Hope I leave the EU before I get old

I’m certainly not the only one to remark on the generational war being waged by the cohort of postwar babies, who discovered the power of age-based politics in the 1960s, against their children and grandchildren. Those now entering retirement have locked in promises of high pensions to themselves that no one before or after them will be able to receive.

That’s where the Brexit referendum comes in. The Guardian reported that Britons under 35 are almost 2:1 in favour of remaining in the EU, while those over 60 are almost as heavily biased in favour. A new article in the NY Times gives some anecdotal evidence in the same direction. This is usually explained as a matter of generational experience, those who experienced the Second World War smelling plans of German domination. But these are some of the same people who voted overwhelmingly to enter the EEC 40 years ago.

I can’t help but wonder whether, on some level, the over-60s see the situation they’ve manoeuvred the younger generations into — crumbling infrastructure, insufficient and overpriced housing, excessive pensions that will come at the expense of social spending for decades, and the only solution they can see — since a pension isn’t worth much if there aren’t enough working people to actually provide the services you depend on — is to block off their children’s potential escape routes.

Maybe it’s not about keeping THEM out. It’s about keeping the younger generation IN.

“Buyer’s market”

When did the values of the market become a substitute for ethical standards? I found myself wondering this in reading this article in Inside Higher Education about a young philosophy PhD who was offered a tenure-track job at Nazareth College in New York, replied with an enthusiastic email attempting to start a negotiation about starting salary, sabbatical, maternity leave, and limited teaching in her first year. Although she made clear that she didn’t expect all of her requests to be possible, the university responded with a brusque retraction of the job offer. Now, the misogyny of philosophy departments is by now well established, but this smackdown of a young colleague who has just been selected as the best available for a job in your department, merely for making some requests, seemed shocking to me. Not to the commenters on the IHE blog, though, who may be supposed to be mainly higher education professionals. Some sample comments:

She has too many requests and this is always a sign that a person is going to be a pain in the *&*%. Her requests on balance are not unreasonable but she is in no position to ask for all of this — it is a buyer’s market. … Lots of great people to choose from so why saddle yourself with someone who is challenged right off the bat.

several substantial requests, the sum of which went beyond the pale for hat-in-hand applicants.

You just spent a semester narrowing hundreds (or more) candidates and arguing for this ONE person… only to have them forward THAT? Not exactly who I want to spend the rest of my career with (not to mention that the person clearly felt they were ‘playing with house money’ and could afford to lose the job offer… someone who REALLY wants the job wouldn’t risk that message).

(To be fair, some comments are supportive of the candidate, and others take on other issues.) What fascinate me in these responses are these references to a “buyer’s market” to which the presumably arrogant candidate should have meekly submitted, with the clear presumption that the logic of the market is proper and just. If you are in a powerful position, where you can take advantage of those unfortunate enough to have qualifications that are in high supply and low demand, then of course you should, and no one could be surprised if you do. It’s an argument that is rarely applied to those who are robbed at knifepoint by those stronger or more ruthless than themselves, but it does show up in certain comments on rape and on international relations. It’s the belief that power creates its own justification.

I am frequently reminded of Nietzsche’s remarks on markets in Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science):

Kaufen und verkaufen gilt jetzt als gemein, wie die Kunst des Lesens und Schreibens; Jeder ist jetzt darin eingeübt, selbst wenn er kein Handelsmann ist, und übt sich noch an jedem Tage in dieser Technik: ganz wie ehemals, im Zeitalter der wilderen Menschheit, Jedermann Jäger war und sich Tag für Tag in der Technik der Jagd übte.

Buying and selling are common skills nowadays, like the art of reading and writing: Everyone is accomplished in it, even if he’s not a businessman, and practices every day, just as in earlier times, in the days of primitive man, everyone was a hunter, and practiced that skill every day.

One last point: The largest number of commenters fault the young scholar for her “tone”. Everyone knows, apparently, that you don’t put this sort of thing so baldly in an email, for God’s sake! Obviously they had no choice but to rescind the offer when she attacked them with an EMAIL that clearly laid out what she would like. This is pretty hilarious, given how much philosophers pride themselves on their ruthlessly direct style of academic disputation, with some of them arguing that the would-be philosophers with excessive numbers of X chromosomes can’t hack it.

More reflections on 9/11 and the Iraq war

I left out a few points that I wanted to make in my post on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War:

  1. About a week after, I wrote in my diary that I had the disturbing impression, reading the comments of journalists, politicians, and intellectuals, that a significant subset of them were in a certain way pleased: not that the country was attacked, certainly not at the tremendous loss of life, but that life had turned serious. The country had been wallowing in nostalgia for the “Greatest Generation” — Tom Brokaw’s book had been published just a few years earlier — while the current youth (a group which I was just growing out of, being then aged 33) had its culture defined by ironic detachment. So we had articles on “The Age of Irony Comes to an End“. It was mainly just another way to bash young people, which is always popular, but it also appealed to a deep-seated desire to be the protagonists of history, solving problems of historic dimensions. And there are no victory parades for conserving energy and stopping runaway global warming. This was confirmed for me when people started quoting incessantly W H Auden’s 1939 disdain for the “clever hopes” expiring “of a low dishonest decade”. Continue reading “More reflections on 9/11 and the Iraq war”

The revolution will not be televised devouring its own children


A perennial topic of public discussion ever since my childhood has been the sellout our not of the formerly revolutionary former youth of the Baby Boom. The false premise here is that they were the sellers rather than the buyers. While there are great acts of civil courage and genius (political, scientific, and artistic) revealed individually in that generation, as in every generation, when seen as a collective these people’s actions are indistinguishable from the script one would have expected if they had been forged into a steel-sinewed generational army equipped to plunder the past and the future. First, they sucked resources out of their parents while devising a cult of youth that absolved them of any need to respond with ordinary human gratitude. Then they determined to ensure that their own children would never do the same to them, by stitching up the tax system and the pensions to ensure that public resources would be bled dry by the time their successors tried to make a claim on them. Continue reading “The revolution will not be televised devouring its own children”