The Generation Game is over (at least for me)

For more than a generation, I have been criticising the Generation Game, that is, the insistence on dividing society into groups based on birth year and imputing different characteristics to each group. Today, I’m following the classic advice for those involved in an endless war: declare victory and get out. The basis for my claim is that I’ve managed to publish my latest critique in the New York Times, under the headline ‘Millennial’ Means Nothing (paywalled*). I expect this will reach more people than anything I could do with the blog, so I will leave this topic and move on.

* It’s fairly easy to get around, I believe.

19 thoughts on “The Generation Game is over (at least for me)

  1. I think that the G game is an invention of baby boomers, and the sooner they get out of the way the better 🙂

  2. I once read, bjb, on the internet, of a function easily accessible in your browser called ‘no scripts’.
    And I always clear my cache and turn off cookies. Except for great blogs like this one.

  3. Had no problem with the paywall.

    Regarding the divide you are complaining about, strictly speaking your statement is of course true as we all exist somewhere unique on the the absurdly mutidimensional continum we call the Universe. Some of these dimensions can be reduced more or less to two states (e.g. male / female, dead/alive) but most vary across huge ranges.

    And rejoicing in this diversity and complexity is quite normal and acceptable for academics who get published depending on its analysis.

    Unfortunately we also need day to day to categorize the world with decision making in mind. We’ve always done this based if only on ‘gut feeling’ – wildebeast? > eat: lion ? > run away very fast. Then someone invented numbers and the full power of systematic categorization of people, potential food, species etc. was revealed. Among other things categorization helped communication too and individual claims to higher status via possession of specific category knowledge. Thus science use categories to describe the Universe and the diverse forms of life and how they interact but reducing clusters of attributes to single categories. In economics you eventually got von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann%E2%80%93Morgenstern_utility_theorem which offers a ‘rational’ and even better Mathematical way of reducing life’s diversity and complexity to preferences and decisions about how we might exploit it for personal and social gain. Control over decision based on categorical assignments or surrogates or also reflects the ultimate drug, power.

    What this all says is that we are inherently classification oriented and very inventive when it comes to categorization and will continue to do so if only for categorizing Us versus Them even if the validity is dubious. So this classification into buckets like Millennials and Hipsters seems unlikely to stop soon. For all its flaws the habit is too damn useful especially when speculating on Avocado futures.

  4. I agree with the article in general, but there have to be some differences between generations, even if incremental. Otherwise it’s the End of History (again)! I think you do accept that but then seem to gloss over it. There are differences between my kids’ lives and mine eg they went back to paid employment sooner after having children. I suppose it’s when people ascribe difference to some innate characteristic (‘these generation X and Z women are so career-oriented!) instead of recognising that society changes, that you get the labelling problem.

    Good article though, people often go nuts with this generation stuff. I hate to be lumped with Donald Trump as a Boomer too. Oh the horror.

  5. bjb :
    Not paywalled for me.

    The New York Times website allows something like 10 views per month without a subscription. Views are tracked using “cookies” on the viewer’s computer, so this limit can be circumvented by clearing cookies if one is so inclined.

    Statistics of cohorts is often useful, but the cohort’s members are still individuals.

  6. John, your article ‘Millenial’ Means Nothing in the NYT, hit the nail on the heads of the false teachers and snake oil peddlers of today. Very touching and illuminating. It’s time to end all the false dichotomies that have been purveyed just to divide and manipulate the masses for just too long; generation differences, race, class and gender should all be looked at closely and anything that lacks any substance in science (such as race and generational difference in particular) should
    be exposed and shredded in the dustbins of history. When the same lie is told a thousand times, people begin to accept it as truth.
    I remember when this generational philosophy was pushed hard in place I used to work about a decade ago as the new model of management and driving performance ie. managing a person based on their ‘generational characteristics’ as opposed to the specific core performance characteristics; I felt within every fiber of my being that it was a bunch of crap. Are you going to be writing. Are you going to be writing book about this, giving a TED talk, do some intellectual debates soon to expose these false paradigms further? Thanks for being a good teacher. I am inspired.

  7. Meanwhile, Babyboomers (the command generation) have all of the property and make most of the decisions, however incompetent (our free education having given us little of the gift of wisdom), and fumble embarrassingly with our phones,…..while Millenials head into the world with sky high debt, little chance of bridging the property divide, have freely available googled and wikie’d knowledge of the ages which they can access anywhere any time with lightning fast thumbs, and know that we have won leaving left them with an overpopulated mess, and a collapsing environment overshadowed by enough nuclear weapons to annihilate everything a hundred times over in the hands of……Babyboomers.

    Yes, we won!! Go us.

  8. It seems to me category names for bunched cohorts such as baby boomers, generation X, …, Z, millennials make sense to some sociologists or marketing people and they make as much sense to an economist as the categories ‘consumers’ and ‘producers’ make sense to sociologists and marketing people – none whatsoever.

    What happened to the hippie generation? Has it been edited out of the boomer generation(s) because not much money could be made from them by the ‘producers’?

  9. rog :
    I think that the G game is an invention of baby boomers, and the sooner they get out of the way the better

    they were yuppies (good)

    hippies (bad)

    then some bastard went and invented the boombox and now look where we are!

  10. @Trexis Lucius

    here ,here ! “anything that lacks any substance in science (such as race and generational difference” —–>>> claims of fundamental animal and human difference too ?

  11. I’ve always thought there was value to be found in this generational cohorting. Almost as much as the 12 year Chinese cycle of year of birth, or 12 month cycle of the western astrological calendar. The value is, of course, in the production of entertaining fiction disguised as life advice.

    My forthcoming book, combining 5 generations (which will conveniently each be 12 years long), and your year of birth and star sign, will provide you with a sure guide to success in life. The sequel will advise employers on how to handle you such that you produce the most for the least money and still don’t quit.

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