Baby Boomers, Critics of Millennials, Once Advised: ‘Ignore Anyone Over 30’

Malcolm Kaines
Jul 29, 2018 · 5 min read
Macro photography of natural snowflake by Alexey Kljatov.

Never trust anyone over 30,” said activist Jack Weinberg in 1964, rather offhandedly, during an interview in Berkeley at the height of the free speech movement. Much to his surprise, after Weinberg’s quote appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, it was picked up everywhere in the media.

The idea of betraying one’s elders — whether you were for or against that notion at the time— seemed to aptly describe the iconoclastic attitude of the counterculture to many. “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” quickly become a mantra for the freewheeling youth, and it remained so throughout the decade. People often believed the quote belonged to Abbie Hoffman, or maybe the Beatles.

People over 30 were — understandably — utterly appalled. But it was a catchy enough saying, so the kids thought, especially because it really seemed to bunch the proverbial sock-garters of the older, square establishment.

In reality, to exclude everyone over 30 from the counterculture movement’s ‘credulity’ would have left a gaping void in the the 1960s; some of its founding lions, like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs — not to mention Timothy Leary — were already well past their expiration dates, by that rule, by the dawn of the decade.

An early leader of the revolutionary Black Panther Party who was similarly long in the tooth, Eldridge Cleaver (author of Soul on Ice, a collection of essays that ranks among the most important works of African-American literature) told Playboy in 1968:

“There are a lot of older whites and blacks who keep working for change. So there are people over 30 I trust. I’m over 30, and I trust me.”

Jack Weinberg, it should be noted, hasn’t been relevant, according to his own adage, for nearly a half century now, though he more or less disavowed his original statement in 2000— whether or not we should trust him (given his age).

For all that generation’s interest in social justice — equality for blacks, women, migrant farm workers, Vietnamese peasants, and others — the flower children of the 1960s nevertheless vocally maintained (as many apparently still do) one vestige of plain bigotry: ageism.

It was wrong of them then, and it is wrong of many of these same people now — though the prejudice against millennials works the other way around.

Baby Boomers: Really, he doesn’t remind you of anyone?

It is impossible to miss the pejorative connotations and condescension in common generational terms like “millennial snowflake” and tropes like the “entitled millennial”.

Amanda Ruggeri of the BBC notes:

“I know the ultimate millennial. She owns a bicycle in lieu of a car, goes to yoga class at least twice a week, grows her own bean sprouts and works side-gigs instead of for a full-time employer — she left a budding career as an economist to pursue her dream of being a comedian.”

A Google search with keyword “millennials”, sorting by news paints a more overtly negative picture of a generation. All of the following articles were found on the first page of results as of this writing:

No, Bachelor Parties Are Not Why Millennials Can’t Afford Houses

HuffPost-7 hours ago-“Study: Bachelor, bachelorette parties are why millennials can’t afford houses,” reads a bold headline that appeared on the “Today” show’s website Thursday…

Sam Ross Jr. | Dreams exceed reality for Pirates, millennials

TribDem.com-5 hours ago-The Pirates should be the official team of the millennial generation if only because of a shared penchant for cognitive dissonance, loosely defined as inconsistency between goals and behaviors…

Scott: Millennials Deserve a Seat at the Table

Daily Utah Chronicle-Jul 27, 2018-Her victory has sparked a national discussion about millennials in government…

(Good news, millennials — you *might* get a seat at “the table” — soon!)

Some may try to argue this is not true ageism, which is usually meant as discrimination specifically against older people; that it is just some form of good-natured intergenerational teasing that even some millennial writers now share. But it’s gone far past the point of good-natured after thousands of articles so critical of millennials over a decade and more.

Since the term “millennial” was coined, older opinion leaders have systematically ridiculed what are their own children and grandchildren, belittling them and treating them as if all their values were homogenous and/or trite. Baby boomers, those well-over-thirty-somethings of today, often seem to write as if they believed themselves part of the Greatest Generation — in the sense of the one that they believe is ‘the greatest’ (as opposed to the earlier one that beat Hitler).

Some boomers may rightly note they weren’t all hippies, and so they didn’t subscribe to the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mentality; they respected their elders. A good point is made here, in that baby boomers, like millennials (or individuals of any age group) are not a monolith, and individuals of that demographic, like any other, should not be correspondingly stereotyped.

Ageism in any form — like racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and ableism — is a form of prejudice, pure and simple. According to the World Health Organization, ageism is in fact a “widespread and insidious practice” that is “the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice”. It is another of those beliefs that holds that we can infer something about the person, their traits, their mindset, or their capabilities based on a demographic factor alone.

Ageism tends to constrict its target identity like any other -ism; a woman can’t be an engineer; a black person can’t be CEO; a millennial can’t be a hard worker, or be grateful for her lot in life.

William S. Burroughs, a man no one can picture uttering the phrase “kids these days”; with Laurie Anderson and John Giorno. (By Kevin Dooley)

As a stylistic note, older people who complain about younger generations never sound good in the historical record; they sound always and everywhere like embittered curmudgeons, from accounts of “wayward” youth written in cuneiform centuries before Herodotus (by the Sumerians) to today.

Ageism is a prejudice that is upon the merest contemplation profoundly and particularly stupid in some ways. All individuals who live long enough will after all be a part of a variety of age groups, for one; and our parents and our children are those we criticize when we criticize other generations.

Add to that, ageism would discount a Mozart, who composed music at age four — he was just a kid, after all. It would also have us ignore a Grandma Moses, the iconic folk painter who began her career at age 78 — as just some old lady.

Those of us are over 30, and baby boomers in particular, should act our age and treat younger generations with respect and encouragement, not bigotry and condescension. We did construct the world they are adapting to. Besides, we may wish to preserve some credibility in millennial eyes, before we become the marginalized elderly living in their world.

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