesleyan Debate Tournament in 92, our team name that week was Handicapped Black Lesbian bc PC was so obnoxious.

That year at the World Debate Championships in Dublin, I was the US rep to the World Debate Council, so I was supposed to go to a cocktail hour with Mary Robinson. A bunch of women's schools came and asked me to let some chick go in my place who did her thesis on her, I said sure, whatever.

Two days later the same gals, many of them very good friends of mine, asked me to get together with the women in league and explain how to win more. (they were 40% of debaters and wining 10% of trophies). I walked into a stadium style classroom full of women and explained: look the judges are amateurs, there are no rules in APDA, they vote off the top of their head, and generally they assume guys know what they are talking about more than you.

I then explained Paglia's speech style involved coming out from behind podium and moving/gyrating her hips while speaking, making love to audience.

I told them to lose the suits and start making the debates sexy and feminine, run cases that make the boys look like prudes, really flirt with judges. Refuse to play the guys game of acting like grown serious boymen (I debated in ripped jeans and tshirts)

Within a couple weeks I had quit the league I was VP of and went to Ohio State to party. They went berserker on me. "Impeachment" was bandied about.

Their preferred strategy was instead to tell judges, as their actual debate argument, that women only win 10% of trophies, and are 40% of debaters so judges should vote for them for equity. They wanted me to endorse this as league policy.

This strategy didn't pay off for 20 years in debate, the avg student amateur judge had to be so steeped in cultural marxism they'd vote based on it.

Punchline: Gen-X wasn't very political. Those of us who were, we spanned the spectrum pretty evenly. And YES the Gex-X cultural marxists went on to take over the academy, but they radicalized the Gen-X normies who become Trump Boat parade guys. And for my two cents, Gen-X grew up on Alex P Keaton and seeing their hippie parents sell out and become yuppies, we were latch-key kids, and the most cynical generation ever birthed.

Expand full comment