“OK Boomer”

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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When I was in elementary school in the 1970’s, one way a kid might respond to an insult would be to say, “I know you are, but what am I?” The other kid would reply with another insult, to which the insulted would simply repeat the initial response.  This would go on, with escalating annoyance on the part of the insulter and ever-increasing glee on the part of the insultee, until the insulter either stalked off in an aggravated huff or punched the insultee in the face.

The last part is important, because the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic was one usually employed by the weaker party in a conflict, often in response to the provocations of a bully. This was back in the day when there was little to nothing by way of anti-bullying policies, and if one was small or scrawny or geeky (and male), one could reasonably expect to come into the sights of some bully or other.  (When I was seven or eight years old, I went through a short period when bullies would follow me home from the school bus and shove me down in my driveway.) Their aim typically was humiliation, but they also could beat you up and almost certainly would get away with it. The only possible way to get even with them was to be so annoying that they would lose their cool, and it was to this end that “I know you are, but what am I?” was deployed.  Of course, it was quite risky, in that it might get you beaten up, whereas if you hadn’t done it, you likely would have gotten off with just the verbal insults or the loss of your lunch money. As with muggers – yes, that happened to me too, twice in fact at gunpoint – the smart thing to do was to give them what they wanted and chalk it up to a bad day.

I engage in these reminiscences in order to make a comparison with a strange phenomenon that has attracted a lot of attention in recent days.  A recent trend among people ranging from Gen-Z teenagers to millennials approaching 40 has been to say or write “OK Boomer” in the course of (mostly political) arguments with their elders. It quickly became a meme and now has even spawned a line of “OK Boomer” merchandise. In case you are unaware of this phenomenon, a number of articles about it have appeared in several major news organs. (1)

On surveying this thing, one notices that it is applied to a rather broad swath of the population, from the most wizened old coot to 40 somethings who weren’t even alive during the Baby Boom, and in light of the fact that most young people don’t know any history, one might think that those deploying this meme don’t actually know what a Boomer is.  I broached this with my freshman Intro to Philosophy class this morning, and the students assured me that this was not the case; that they know very well what a Boomer is and that the term is meant to indicate a mindset, rather than a specific generation.  I wondered aloud how this could be, given that the different generations are marked, in good part, by their very different mindsets – those of the Baby Boomers and Generation X are diametrically opposed, in fact – but this only drew a confused, largely inarticulate response.

I also expressed some puzzlement at the choice of the Baby Boomers as their metaphor, given that they were the generation of the counterculture and fought many of the key civil rights battles of their day, often at great personal risk, including serious injury and even death, and I referenced the murders of voting rights activists during the Freedom Summer (a bit older than the Boomers of course, but “Boomers” as per the current use of the term), as well as those gunned down by National Guardsmen at Kent State. Given that those saying “OK Boomer” seemed to belong to the progressive, social-justice wing of Gen Z and the Millennials (I have yet to see a young Republican type employ the meme), the sixties generation seemed an odd choice. If anything, it should be “OK Gen X-er,” since we’re the ones who don’t give a shit about righteous causes, not the aged hippies of the Baby Boom. (Then again, we’re also are the ones who don’t give a shit about what some random kid, whom we don’t know and who has no money or importance of any kind says about us.)  One student said, with some agitation, that it didn’t matter what they’d done “back in the day,” that only the fucked up crap they were doing now mattered, but otherwise, my musings elicited no response.

If “OK Boomer” is not a reply directed at Baby Boomers specifically, but towards a mindset instead, then what mindset is it? Several students said that it was a response directed towards those older people who “won’t listen to our arguments” on matters of critical social concern and especially on climate change. “We know we don’t have any power, and we know that these old people are just going to do what they want anyway, and we’re so exhausted from arguing with them about it forever, that at this point, we just say ‘OK Boomer’ and walk away.”

A somewhat desultory discussion followed.  I observed that it might be difficult to distinguish the person who “isn’t listening to my arguments” from the person who finds my arguments unpersuasive and that regardless, in a democracy, one does have to consider what one’s opponents think, even if only to put together an effective opposition, but I didn’t get much by way of a response. The moment had passed, and I got on with the day’s material.  A few students looked pissed off. As luck would have it, the subject I was lecturing on included some of the more common arguments against the existence of God, and by the time I’d gotten halfway through, I’d managed to piss off an entirely different subset of the Gen-Zers in the room, while the people I’d pissed off before suddenly seemed somewhat happier.  I longed to publicly bathe in the irony of the moment, but the thought of making the first lot sullen and sulky again, on top of the ones who’d become sullen and sulky as a result of the lecture made me think better of it.

The whole thing was amusing at first, but then it started to bother me, because I actually care about young people. I’ve written at length, expressing my anger at how we’ve ruined childhood with our ridiculous meddling and coddling and ultimately selfish obsession with safety and control, creating a generation and a half’s worth of anxious wrecks, and I’ve squarely placed the blame for the wretched state of what currently passes for a youth culture on my generation and the Boomers before us.  (2) These are our children, after all, and the world they inhabit – especially that shit-swamp of a virtual world they spend so much time in – is our creation. “OK Boomer,” rather than an expression of youthful potency and rebellion, is actually an articulation of impotency and resignation, something that is only made worse by the fact that these poor people think they’ve executed some kind of “sick burn” in conceiving it. Of course, it is little more than an updated version of the earlier “I know you are, but what am I?” except that now it is no longer restricted to seven year olds, but includes college students and even people nearing 40 as its users. It is what the weak say to the strong, in the realization that there is nothing else they can do, while lacking even the bravery involved in deploying the earlier, elementary school formulation, as it does not incur the corollary risk of getting beaten up.

What it signals is that there will be – can be – no genuine youth rebellion from this generation; that the kids who in previous eras would have risked being hung from a tree, while trying to register black southerners to vote, or face being shot in the face by National Guardsmen while protesting an unjust war, have been bamboozled by their corporate masters into thinking that typing “OK Boomer” into their Apple I-Phones™ and broadcasting it through the medium supplied by Twitter,™ and selling t-shirts, printed by PrintCorp™, and proliferating hashtags and virtual-cancellations through numerous other corporate platforms, run and financed by “Boomers,” that they are actually rebelling; doing something; contributing.  And if organs like the New York Times and the Washington Post are stupid and gullible (or cynical) enough to cheer it on, what chance is there that anyone to whom anyone is going to listen is going to call it out for the pitiful bullshit that it is?

And that makes me mad as hell.  Not at the kids, but at us. So mad in fact, that I’m going to put on the Dead Kennedy’s California Uber Alles.  It seems apt.**

Notes

(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ok-boomer-the-kids-are-fighting-back/2019/11/05/32894688-0011-11ea-9518-1e76abc088b6_story.html

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-11-05/column-you-ok-boomer-not-really

(2) See, for example: https://theelectricagora.com/2018/11/12/breaking-kids/

https://theelectricagora.com/2017/10/19/three-boys-and-a-hole-in-a-fence/

** This seems apt too.

 

105 Comments »

  1. It would be interesting if there were any research showing that unsupervised play aids mental health and gives us adults who are less anxious than those who, as children, were constantly supervised. For my generation unsupervised play war the norm – and I don’t see any of that nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It just seems to be the current infantile equivalent of the boomer slogan, “don’t trust anyone over 30”, which I confess to have believed in once.

    As a good boomer, I’ll quote our laureate, Bob Dylan (Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again):
    “And here I sit so patiently
    Waiting to find out what what price
    You have to pay to get out of
    Going through all these things twice.”

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    • The first time I heard “don’t trust anyone over 30”, I wondered about the age of the person who said that, and assumed that he was probably a 50-year-old ad exec. Turns out it was 24-year-old Jack Weinberg in 1964, so the saying is at least consistent with itself when it was first asserted.

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  3. Daniel,

    As I explain life to younger people, growing up is like grass pushing through the concrete and then one day you wake up and you’re the concrete and there is this damn grass trying to push you out of the way.
    It goes to that dichotomy of the heart and the head, the anarchy of desire, versus the tyranny of judgement. Youth versus age, liberal versus conservative. Spring and fall, advancing and receding. Life cycles. Not just the linear progression of time.

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  4. I’m mostly sympathetic with what you have to say here, but not entirely. As you note, the ‘OK Boomer’ thing began as an expression of youthful dissatisfaction at political inertia on the climate issue (though it’s likely spread beyond that context by now). But those in positions of power (call them Boomers, just to simplify), especially in the US, really are completely deaf to any arguments emanating from those who believe (rightly, in my view) that very aggressive policy action is required in order to avert a climate disaster that is going to hit young people (among others) disproportionately hard. So yes, it’s an expression of frustration and impotence, but that’s because many of those using it feel, well, frustrated and impotent. And by the way, I would not dismiss the possibility that they will increasingly be drawn into acts of civil disobedience, putting them potentially into situations of personal risk to varying degrees. After so many of them (including my own teenaged kids) marched in the streets in September, it’s pretty condescending to suggest that none of them have the guts or the general wherewithal to take their discontent beyond social media.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for writing this. I first encountered the use of “OK Boomer” a few days ago, when a Gen-X friend (born 1965, barely missed being a Boomer) commented on Facebook to a woman born in 1939 (the Silent Generation) who had posted about how happy she was that three women had been elected to the city council. First he chided her for identity politics and said one of the women leaned right. When she tried to explain that the council is nonpartisan, he responded “Ok Boomer.” She didn’t understand the comment and neither did I.

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  6. maybe some logic 101 will help? the joke relies on:

    1. if you said X, then it’s a reasonable inference you’re a boomer

    and not:

    2. all boomers would say X

    so claiming that some (or even most) boomers wouldn’t say X isn’t really to the point.

    also it’s false to say the counterculture sub-group of the boomer generation is representative of the generation as a whole.

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  7. Nice essay, Dan. Point taken. But now we have “OK, Bloomer,” which is clearly punching up and is so much funnier.

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  8. From my experience, “I know you are but what am I?” is alive and well among supposed grownups on the internet and has been for a while.

    Think of all those progressive responses to complaints about excessive concerns with “safe spaces” & etc. that basically amount to “Oh yeah? Well you’re the one who wants a safe space!” or “Oh yeah? Well you’re the one who’s a snowflake!” (~99% of them). What are those but “I know you are but what am I?”? And they comprise a big chunk of online (especially social media) discourse these days.

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  9. Dan,
    As with muggers – yes, that happened to me too, twice in fact at gunpoint

    Wow. When that happens you are only one tiny muscle reflex away from death. Consider yourself fortunate. I trust there were no lasting psychological effects. This is often the case.

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  10. Would have interfered with my bar night.

    A clear sense of purpose is the best way of dealing with trauma.

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  11. Didn’t know that this emerged as a response to older generations’ inaction on climate change. Ironic that it now signals a style of politics that actively harms the cause of slowing catastrophic climate change. I trust that everyone knows basically what style of politics I’m talking about. It is despised by the vast majority of people, as well as the vast majority of GenY and GenZers, and stands in the way of climate activists’ efforts to successfully present themselves as the mature, data-driven adults in the room, driven by science more than any sectarian politics. That is because it stands in the way of anyone’s effort to successfully present themselves that way.

    These people are crypto-“Boomers”, in other words, and perhaps crypto even to themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • People are right to be exasperated with dismissive generalizations about Gens Y and Z. It makes me sick, especially given how much people in the Boomer generation could get away with while still landing a plum job, while even the smartest, most nose-to-the-grindstone GenYers so often come up empty. But, while I don’t know whose experience is representative here, I mostly see “OK boomer” being used to target anyone who urges care, rigor, respect, mutual understanding, and so on in political debates. If these are seen as outmoded values, then it’s a sign we’re in a discursive race to the bottom. Do you really think that’s a favorable environment for, say, climate researchers or any other decent, thoughtful people to press their case?

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      • Well, every generation had their advantages and disadvantages. I would say in the grand scheme of things, Y and Z have the far greater advantages. Indeed, I’d say that’s pretty demonstrable. But material advantages are not enough. One must embrace an ethos that is suited to making the most out of them, and that’s what Y and Z lack.

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  12. The problem with many modern inter-generational conflicts is that neither side tends to engage the other in a meaningful and honest way. You correctly note that “ok boomer” “is actually an articulation of impotency and resignation,” but you fail to engage or empathize with why younger people feel impotent and resigned (as Williston notes above). You’re right that putting “ok boomer” out into the Twittersphere is a pathetic or bullshit way of rebelling, but, I take it, you want them to get out there and stare down the rifle barrels of National Guardsman like a *real* protester, right? That’s a difficult thing to do. It’s so difficult, in fact, that only a few brave (but irrational) people are able to offer themselves up for target practice in that way.

    But, I wonder *how many* baby boomers actually “fought many of the key civil rights battles of their day, often at great personal risk, including serious injury and even death.” It’s incredibly dishonest for a member of a generation to tout the accomplishments of a few other members of their generation as reflective of something special about their generation as a whole. It’s stolen valor at its finest.

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    • No, I see no necessity to go stare down National Guardsmen. I also am not a particular fan of the Baby Boom ethos. And I am quite sympathetic, as I said explicitly. I thought the message of the essay was quite clear but there seem to be a small number of people who aren’t getting it.

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    • But, I wonder *how many* baby boomers actually “fought many of the key civil rights battles of their day

      Enough that they made a difference, and they were embedded in and enabled by the supportive ethos of their peers. But if you weren’t their you would not know that.

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      • Look at some of those anti-Vietnam protests. Huge numbers of people.

        There also of course was the other risk involved. One could easily wind up drafted oneself. But understanding all this requires actually knowing some history and if one doesn’t, being of a mind to learn it, rather than simply acting like a smug ignoramus.

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  13. OK Boomer
    This use of stereotyped cliches is nothing new. Except they are gaining greater currency. It is a form of argument by label where the application of labels has become a substitute for reasoned discourse.

    Most charitably this form of pseudo-discourse can be called intellectual sloth. Why then is it gaining greater currency? The causes can be:
    1) newer generations possess a restricted range of expression as a result of limited vocabulary, poor set of categories and limited range of literary expressiveness.
    2) increased tribalism in society where labels are used to indicate desirable and undesirable tribes. They are the flags which indicate rallying points for the tribes.
    3) cognitive shallowness resulting from sharply reduced reading in the pre-teen and teens stage of development. This cognitive shallowness results in black and white thinking that is unable to take into account nuance and context.
    4) increased narcissism and solipsism in newer generations. This results in an inability to properly consider other points of view. They have a poor theory of mind.
    5) delayed transition into adulthood so that juvenile rhetoric persists into nominal adulthood.

    I said that argument by label could charitably called intellectual sloth. But I suspect that more often it is intellectual dishonesty and even intellectual malice(schadenfreude), such as when it is overtly ageist. At its worst it is a form of stunted cognition.

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  14. Right, so the Ben Shapiro-like strategy of stumping seventeen-year-old Intro to Philosophy students with sophistry, then inferring on the basis of this “evidence” that there is no good reason for these students to have the frustrations they have. Tedious. Boomers/older GenX are singlehandedly propping up Joe Biden’s garbage candidacy, whereas millennials/GenZ are the primary voting bloc for Bernie’s movement-grounded alternative. Similar story in 2016. But somehow it’s the latter who aren’t “contributing.”

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  15. ‘ok boomer’ is a pretty dead meme. It’s about two weeks away from being used by Hillary Clinton on twitter.

    But lol @ its efficiency at generating 1500 words navel gazing pieces from self-aggrandizers.

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  16. How do these young people in your classroom who think “OK Boomer” is cute interact with their peers? Plenty people between 16 and 32 don’t care much about social justice or climate change. Do they discuss with them?

    And now that I think about it: do they discuss atheism, theism, religion etc. when they leave the classroom?

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    • If you’ve noticed some of the great wits here in the comments — Kaniel Daufman! Hah hah! Burn! — you’ll gather the sort of people one is dealing with, now. Hence my comparison of this crowd with seven year olds of eras past.

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  17. As s. wallerstein’s quote from Dylan ought to remind us, there was always a suspicion of disappointment underlying the Boomer optimism of the ’60s.

    When the disappointment finally sank in, in the early ’70s, the Boomers’ refused to admit it. I’ve remarked in comments elsewhere, my difficulties with Radical Feminists during my graduate program. An interesting aspect of their attitude, in regard the present essay, was that their assumption of academic positions was clearly – given their aspirations during the ’60s – a retreat, an acquiescence to the necessity of finding a niche in the economic realities that would not bend to the revolutionary demands of the counterculture. But that’s not how they presented this decision – instead, they insisted they were in the vanguard of radical cultural change, they were the elite of the coming revolution….

    One saw this revision of actual experience across the spectrum, from former Yippies becoming stock brokers (Jerry Rubin), to acid-heads developing personal computers (Bill Gates). This political dishonesty disguising practical economic choices has stained the Boomer generation since.

    My own problem with the Boomers (and I’m technically their younger sibling, not a separate ‘generation’) is that they just won’t retire. They won’t admit they had their moment and that it’s over. No wonder younger people resent them!

    But there are deeper problems with more recent generations. First, objectively, they are the largest generation in history, and the world is *not* their oyster. They know on some level, that they will not have the cultural, political, economic, even social opportunities enjoyed by their parents. They know, as we did ot, that their first career choice will not be their last; that whatever they dedicate themselves to now may very well evaporate in the near future; that whomever they commit to today may betray them tomorrow; or may need to be betrayed.

    But inwardly, I think their principle problem seems to be that there is nothing that they love. It is difficult to comprehend that the young students of the ’50s who risked their lives in the furtherance of Civil Rights were essentially ‘in love’ with the Movement. But they were passionate about it, devoted to it; they read of it, spoke of it, sang of it. There was thus every reason to engage in activism for it. And by the late ’60s, such passion was everywhere and attached to every interest of any merit – too much passion, as it often turned out. Young people today, what do they love? It is not poetry or mathematics, not music, not even ‘social justice.’ I think that’s one reason they’re sore; all possible interests have been appropriated, commercialized, reduced to ‘meme’ and fad, momentary twitter wars and ‘personal expression.’ There is no way,to make an impact, no field in which they can leave a legacy. They’re the largest generation in history; yet their lives are uncertain, but in all probability, they will eventually disappear unremembered.

    (One could see this coming…

    “As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp,
    A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble,
    A dream, a lightning flash, or cloud,
    So should one view what is conditioned.”
    – Diamond Sutra, Conze trans.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • My own problem with the Boomers (and I’m technically their younger sibling, not a separate ‘generation’) is that they just won’t retire.

      Yes, I agree with that.

      Technically, I guess I’m a pre-boomer or, alternatively, an old fogie. It bothers when I look at Democratic primary races, that the three leaders (Biden, Warren, Sanders) are too old. It’s time for a younger generation to take the reins.

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  18. One way of understanding stereotyped cliches such as OK Boomer is to frame the matter in terms developmental phases. Broadly speaking we progress through the phases of
    1) seeking independence
    2) seeking identity
    3) seeking pleasure
    4) seeking power.
    5) seeking meaning.

    The child seeks independence, the adolescent seeks identity and pleasure, the young adult begins to seek power. The mature adult uses power to make constructive contributions to society and discovers meaning. The boundaries are not clear cut and the phases can overlap to a large extent, especially if the path to adulthood is delayed or malformed.

    Of crucial importance here is the discovery of power. The child and adolescents are subject to the power of their elders. Young adults discover the constraints imposed by the power of the system. In their turn, as they mature they acquire power. At all stages people chafe against the restraints of power and strive to acquire more power. They use various strategies to acquire more power.

    1) defiance, delinquency and obstructiveness. This is the most immature form of seeking power and is common in childhood and adolescence.
    2) undermining the structures of power in the hope of supplanting those in power. This is common in late adolescence and early adulthood.
    3) form alliances that allow one to exert more power. Mass demonstrations are a crude form of alliance.
    4) acquire the skills that enable one to compete for power within the system. This is the most useful form of power seeking.

    Society functions through and is organised by power. It is essential but has the inevitable effect of producing losers. How we deal with this is defined by character. Puerile labels such as OK Boomer is one of two things
    1) a signal of impotence
    2) an attempt to undermine the structures of power by discrediting it with pejorative labels.
    More often than not it is both.

    This cartoon remake of the Coaster’s classic, Yakkety Yak, is a lovely illustration. Early Boomers will remember it.

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  19. I get the impression that many governments are just not impressed by massed street demonstrations any more. Consider the anti-Iraq war marches, where the Wikipedia quotes “[in] 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war”. US public support acutely was more pro-war, but it seems to me this fell off by the the 2004 Republican National Convention protests (500000 or so). And of course Occupy, and now Climate Rebellion.

    The headline today in our local Murdoch tabloid is “Judges slash anti-Adani activists’ fines” – where 20 y.o.’s and pensioners were being fined a total of $80000 for protests involving blocking coal trains, which were reduced to $20000 on appeal as disproportionate. This is how one now shuts up the disgruntled young, rather than allowing them to generate sympathy by physical violence against them. The Adani mine will be the first in the Galilee Basin, which contains 7% of the world remaining CO2 budget (to stay under 2C increase). In this case, Boomers running banks and companies are also trying to block this – there is current talk by our Federal government about how to criminalise such action as “secondary boycotts” that causes financial loss to targeted businesses.

    So are “activists” a smaller percentage of a generally apathetic birth cohort? I don’t necessarily think so. At least here in Australia. Given the different shape of the population pyramid, the young folks today, unlike the Boomers, are a smaller proportion of the total population, full stop. And are less financially secure than the 60s-70s. In our universities, it is head down and get that degree, and not be too surprised if there is no work in your field.

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  20. The vacuous snark in some of the comments from what I surmise are genZ people is really disappointing, but not at all surprising.

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  21. The hostility in some of the comments, while not unexpected, is somewhat odd. A few thoughts:

    1. What I have criticized is something that is essentially intended to be dismissive and insulting. “OK Boomer” communicates to the person that is its target that he or she is past it and not worth communicating with. It is also intended specifically to target the person on the basis of his age; that is, to show disrespect for one’s elders.

    I find it odd, then, that the reaction to any pushback is so defensive and brittle. Certainly, my generation, as teens, were obnoxious to and dismissive of our elders, but we didn’t whine when they gave it back to us. Indeed, that would entirely undermine our attitude. As far as I can see, all the whinging in response to my little essay entirely confirms its characterization of its subjects.

    2. Throughout the essay, I express my support for young people and explicitly lay the blame for the shortcomings of youth and youth culture today on the older generations. It seems as if what people are objecting to is the fact that I have claimed that youth and youth culture today are somewhat of a shambles. I find this odd, as I thought the entire predicate on which the “OK Boomer” meme is based is that young people have it shitty today and it’s the fault of the old, who refuse to listen to young peoples’ concerns. So what is it? Shitty or great?

    3. The objective indicators we have suggest that young people today suffer from some very serious problems. Rates of mental illness, self-harming, and suicide are at unprecedented highs, despite unprecedented wealth and historically low crime rates. This suggests that the problem is one of socialization, rather than material conditions. I and others have argued that this is due, in good measure, to the overbearing nature of contemporary parenting and schooling, and I have advocated very strongly for what one could only characterize as “Youth liberation.” The hostility of some of the youthful reaction, then, is at best puzzling and at worst suggests either an inability to even comprehend what is being suggested or an active desire to remain in ones current, miserable state.

    Finally, I have a teenage daughter about whom I care more than anything. I have hundreds of students every semester, whom I want to be happy, feel fulfilled, and to succeed. In other words, I have a *lot* of skin in the game. And I damned well am going to say and do what I think is right. People can say “OK Boomer” to me, until they are blue in the face. It offers nothing by way of deterrence.

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    • I don’t mind the jokes about boomers, but the way that highly cynical humour has infected so much of political and moral discourse among young people is really disconcerting. Of course, if they were quietists about politics that would be one thing. But there’s this very weird tendency for people to plant their flag quite dogmatically and uncompromisingly with strong and often radical political views, but do so in an ironic and somehow detached way. It’s a bizarre combination of self-righteous moralism, and a lack of seriousness and flippancy.
      I’m GenZ myself (22 years old) and I’ve seen this attitude a lot among peers who are into politics. Ironically, it seems to be a cocktail of the excesses of both boomer and GenX archetypes!

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    • I should also say that this criticism isn’t intended to be partisan. Until recently, I would probably have said this was mainly a left-wing phenomenon, but now I see the same disturbing cocktail of dogmatism, irony, a sense of righteousness, and flippancy, among young ‘Trads’ who have been making quite a splash recently.

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  22. And that makes me mad as hell. Not at the kids, but at us. So mad in fact, that I’m going to put on the Dead Kennedy’s California Uber Alles. It seems apt.**

    That link is dead. But no matter, there are plenty more to be found. Their energy is striking. But where did that energy go? No where useful it seems, which rather sums up the following generations. As for being apt, this Dead Kennedy’s track seems much more apt (Give me convenience or give me death – Too Drunk to Fuck).

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  23. A lot of kids are ignorant of history. A lot of us are too. The whole notion of Boomers being chock-a-block with the counterculture and the counterculture being chock-a-block with them is something of a myth. Likewise for the famous activist movements of the day. The murdered Freedom Riders you invoke, for instance, were not Boomers:

    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-misconception-about-baby-boomers-and-the-sixties

    That said, I don’t see a lot hinging on that, as clearly we aren’t talking about careful dissections of history from either side here. It’s just faint heat from a not untypical generational friction. That happened in the much-invoked late sixties too, and elders certainly didn’t lack for condescension material to chide the under-generation for triviality, aimlessness, ignorance, and a lack of virtue. “They think Tweeting is rebellion, haha, grrrr!” “They think smoking dope is rebellion, haha, grrrr!” Haha, History. Grrrr, indeed.

    I believe your concern for the younger generations is sincere, but still couched in the usual, indulgently patronizing rants at kids these days, with a surface excuse of blaming it on their parents. But I’m just an older Y who doesn’t see much to infer from perceived dunkings on some undergrad Zeds. So, OK, Xy. Very well. I’ll stand with the Kiwi politician who waved off her heckler and stood fast in making her case for taking action on climate change. It might be important.

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    • They were very late Silent Generation. Given the way “Boomer” is being used it is irrelevant.

      As for the rest, sorry you didnt like the piece. These issues matter quite a lot to me, and I will continue to write about them.

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      • As a boomer, while I did not participate in Freedom Rides in Mississippi, I did participate in civil rights demonstrations in the New York area, was even arrested in one in 1964, and spent two days in jail (because my parents, unlike today’s parents, left me in jail to teach me a lesson). I kept up the activism in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship (where the risk was greater), was once beaten by the police severely enough to be taken to the hospital emergency room and was arrested in another demonstration and actually, treated with more civility by police than I had been by the NYPD.

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  24. Undergraduate students today have almost all grown up online and adopted modes of arguing that are fake and postmodernistic, to fit better into their distractedness and hypnotization by social media. Call them the “cyber-zombie generation” because they have been sucked into a form of half-life by the “architecture of control” whereas proper rational development requires an “architecture of serendipity” (spontaneous argument, by free individuals who surprise each other). Cass Sunstein has done solid work on these problems in #Republic (see Youtube for free video lectures from this research). The way that they learned to argue online has been contaminated by echo chambers, information cocoons, fake persons (bots) and the BUMMER business model that drives the social media economy according to Jaron Lanier (the most important computer philosopher alive today), and which turns on a pack mentality oriented to hierarchy and tribalism. “BUMMER is a machine with six moving parts. Here’s a mnemoic….A is for the Attention Acquisition leading to Asshole supremacy. B is for Butting into everyone’s lives. C is for Cramming content down people’s throats. D is for Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible. E is for Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everyone else. F is for Fake mobs and Faker society” (p 29, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now). The “OK Boomer” retort is about this expectation of faked or false argument and attention, mixed with what the Rand Corporation calls “Truth Decay” because opinions and facts are no longer distinct, and the nihilism that drives each generation into an identity shell to distinguish itself from other generations and vent its anxieties. Social media is becoming a public mental health problem and professors in higher education have to confront the decline in reasoning skills and logic caused by the cynical denizens of the decentralized information networks of the Age of the Algorithm. Machine-influenced communication is not fit to a human scale and does not care for individuality or authenticity in argument which only a real live philosopher can provide, with logical pugilism and discursive hygiene, while demonstrating the fight for truth to the youth. Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd (1960) is the key defining Boomer generation text that they should all read to understand the 1960’s generation of counter-culture they dismiss for not addressing climate change adequately–it wasn’t a fake revolution, and it ain’t over until the radical philosophers give up, which they won’t. Anarchism forever!

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    • This is excellent. And yes, the whole point of the essay was to say to young people: “Don’t be bamboozled by powerful corporations into thinking that tweeting and Instagraming juvenile memes at people means that you have any influence or effect. Real change requires real power and that requires real, tangible, on the ground work. In societies like ours, it also means money. As you have neither — done real work or have money — you are impotent, and will remain that way. Don’t be satisfied with a simulacrum of power.”

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  25. Speaking as a boomer, I will just say that history is messy, and generations don’t come in neat packages. Boomers fought for civil rights and against war, yet we forget that the Manson family were also boomers. “Never trust anyone over 30” was practical enough advice, but sometimes you couldn’t trust people under 30 either. The National Guardsman who gunned down students at Kent State were all under 30. As Chrissie Hynde recounted, “They were just kids, like us”. (From her autobiography, Reckless, pp 80-81).

    Woodstock was a triumph of peace and love, while Altamont was not. There were numerous harmless hippies, but there were also Hell’s Angels and rednecks. MLK was the pacifist to Malcolm X’s the warrior. While many were out in the streets “bringing the war home”, others were “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out”. In every generation, people are doing many different, often contradictory things at the same time. It’s obviously unfair to either blame or praise a given generation for having the same particular traits.

    That said, I can understand the frustration. The word ‘Boomer’ comes from the fact that those born between 1944-1964 came into the world during the most prosperous and longest economic boom in world history. All advantages consequently accrued to them in ways unimaginable to young people today. By almost every major statistical measurement, the average American is worse off now than they were a generation ago. https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-american-dream-is-killing-us?utm_source=pocket-newtab For three generations ago, this would be even more true.

    Young people today worry about getting shot…by police, by mass shooters, even sometimes by other students. They face real risks from things like crippling student debt, medical debt, totalitarian surveillance, poverty, homelessness, lead in drinking water, and the possibility of never being able to afford a home, a car, or the ability to retire. And of course, climate change. All things we Boomers didn’t have to worry much about.

    While it’s true boomers did fight for civil rights and created a counter-culture, great music, art, film, a plea for peace, and a healthy disrespect for authority, what I think many youth today seem to feel is that most boomers sold out and abandoned their ideals, and ceased caring about anyone else but themselves. After the anti-war and civil rights movements had burned out, boomers turned inwards to spiritual self-help and things like EST that combined self-realization with the capitalist greed of prosperity consciousness. Far from lacking historical knowledge about these things, young people are quite keenly attuned to the hypocrisy of boomer icons like Steve Jobs who founded a company based on the 1960s spirit of activist rebellion against conformity and Big Blue (i.e. IBM), only to oversee its morphing years later into the exact thing it was ostensibly against: a giant, faceless, uncaring mega-corporation, seeking proprietary world domination. In other words, boomers were no longer saving the world, they were destroying it.

    It’s not that the phrase, ‘Ok, boomer’ is aimed specifically at actual boomers (though it can be), it is used to swat away condescending lectures by anyone generally older than them. After years of being scolded about how young people are “killing” this or “destroying” that, or “lazy”, “entitled”, “coddled”, “apathetic”, etc. https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1285901-millennials-are-killing is it any wonder there would be a backlash? If “Ok, boomer” is supposedly ‘ageist’, how much more so for all the attacks on young people?

    There is a long history of adults blaming the younger generation. https://historyhustle.com/2500-years-of-people-complaining-about-the-younger-generation/

    Socrates: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

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    • Excellent comment and food for thought. Only one big disagreement and that is with regard to living conditions. Other than job prospects — admittedly not a small thing — in every other way, young people are materially better off than their predecessors.

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          • Nonsense.

            Ways in which young people are materially better off:

            –Safety: lowest crime rates since the 1960’s.
            –End of the cold war: no longer at high risk of being hit with thousands of Soviet ICBMs.
            –No draft: No risk of being shipped off to Korea or Vietnam.
            –Health and longevity: far more advanced medical science and nutritional knowledge.

            ..I could go on for pages. And if you go back before the Boomers to the Silent or WWII generations, the material advantages of contemporary young people are even starker.

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          • I was born in 1961 and the good times – what the French call “les trentes glorieuses”(*) – ended with the oil crisis of 1973. When I left the university, youth unemployment peaked (compared with the early 1980s, it’s practically non-existent now, with certain immigrant groups as the big exception). Then there was Black Monday in 1987. Many of my friends had their first regular (fulltime, non-temporary) job in their late 20s or early 30s.

            I’m not complaining, I’m relatively well-off now, thank you, but it’s hard to believe boomers had such an easy time. There are four major exceptions:

            – house prices are insane compared with the 1980s and the 1990s;
            – the fruits of productivity growth are going to a (much) smaller slice of the population than in the 1980s and even the 1990s;
            – high school (what we call “secondary education” over here, between the ages of 12 and 18) was tougher. Much tougher. Consequently young people were much better prepared for that inevitable collision with reality that invariably follows;
            – we didn’t have the internet and social media as our arbiter of mores. If only the teenagers and twenty- and thirty-somethings were as media-savvy as they think they are.

            (*) I’m not French, but it’s a beautiful expression.

            Liked by 2 people

  26. The author seems pretty out of touch with younger people. Boomer is a state of mind that to some extent tracks a generational group that enjoyed many economic advantages that they largely destroyed (thanks to 30 years of corporatist Republican and Clintonian policies), leaving younger generations with poor employment prospects, massive debt, and no safety net. Millennial and Gen Z voters, in coalition with some non-boomer mindset elders, seem poised to reverse this. Also, the punk nostalgia is pretty cringey (and I say this as a Gen X former punk).

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    • Sorry you feel that way. Having taught some 10,000 students going back to the mid 90’s, I’m pretty much the last person to be “out of touch.” Also, “cringey” is entirely subjective. Have a good evening!

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    • “Millennial and Gen Z voters, in coalition with some non-boomer mindset elders, seem poised to reverse this.”

      Not really. Here is the real story that the media has a difficulty telling:

      On Individual policy issues (abortion, gun control, entitlements, etc.) the majority of the electorate is “Center-Left,” no doubt. Unfortunately, on the question of where the national government as a whole should stand, or at least lean, they are “Center-Right.” What the majority of American people really want is a tough-minded Republican Party pursuing Democratic policy agendas, which of course is not happening any time soon.

      Consequently, like it or not, “Moderate” Democrats simply have a better chance than those entirely committed to Center-Left policy agendas.

      The profound pathology that the Left shares with the Right is the utterly incoherent notion that the media so represses the common consensus, that given a free choice, most Americans would hew Left (or in the mirror image of this, they would hew to the Right). Nonsense. The American people, by and large, want a Center-Right Government pursuing Center-Left policies. That’s irrational, dilemmatic creates all sorts of political problems (especially given the Electoral College), but there it is.,

      “Millennial and Gen Z voters, in coalition with some non-boomer mindset elders, seem poised to reverse this.”” Reverse what? What section of the electorate? What is the risk of failure here, but another 4 years of Trumpian fascism?

      “The System” is the people who actually do vote; you can’t “reverse” it – you’ve got to persuade them. Failure to do so – evidenced repeatedly since the Sixties – has led us to where we are today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ej,
        Which goes to that dichotomy of the heart and the head. The anarchy of desire, versus the tyranny of judgement. We want that top down structure to enable our bottom up desires. Over the bottom up desires of everyone else.
        We are all fundamentalists of the heart.

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      • John, I live in Canada, so forgive my confusion, but I do follow US politics closely. What exactly distinguishes the sum of all “individual policy issues” from the “national government as a whole”? I don’t quite get what this means.

        “The American people, by and large, want a Center-Right Government pursuing Center-Left policies.” I have no idea what this means either, although it does sound somewhat reminiscent of the Nixon Administration’s domestic policy, which in retrospect, was rather left-leaning compared to the present.

        Here are some things I do know:

        – The mainstream media has never been in more disrepute, for very good reason: they do not reflect the ‘common consensus’, if there ever was such a thing. That’s why they are bleeding ad revenue.

        – All of the most popular policies are left-wing policies, save perhaps immigration. So why would a majority vote for a right-wing national government?

        – As of this moment, polls show Bernie Sanders is the most popular national politician in the US, They also show any of the top 4 or 5 Democratic candidates running would beat Trump in the general election

        If these trends continue, I don’t think a great reversal in the political climate and conditions in the US seems quite so absurd.

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        • The same polls showed Hillary Clinton beating Trump. I, who had predicted Trump would win months earlier, raked in the money from all the bets I’d with hyper-confident progressives.

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          • Hillary Clinton DID beat Trump. Your Electoral College (along with gerrymadering, and voter suppression) defeated the will of your population. Great system you have there. 🙂

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          • Grown up people play the game they are actually playing, not the game they wish they were playing. In the US, you have to win states, not individuals. There are all sorts of good reasons for this, but I suspect that no matter how many of them I rehearsed, you would’t accept them.

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          • Well, Dan, I hope you have an essay in future to defend the Electoral College so it doesn’t just remain a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. It’s not like we have to appease the slave states.

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    • This narrative that the boomers had it all in the 60s and just flushed it down the toilet ignores the turmoil of the 70s. It’s entirely unsurprising that the right would be ascendant after such a period. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of it was a mistake, but I don’t see why the mindset that led to a rightward shift in politics should be so closely associated with one generation, given the politics goes in cycles, and that we can explain the ascendency of neoliberal politics quite well without invoking a ‘boomer’ mindset.

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  27. Reading through the comments it is apparent that there is a lot of blame going around. Boomers are to blame for this. Younger generations are to blame for that. Blame is not appropriate. There are deeper social/economic processes at work that have produced the inevitable results that we have seen/are seeing.

    The more we blame each other the more we miss the point, that the processes are the real culprit. And then we fail to address the real problem.However, we need not be the victim of the processes if we stop, identify them and intelligently address them. I don’t see this happening.

    Reading Dan’s essays I can see that he is sympathetic to the lot of young people. I read his essays as cries of alarm, calling out the problem in the hope that younger generations will recognise the true nature of the problem and urgently address it. The power to address it lies in their hands, not in the hands of retiring Boomers. They need the kind of shock treatment, that Dan is supplying, to urgently provoke them into purposive action.

    You might ask what are these processes that are having these results. I was hoping the discussion would turn to this matter but it has unfortunately remained focused on blame. I have my own clear thoughts on this but first I would like to hear the contributions of others(I always learn from them).

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    • I’m not entirely convinced that this juvenile stupidity isn’t just, as I said above, the current equivalent of my generation’s
      juvenile stupidity with its slogan, “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. The eternal return of immaturity and lack of wisdom which characterizes age 17.

      It may not occur in stable traditional societies, but in a contemporary capitalist society where fashions change every 2 weeks and the ever newer is touted as always better, the young are probably always going to see older people as “reactionary binary old sods”. (I was called that in an online argument).

      Now it’s different to be on the receiving end than on the production end of the abuses, and now being older, we receive back the abuse we dished out at age 17. What’s more, older people lack the inner energy, especially the erotic energy, which makes young people almost impermeable to the criticism of their elders.

      So while it hurts to be dismissed with “ok boomer”, abusing one’s elders and dismissing them as hopelessly “out of it” seems to be part of being young and so we old folks just need to get used to it and to learn to sit back and enjoy the show of human folly.

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      • Your last paragraph is obviously correct. The problem is that these people don’t just abuse and dismiss their elders. Rather, out of one side of their mouths they abuse and dismiss their elders, while out of the other side, they insist that they are broken, and anxious, ad ill, and downtrodden, and needing of assistance. My generation abused and dismissed our elders. What we didn’t do is come begging three seconds after.

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        • You’re right that neither your nor my generation came begging to their elders, but of course we faced a very different job market. The fact that one can easily become economically autonomous of one’s parents conditions all of one’s thinking.

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          • And the begging is not just financial, but spiritual/psychic. That’s my problem with “OK Boomer.” It’s defiance made pathetic by weakness. One doesn’t abuse the people one is about to beg for help.

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          • My point is that economic independence generally, although obviously not always, leads to psychic independence.

            If a kid knows that if he or she drops out of college or leaves home, he or she can go to New York or San Francisco and with a low wage job rent an apartment with friends as he or she could in the 60’s, he or she will in general feel a certain not only financial, but also psychic autonomy with respect to his or her parents that is more difficult, although not impossible, to obtain today. Just try to rent an apartment with a low wage job on the Upper West Side or Lower East Side of New York or in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco today

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          • There are plenty of affordable places in the country. You may have to wait to live in the high priced markets, until you’ve made some money. That’s not a burden. It’s called real life. Just like your first car is a jalopy, not a Mercedes.

            This has been true forever. My father was born in 1928. He had no luxuries of any kind until the 1960’s. Young people today need to get some fucking perspective, which they might have if they weren’t so busy dismissing everyone who knows something.

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          • For your father (who, as I understand it, is a Holocaust survivor) all your generation’s problems were trivial, I imagine. yet you felt them as if they were tragedies. Similarly, my father, born in 1915, had to go to work at age 15 due to the depression and then was drafted into the Army in World War 2: for him the baby boomers had it too good and were weak and snow-flakes.

            Human nature seems to be set up so that we all have a certain level of anxiety, which we project onto whatever reality we live through. Thus, the person starving in Africa is obsessed with whether he or she will eat or not, and the kid at Yale today is obsessed with whether he or she can follow their organic vegan diet or not: they are both equally obsessed. Schopenhauer describes such mechanisms very well.

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        • Just this morning I was chatting to a friend who lectures in biology. I mentioned this debate and asked her what her students were like. She laughed and replied succinctly,”Entitled. Snowflakes. Touch them and they melt“. And this on another continent, in another hemisphere and a different culture. She thinks the resilience and hardiness that we displayed in our youth has been lost in the younger generations. The problem is worldwide, crossing continents and cultures. But our culture is really a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon culture. I wonder what the situation is like in China and Russia?

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  28. Hi, I’ve been listening to your podcast for the last two and a bit years and lurking on this site for a few months. I really didn’t expect my first post here to be explaining a really terrible meme, but alas, this is the only subject I can claim knowledge of in front of a philosophy professor. If you’re wondering why I would know better than your students, the ‘ok boomer’ meme was first used by a mutual of mine on twitter way back in march. The reason you find ‘ok boomer’ so nonsensical can be understood by examining its genealogy. There was a meme started last year called the 30 year old boomer which was first commented on how older millennials, despite being not much older than younger millenials, didn’t understand internet culture the same way that most baby boomers don’t understand any technology more complicated than a telephone. The meme became extremely popular and led to the creation of a bunch of spin-offs such as the zoomer who is a stereotypical gen-z kid, the doomer who is a depressed guy, the bloomer who is his opposite, etc. Boomer became a stereotype detached from the actual baby boomers. It’s similar to George Carlin separating old man, old fart, and old fuck by attitude (https://youtu.be/pSKo-KYACoA).

    At the same time the meme ‘ok buddy retard’ was still in circulation (https://tinyurl.com/y22mbwa6). Explaining the origin of that dog is basically impossible so I won’t. It’s just a meme for dismissing someone by calling them stupid. ‘ok boomer’ was a combination of ’30 year old boomer’ and ‘ok buddy retard’, a way of dismissing someone who doesn’t understand internet jargon or jokes. For instance, someone who responds to being called a boomer by pointing out that he’s gen-x is proving himself to be a boomer. Shortly afterwards I got suspended from twitter for four months, so I didn’t witness ‘ok boomer’ degrade into what you are familiar with. Still, it’s pretty obvious how it happened. In this case ‘ok boomer’ got picked up by the progressive side of twitter. Anyone who doesn’t get internet humor morphed into anyone who isn’t as politically extreme as me.

    I don’t blame people for dismissing others on twitter. No one has ever been convinced by an argument on twitter anyway. What I do abhor is bringing internet humor into real life situations. That kiwi politician dismissing someone with ‘ok boomer’ made me both wince at the abysmal attempt at humor and recoil at her childishness. Those protesters holding up signs saying ‘ok boomer’ are the most pathetic (https://tinyurl.com/y37wop9h). It is the ultimate culmination of the ineffectual protests that progressives regularly hold. On a separate note, those student claiming it’s a response to older people not listening to their arguments sounds like complete horse shit to me. I guarantee they haven’t personally argued with anyone older than themselves besides their relatives at thanksgiving. Instead, they should’ve said it’s a response directed at older people who aren’t progressive enough (aka all of them).

    I reject the idea that any problem can be solved by people just trying to do better. Gen Z isn’t going to come out any better than millennials just because we know how destructive the internet is to humans’ mental health and can warn them against it. Gen Z is going to center their social lives even more around social media because it’s more convenient and the immediate feedback is addicting. Similarly democracy is ruined by people uselessly discussing problems facing the nation or world as a whole instead of taking part in local political action. I think this was best said by Hubert Dreyfus (https://youtu.be/8VCMc7f1XMw). It’s just too bad that I’m a millenial who has suffered from these effects. My entire social life is centered around the internet. I can’t even make friends offline, let alone run for political office. Any solution I could offer to modernity’s myriad problems can be safely ignored.

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  29. It’s all well and good to slurp the coffee off our walrusy mustaches, bemoan “the dismal tide”, and reminisce on the days when people were content to stick turnips up their butts and call that up to scratch, but then there’s always the wiser, worse-off guy wheelchairing around his shack to remind us “What you got ain’t nothing new.” We probably doth protest too much if we think that a jibe brushing off the latest batch of “kids these days” griping harkens the downfall of a generation. If this joke turns you into Oswald Spengler, I don’t get what kind of model of resilience it’s supposed to be. Not to knock butt turnips or anything, but I’d wager that the bulk of the times kids are employing this are in pretty innocuous ways to broad brush finger-wagging.

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  30. To those who engaged in a productive discussion of the essay and the issues it raises, thank you! For those who came to demonstrate the validity of the essay’s thesis, thank you too … I guess.

    I don’t see much more productive happening going forward, so I am closing comments. I will be discussing the essay with Aryeh Cohen-Wade over at BloggingHeads.TV, so if you want to hear more and weigh in, I suggest you tune in when it goes up.

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