It seems that in the last few years there’s been an increase in the way that many in the media promote petty intergenerational rivalries. It started with stereotypes about Millennials being lazy, unfocused, and self-absorbed, but has since progressed to stereotypes of Baby Boomers as having selfishly destroyed the economy, using up resources, and generally leaving societal institutions of politics, media, finance, religion, etc., in a worse state than they found them. An example would be the vitriol expressed by some younger people when they find out that many senior citizens get steep discounts at many universities.
Most people leave the front door wide open when it comes to allowing ideas that they get from media to enter their ways of thinking. And sure enough, those stereotypes can be found all over social media being expressed by ordinary people, ranging from wry offhand slights all the way to the way to outrage.
Unfortunately, the problem is much more broad than just Millennials and Baby Boomers. It’s as if we’re being goaded into conflict, with collectivist ideas constantly being emitted towards us subtly and not-so-subtly that people are defined primarily by the groups to which they belong, and that each of those groups is suspect.
Consider every media message you encounter that has the effect of making you feel negatively about another group. Obviously this includes big things like age, race, national origin, religion, political affiliation, region of the country, and so forth, but it’s more insidious than that. Look at how socially acceptable it is to ridicule hipsters and vegans, not because they’re harmful, but simply because it’s an idea virus that’s spread across our culture without any real critical thinking taking place to counteract it.
But don’t take my word for it. Take a day and count all the times you come into contact with a message that, upon reflection, you can tell is meant to be divisive. Take special care to count messages that are meant to make you feel comfortable about yourself at others’ expense.
I should add that I’m not suggesting this is a pernicious conspiracy. Yes, Russian troll farms exist to stir the pot, but for the most part I think that reader and viewer attention is what sells ads, and that if you want someone’s attention, an effective way to get it and hold on to it through a commercial break is to outrage them.
Either way, given how pervasive the problem is, what’s the solution? Well, in the epic ’90s sci-fi series Babylon 5, Commander Sinclair remarks, “Ignore the propaganda. Focus on what you see.” To do that requires retraining one’s mind to resist the collectivism of seeing people in terms of the groups to which they belong, and instead think of them first and foremost as individuals, with all the extraordinary potential variety that entails.
It takes a little practice, but after a while, not only will you have immunized yourself against these sorts of negative idea viruses, you’ll be amazed (and not a little dismayed) that most people can’t see how glaring stereotypes and generalizations are being used in a way that keeps people divided.