By Sean Stoker, Opinions writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
So being the naïve, entitled college students you are, you probably have already heard this before: Your generation sucks. But here’s a thought: so does the last generation, and each one before it. Every generation carries with it a generation gap, a feeling of alienation and misunderstanding between the old and the young. This is nothing new.
When Cain offed Abel, I’m sure that Adam went on and on about how “when I was growing up, we never killed our siblings.”
The thing about generation gaps is that they make us view each other in stereotypes that are almost always wrong.
Take, for instance, the age group we often refer to as the “Greatest Generation,” those who grew up during the harshness of the Great Depression. Sure, in retrospect we know that these oldsters really kicked butt. But they didn’t get off to such a great start. They were rowdy, jaded and full of ironic humor, just like us Millennials.
A prime example of this youthful arrogance came in the form of a Princeton-based student club. In 1936, Congress passed legislation that would allow veterans of World War I to claim their soldiers bonuses a full ten years ahead of schedule; they were originally slated to receive their bonuses in 1946. This legislation was passed in part because of intense campaigning by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group that pushes Congress to legislate better health care and benefits for veterans.
One rambunctious Princetonian named Lewis Gorin felt insulted by passing of these early bonuses. If veterans of the Great War were privileged to enjoy these government handouts a full decade early, he thought, who’s to say that he and his fellow college students couldn’t take their own soldier’s bonuses before fighting over seas?
This led Gorin and a group of friends to form Veterans of Future Wars, an organization who’s entire purpose seemed to be offending Great War vets for a cheap laugh and an odd political statement.
The “mission” of Veterans of Future Wars was to lobby Congress to pass legislation allowing for all male citizens, ages 18 to 36, to be paid $1,000 proactively (as the smoke of World War II was billowing on the horizon) so they could take their bonuses while they still had the life and limb to enjoy them. After all, they could be killed at war, and what good would a bonus be then?
The Princeton-based club spread to colleges all over the country and even spawned a sort of “salute.” Members of Veterans of Future Wars would show respect by raising their arm, much like the Nazi “heil,” except that their hand would be “outstretched, palm up and expectant,” as if to say, “Gimme.”
James Van Zandt, Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the founders of the movement “insolent puppies” who ought to be spanked. He continued by saying, “They’ll never be veterans of a future war. For they are far too yellow to go to war.”
The clincher was that Gorin and his cronies replied to this taunt by saying that since Van Zandt was hating on such a patriotic and American organization like the Veterans of Future Wars, he must be a “Red.”
Take a second to let that sink in. These proto-punks just called a World War I vet, a man who endured the new horrors of mustard gas and machine guns, a communist, just for a cheap laugh. We Millennials have done some unspeakable things, Occupy Wall Street, jeggings, allowing “Jersey Shore” to be a thing, but we’ve never been that bold!
One might wonder how exactly these guys could be representative of the “Greatest Generation.” Well somewhat ironically, every founding member of Veterans of Future Wars, except one who died in a car accident, would later fight in World War II, causing Van Zandt to eat his words.
This illustrates quite potently that a generation is not defined by what they are in their teens and early twenties, but by what happens later.
The Baby Boomers keep telling us we’re the most self-obsessed, naive, and stupid generation to date, but at this point in our lives, can they really blame us? We’re at the stage of life where we discover ourselves, learn almost everything that matters about the real world and form the lens through which we interpret our universe. In reality we younger Millennials aren’t completely finished growing up, but we’re expected to have it figured out already.
As with any misunderstanding, our generation gaps stem from an unwillingness or inability to put ourselves in another’s shoes. From our perspective, older generations seem like they are slow, ignorant, and unwilling to learn anything new, while we probably come across as if we’re complicating things just to be jerks.
But there’s a very logical reason for this. Since the early part of the twentieth century, when the modern IQ test was taking shape, the IQ test itself has had to be adjusted periodically. Test takers found that they scored markedly higher on tests designed for past decades. This phenomenon is known as the Flynn effect.
An average IQ is and always has been a score of 100. But thanks to the Flynn effect, a sort of IQ inflation takes place, manifesting as an increase by three points every decade. People are literally getting more intelligent as time goes on. So periodically the test gets updated and adjusted to keep 100 the average. If you or I took a test from fifty years ago, we’d feel pretty good about ourselves, thinking we must be geniuses.
So why are we getting smarter? Some theorize that we become smarter out of sheer necessity. Since the Industrial Revolution, our world has become exponentially more tech-saturated. All these new tools and toys add new aspects and nuances to our lives and how we live them, forcing us to juggle more and more balls if we hope to survive. This continued mental struggle forces us to adapt, so we come out the other side better for it.
So the reason our elders seem so sluggish is that they come from a time when life was drastically simpler. Not to take away from their experience or insinuate that they had it easy, but going back in time, the needs and pressures an individual faces become much simpler. If you’ve spent your whole life training for a simpler way of living, you’re bound to be a little ticked about the younger generation pulling an Avril Lavigne and “makin’ things so complicated.”
But let’s get back to Millennials, because in the end it’s all about us. Consider these statistics that shed a more favorable light on Millennials.
- In 2005, teen birthrates were at a record low: 21 full-term pregnancies per 1000 young women aged 15-17, down from 39 per 1000 in 1991.
- Between 1996 and 2005, violent crime rates dropped by 17.6 percent.
- Volunteer service among older teens and young adults has increased from 13.4 percent in 1989 to 28.4 percent in 2005
It’s easy to cherry-pick any unfavorable aspect of any generation and use it to badmouth. I did it to the Greatest Generation earlier in this very article, and baby boomers do it to us, saying we spend all of our time on the internet looking at pictures of cats.
Each generation has complexity of character. Perhaps our elders didn’t look at cat pictures for hours on end, but then again, they probably didn’t engage in political conversations with thousands of people all over the world at the same time, either.
These gaps have always been there and always will be. Rest assured that some day it will be your turn, and you can pester your kids all day about spending too much time plugged into the Matrix.