‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’
One of the most poignant things about getting older is seeing the young generation commit the same mistakes yours did, and thus, in a sense, realising that your own has failed. Humanity has learnt nothing on your watch, and is thus doomed to make the same mistakes.
Reading about the rise of the derogatory term ‘centrist dad’ among young Momentum firebrands reminded me of the angry, dreary certainties of militant youth in Sheffield when I was growing up during the early Thatcher years. It was all so simple! Tax and redistribute, tax and redistribute, tax and redistribute – why couldn’t the older generation see it? Equally, of course, the old wonder why the young cannot see the folly of their ways. I have vague recollections of a typically earnest TV play from those times, when an angry young man remonstrates with his father. At the end of the exchange, the old man says simply: ‘You’ll learn.’
Indeed they will, but how very, very sad that so much energy and time will be wasted by a younger generation who, starved of opportunity, have concluded that life is nothing more than a zero-sum game. Of course, to an extent youth has always seen the world simplistically and railed against its injustices, but a society where those feelings are allowed to morph into widely held, unshakeable certainties is one that has lost its way and failed them. Further disillusionment when their socialist utopia fails to arrive is inevitable. What an awful waste.
This is a tragedy with many villains and few heroes. It is fashionable to blame today’s millennials, deriding them as Generation Snowflake, but who was it who smashed up the family structures that might have given them stability, and instead farmed them out to daycare? Who basked in the reflected glow of their own insufferable smugness during the faux boom of the New Labour years, and lacked the imagination or courage to see the error of their ways when their hubris turned to nemesis? It was none other than the elite of that original generation of revolutionary youth – the baby boomers of the 60s (and to an extent the later GenXers): an arrogant vanguard of social change itself absolutely sure in its own youthful certainties but, tragically for the rest of us, one that failed to grow old before it enacted them.
Society is running on empty, its social and financial capital all spent. The economic malaise that we see around us and which afflicts the young so sharply is simply the most visible sign of the wreckage wrought by a spoiled and pampered minority, now leaving the stage, that frittered it all away.
Many villains, few heroes. Perhaps that is in fact wrong: we tend to forget that away from the sound and fury generated by the glitzy Metropolitan elites, there are millions and millions of conservative men and women – the centrist dads and mums – who either never embraced the revolutionary passions of their own youthful zeitgeist, or in time gained the maturity to reject them. Instead they soldier on, wearily but uncomplainingly, knowing they are doomed to continue paying a heavy price for the folly of others, and doomed to be held in contempt by the young.