In their reactions to Brexit, young Remainers have held the older generation and its values in contempt, says Harvey Tomes.
According to polling data, around 20% of people aged between 18 and 24 supported Brexit, as opposed to pensioners for whom the figure was closer to 60%. This is fairly consistent across various polls. But it’s led to an outcry from younger people: one tweeter (sic: “twit”? – Ed) went so far as to say “Thank you babyboomers for the last nail in my generation’s coffin #notinmyname”. Even the Independent, a major news outlet, published an article with the headline “Brexit is one more example of the older generation financially bankrupting the young.”
This outcry shows just how little respect for values such as experience and the family model have declined in Britain. The idea that old people are to ‘blame’ for Brexit must be challenged. We must seek to put the virtues of wisdom and family commitment back on the pedestal in the public consciousness, where they really belong.
In the traditional notion of family, there was a deep-set respect for one’s parents and grandparents, and they were held up as voices of experience to be listened to and not disregarded. On the other side, there was a duty to provide and pass on to future generations, for their benefit, what you had successfully gained in your generation, whether this be a house, a company or a small savings account. These two aspects underline what can be conceived as what many of the young who want EU membership have failed to understand.
The attitudes that ‘we know what we want’ and that ‘it is our future and therefore we should have the say, not the elderly who will not live to see the consequences’ are arrogant and ill-conceived.
Older generations are the only ones who have experienced life before the EU. They have held down jobs for decades which spanned UK independence and then EU membership. They voted based on their knowledge of the world. Their views and actions are something to be understood and respected as opposed to derided.
Without directly saying it, fashionable journalists imply that the older generation voted expecting “to push the cost entirely onto others”. That the interests of the young have suffered “chronic neglect” as a callous and deliberate act. This is cruel and disrespectful. We should assume that people vote for what they believe, morally, to be best, unless we have actual evidence of dishonesty or selfishness. What attitudes we do have evidence for among the elderly are patriotism and loyalty to their society – that is, you and me. The negative stereotyping of a generation with those connotations is entirely unfair.
This represents in part what is the fundamental decline of marriage and the family model in modern society. The number of underprivileged children growing up without a father has soared. No longer is it the case that most of us are brought up by a family and guided by our parents’ and grandparents’ wisdom, connected to past generations.
This affects the way we imagine the intentions of older people. We are not familiar with them. We don’t understand them. We’re detached from where, who, we’ve come from personally, and the knowledge that brings. So it’s become too easy for us to hold them in contempt – after all, how can you sympathise with someone that has never been a part of your life?
Brexit has brought to the surface the disconnect between generations in this country in a way that is vitriolic and unpleasant. When we scratch beneath that surface, we can see another harmful consequence of the decline of family life and loyalty. We need to reduce this disconnect we can sympathise with a generation that voted differently from us, rather than disregard them as ignorant or selfish.
The older generation are rational, sane, and live by virtues all too lacking in their offspring. They deserve, as all human beings, to be treated with respect – and perhaps even listened to.
Harvey Tomes is reading International Relations at Durham University and has written for The Market Mogul.
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