Jason Feifer: This is Pessimists Archive, the history show about why people resist to new things. I’m Jason Feifer. Remember 2008. Ah, those were the good old days back when life was simpler. When things just made more sense, the iPhone 3G was the hot new thing. Tiger Woods was winning championships and HBO had just ordered a pilot for a show called Game of Thrones. Yes, a very different time, but something new and terrifying was on the horizon. It kept company executives up at night. It made them fear for the future. They were looking out of their corner offices and down onto the street and it was as if they saw an invading army on the approach, an army made up of subhumans, the likes of which had never been seen before. And what was this army?
Voice Clip (Actor): The dead are coming for us all.
Jason Feifer: No, no, it was even scarier than the dead. It was millennials.
Voice Clip (Tyrion): People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large.
Jason Feifer: I know Tyrion but it was true. The millennials were coming. Back then in 2008, they were beginning to enter the workforce just as the baby boomer generation was retiring, which means companies were in for a sea change. Out were going the loyal, hardworking, dependable generation of baby boomers and in we’re coming a bunch of lazy kids. And because corporate execs had no idea what to do next, they called this guy for help.
Ira Wolfe: So there was this whole hubbub going on with every hiring manager and every manager in the universe saying, what are we going to do about these young kids?
Jason Feifer: That’s Ira Wolfe. He’s a business consultant and founder of a company called Success Performance Solutions and he’s the kind of guy that companies hire when they’re trying to figure out a problem. So around 2008 when Ira was 58 years old, many executives started calling him because they weren’t sure what to do with all of these millennials. Do they hire these kids? It seems like they have to but can they trust them? And so Ira looked into it and thought, oh boy, here comes trouble.
Ira Wolfe: Most of the information at the time was, the millennials at that point were mostly either teenagers or just getting out of college and they were this horrible, spoiled rotten narcissistic, egotistical, lazy generation.
Jason Feifer: So Ira decides to write a book about how multiple generations of workers can co-exist in the workplace. This way he figures he can help everyone navigate this new minefield. He calls the book Geeks, Geezers and Googlization. And chapter nine was titled the dumbest generation. It was about millennials and it was not an exercise in subtlety. Here’s how the chapter begins.
Brent Rose: What a difference a few decades can make. A young student who was once embarrassed and his parents shamed by poor grades on a report card. A young worker was remorseful if he disappointed his boss.
Jason Feifer: But no longer, I rewrote. The basic decencies of past generations were absent in this one, something fundamental had changed.
Brent Rose: This is a generation who grew up reading blogs instead of books, they read updates about their friends on Facebook instead of reading current events and newspapers, they know more about world of Warcraft than they do about world war II.
Jason Feifer: All right, that crap does not need to be fact checked but I just can’t resist. Let’s dive into that last one. They know more about world of Warcraft than they do about world war II. That’s not some turn of phrase from Ira, that’s building off news stories that you can find about how young people just don’t know all sorts of critical historical information. Go ahead and Google and for example, you’ll find a Washington post piece from 2008 with this headline.
Brent Rose: Holocaust study, two thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is.
Jason Feifer: But here’s a fun game to play with news stories about surveys, look at the actual data. If you do, you’ll often discover fascinating little things. In fact, that’s what I just did for that Washington Post story. Two thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is. Huh. All right. Let’s see. So this is a claim based on a survey conducted by an organization called The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and that organization hired a firm called Show in Consulting to actually conduct the study, and Show in Consulting’s website says that the company “conducts high-level research, develops winning messaging and optimize strategies and tactics for our numerous corporate and political clients across the globe.” Develops winning messaging, huh? A weird thing for a supposedly impartial survey conductor to be saying, but okay, now let’s look at the data.
The website built to promote this study doesn’t actually offer a full breakdown of all the data but it does link to a top line result. And from this, we learned that the study was done by interviewing 1,350 people. And they asked these people a series of basic questions about the Holocaust. For example, have you ever seen or heard the word Holocaust before? What does the term Holocaust refer to? And then the study reveals people’s answers. But the answers are only broken up into two categories. There’s answers from all us adults and answers from millennials. So for example, that first question, have you ever seen or heard the word Holocaust before. Of all US adults, 89% said yes, definitely and seven percent said, yes, I think so. And of all millennials, 78% said yes, definitely and 13% said yes, I think so. And it goes on that. All US adults versus millennials. Neither group nails all the answers and the millennial group is usually just a little less informed than the all US adults group.
For example 55% of all US adults could name at least one concentration camp while slightly fewer of millennials could do it at only 51%. Now dig into the demographic data and who do we have here? Who’s answering all of these questions. The all US adults group contains more white people, more religious people and more Jews than the group of millennials. And 18% of the all US adults group is over the age of 65 which is to say you’ve likely got people in that mix who were literally alive during the Holocaust. And I don’t say any of that to excuse millennials who don’t know basic information about the Holocaust, but rather I say it to point out that the all US adult group has some splaining to do as well. But you don’t get that in the news coverage, the survey, because by breaking the categories up into just all US adults and millennials, Show in Consulting was able to “develop winning messaging” that was sure to snag the attention of reporters who knew that people would go crazy for stories about how millennials don’t know anything about the Holocaust.
It’s in fact too good a story to fact check or at least two good to add contextual information around. And that is how you get a headline that says.
Brent Rose: Holocaust study, two thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is.
Jason Feifer: Instead of a headline that says.
Brent Rose: Holocaust study, slightly fewer millennials know what Auschwitz is compared to all US adults.
Jason Feifer: And now pause for a second to consider how absolutely fucked up that is. And I don’t use profanity on this show often, but man, is that fucked up? Could you imagine being the person that’s Show in Consulting that’s, “We’ve got to get attention for our clients so you know what we should do? Let’s craft a survey about the murder of six million Jews during world war II that will make millennials look foolish.” Oh my God guys, shame on you. Shame on you, but really should we be surprised? We shouldn’t. You know why? Here’s why.
Richard Saller: Kids. I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.
Jason Feifer: This is a refrain as old as time. And I don’t just mean as old as bye bye birdie, you can go all the way back to ancient Roman literature to find it.
Richard Saller: There’s certainly recurring themes.
Jason Feifer: This is Richard Saller a professor of classics and history at Stanford University.
Richard Saller: One is that young sons tend to be footloose and careless and likely to fall in love with a prostitute. This is in Roman literature. And then the other theme that is recurrent is that the women are becoming more independent and husbands are losing control. There’s a lot of rhetoric about decline in the family and this is echoed actually over centuries, not just generations but over centuries.
Jason Feifer: Centuries indeed, we’re stuck in the strangest of cycles in which every generation loves to sound the alarm about the fatal defects of the youth. You are young, you’re insulted as lesser than and then you grow older and hurl the same insults at the people who come next. But people always seem to forget how the story turns out. The next generation is fine, capable, better even. Some of its members will slouch off shore but others will step up and carry the world forward. Look around, everything we know, everything that we have ever relied upon or been impressed by or adored or treasured or desired was created by a generation who had been dismissed by the one before it. If we worsened over generations rather than improved, we’d have nothing. We’d be banging our heads against the ruin of the pyramids but instead we built the modern world.
Our lives today are in controvertible evidence that everyone from ancient Roman writers to Ira the business consultant were wrong, all of them every time without exception period, but you already know that. So on this episode of Pessimists Archive, let’s not just point out the foolish mistakes of the older generation, let’s seek to answer an important question. Why do we all keep doing this and why can’t we stop the cycle? Each generation being unfairly dismissed only to grow old and repeat the same mistake. I have an answer, it’s because we’re afraid. I’ll explain what I mean after the break.
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Jason Feifer: All right, we’re back. So before we try to understand exactly why the older generation continually hates on the younger generation, let’s get an appreciation for the real depth of this problem. It crosses time and culture and it’s so old that even by the time of ancient Rome, it was already getting the bye bye birdie treatment, which is to say it was already such a common refrain that it could be knowingly portrayed in theater. Here’s Richard Saller again talking about Plautus the Romans earliest known comedy writer who was born in 254BC.
Richard Saller: Plautus actually has one of his father [inaudible] wonder whether his view of the younger generation is just a matter of his imagination or whether it’s real.
Jason Feifer: Scholars of European, African, Chinese, and Japanese history all tell me that their texts also contain some versions of youth hating. Pick a time, pick a place and you will find it. Renaissance writers complained of rowdy youth who’d sing body songs in inappropriate social settings. In pre-colonial Africa, a youth wasn’t considered a full-fledged person until they’d gone through an initiation and even then they weren’t fully respected until they became a parent. Mao Zedong launched the cultural revolution in part, because he said he’d feared the younger generation had become too soft.
And softness is an interesting thing to pause on here because it’s a common part of the older generations complaint. “The younger generation,” they say, “they just weren’t built like we were, they’re soft or entitled or coddled.” And then the older generation points to something that we all have lost as a result of this softness. It’s like something was good but it will crumble in the next generation’s hands because they’re too soft. Today the problem was often work. These coddled kids won’t grind it out at the office the way their forebearers did. That’s what Ira Wolfe’s book was about. But for the 14th century, Japanese monk Yoshida Kenko, it was about language. Here’s what he wrote.
Yoshida Kenko: The ordinary spoken language has also [inaudible]. People used to say, raise the carriage shifts or trims a lamp wick, but people today say, raise it or trim it.
Jason Feifer: And for writer Anna A. Rogers writing in the Atlantic in 1907, it was the institution of marriage that was being damaged by softness. Here’s from her essay.
Anna A. Rogers: The rock upon which most of the flower bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter day cult of individualism, the worship of the braise and calf of the self.
Jason Feifer: We started digging around for more examples of youth bashing and they are everywhere. It is a de luge. If I stuffed everything we found into this episode, it would balloon into a 16 hour audio book. So instead I thought that we should go through some of the examples in a different way, by playing a game with two people who understand what the kids are up to these days.
Can you please introduce yourselves?
Jen Jamula: Hi everybody, Jen Jamula.
Alli Goldberg: You want to tell him what you’ll do?
Jen Jamula: I’ll say that back. Hi everyone. I’m Jen Jamula, the co-host of 2 girls 1 podcast.
Alli Goldberg: And I’m Alli Goldberg and I’m the other girl of the 2 girls 1 podcast.
Jen Jamula: And if you want to know what that one podcast is about, we interview people behind different internet communities and phenomena that we find fascinating.
Jason Feifer: Nice. I have brought you onto Pessimists Archive to play a game I’m calling a tale of two utes. See what I did there. That’s good.
Alli Goldberg: I get it. Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Alli Goldberg: With you.
Jason Feifer: Thank you. And here’s how the game works. I’m going to read you five quotes of somebody’s criticizing the youth of their day. These are five different people, and you have to guess whether the quote is from modern times and talking about millennials or if it’s from the early 1900s and talking about somebody else. So each quote, a millennials or 100 years ago, somebody else, that makes sense?
Alli Goldberg: Okay. Yeah.
Jen Jamula: Got it.
Jason Feifer: All right. Here it is, first quote. The youth of today are beautiful pretentious children that thoughtlessly flick away the bothering trifles that generations have built up. They have egotistically and ruthlessly swept any of the conventions of the past ages away and left themselves with no moral standards for guidance. So is that talking about millennials or is that 100 years ago talking about somebody else?
Alli Goldberg: It’s old as fuck. 100 years ago. That’s my vote.
Jen Jamula: I was thinking that but I’m going to say now because he used the word egotistically and I don’t think we were talking about the ego 100 years ago.
Alli Goldberg: Interesting. I heard the use of the word trifles and some other things that nobody uses anymore I think.
Jason Feifer: So I thought that this one would be easy. It is indeed from 100 years ago. It’s from 1929. I know, it just had a lot of oldie language.
Alli Goldberg: Nailed it.
Jason Feifer: So this was from a University of California debate. They were debating whether or not the breakdown of conventions is detrimental to the youth of to-day and that is hyphenated to-day.
Jen Jamula: Man, that word used to be hyphenated?
Jason Feifer: Well, I think in some ways. I don’t know the rule of it but I see it.
Alli Goldberg: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Alli Goldberg: Okay.
Jen Jamula: All right.
Jason Feifer: Okay. Here is number two. The best case scenario is you’ll have an entire population growing up and going through life and never really finding joy. They’ll never really find deep, deep fulfillment in work and life.
Alli Goldberg: What?
Jen Jamula: I’ll say that’s now.
Alli Goldberg: I’m going to also say old.
Jason Feifer: I like the split, the split is good. It makes it feel very dramatic.
Alli Goldberg: Yeah. You better add some suspenseful music here.
Jason Feifer: Here it is.
Alli Goldberg: Okay.
Jason Feifer: 2016.
Jen Jamula: Yes.
Alli Goldberg: Wow. All right we’re one for one because now I’m battling Jen.
Jason Feifer: Just add to what he was saying there just to fully reveal his position. This is what Simon Sinek said, “What this young generation needs to learn is patience, that some things that really really matter like love or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skillset, any of these things, all of these things take time.
Alli Goldberg: That I would have pegged to the now but when it was saying about the joy because there’s also a complaint that millennials will leave a job that they don’t love. Anyway, I was wrong. Let’s move on.
Jason Feifer: All right. Here is number three. Not only do they lack the kind of empathy that allows them to feel concerned for others, but they also have trouble even intellectually understanding others’ points of view.
Jen Jamula: Ooh, I’m going to say now.
Alli Goldberg: I’m going to say now.
Jen Jamula: Tech obsesses, digital native millennial thing. Yeah.
Jason Feifer: You were both correct, 2013 Time Magazine. Do you remember the cover? It was the me, me, me generation.
Alli Goldberg: Yeah.
Jen Jamula: But it’s always the me, me, me generation.
Jason Feifer: All right. Here’s number four. They’re never, self-starters like the kids were when I was a boy. They lead synthetic lives. Instead of doing things for themselves, they have everything done for them. We kids dug pirate caves. These youngsters see movie reels of pirates instead.
Alli Goldberg: Oh, I was going to say now till you said pirate caves and movie reels.
Jen Jamula: Yeah, 100 years ago.
Jason Feifer: Yes. 1933, a column by Elsie Robinson called listen world. And the headline was, is modern youth a dim bulb?
Alli Goldberg: Wow.
Jen Jamula: How harsh.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Alli Goldberg: People used to dig pirate caves?
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Alli Goldberg: That sounds great. Let’s do that.
Jason Feifer: I’m not aware of the digging of pirate caves.
Alli Goldberg: What is a pirate cave? I thought pirates were on land I guess, to bury their treasure.
Jen Jamula: Yeah, yeah, you got it.
Alli Goldberg: I need to find an old person.
Jen Jamula: I don’t have any personal experience with that but I think so.
Alli Goldberg: Yeah.
Jen Jamula: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Number five, we defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to die that there is as never before an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude and utterly selfish.
Jen Jamula: Ooh. That could go either way. I’ll say now just for fun.
Alli Goldberg: It could totally go either way. I’ll say old just for fun.
Jason Feifer: It is 1925, the conduct of young people in the whole Daily Mail.
Jen Jamula: Wow.
Alli Goldberg: Yeah.
Jen Jamula: All right.
Alli Goldberg: It’s absurd how the complaints are the same every time.
Jason Feifer: They’re exactly the same. What’s so funny about these is that people are writing as if they are describing something very specific but when you put these things up against each other, they could be from any time at all. There’s nothing specific about what these people are thinking.
Jen Jamula: Yeah, we’re talking about an inherent selfishness that younger people have, but they just do. Let’s not condemn them for it.
Alli Goldberg: Well, it’s also you’re young. You’re figuring out yourself. It makes sense.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. And is that a problem or is that just youth and we all need to accept it?
Jen Jamula: I think it’s human nature, let’s make the best of it. Let’s make it an exploratory time and not judge people, says the millennial.
Alli Goldberg: Kids today.
Jason Feifer: Thank you guys so much for playing my stupid game.
Alli Goldberg: That was really interesting.
Jen Jamula: It was fun. Anytime.
Jason Feifer: Okay. Back from the game. But here’s the thing about all those quotes that Jen and Alli just heard, they all came from older people criticizing younger people. That’s usually how this works of course. But it’s important to note that young people get into the act too. They’re bashing their own generation. For example, there’s this 1980 piece that ran in the Washington monthly called fear of success which paints the youth of the day as so lazy and dispirited that they literally aspire to nothing. “These kids of 1980,” and here’s a direct quote from a piece, “believe it foolish to gamble for accomplishments when accomplishments will cause more to be expected of them.”
The author of this was Gregg Easterbrook and at the time he was exactly as old as the people he was criticizing. He was taking on his own generation, accusing his fellow 20 somethings of longing for boring and unchallenging jobs and self-sabotaging the romantic relationships and even refusing to vote for fear of believing in change. Gregg Easterbrook would go on to have a long and successful career as a journalist and author and I was curious what he thinks of all this today. Now that almost four decades have passed since he wrote that piece and he got to see how his generation actually turned out.
Jason Feifer: Do you think that in 1980 when you wrote that and had this view of your generation, that you envisioned your generation coming out of it?
Gregg Easterbro…: Yeah, that wasn’t in the piece. If you’d asked me that in 1980, I would have taken a negative view of thinking, oh my God, things are so screwed up, how are we ever going to bounce back from this? And when you ask me that today, I would say, “Well, my generation has done an approximately average job.”
Jason Feifer: And I get the sense that for Gregg a approximately average job is actually a pretty decent compliment. Later in our conversation, he’d even call his generation relatively accomplished. He’s happy with how his generation opened up to acceptance of sex and different people in general culture. And now that he looks back, he sees his own responses to his generation as part of a pattern, one in which each generation has super high hopes for itself and then gets disappointed and then comes to accept its own accomplishments. It’s a pattern that you can see beginning all over today. Just listen to the self criticisms from millennials and gen Z-ers as they complain that their peers are too entitled or lazy or sensitive or self obsessed or whatever the case is. And sometimes New York Post writer Johnny Ola Sinskey they even get to go on Fox and friends and feed themselves whole to Fox News’s audience of hungry old people.
Voice Clip (Fox News): Yeah, because the title of your piece, I’m a millennial and my generation sucks just talks about how the millennials don’t get off the couch very often.
Voice Clip (Johnny Ola Sinskey): They don’t. Actually I wrote another piece for The Post not long ago about millennials being the shut in generation. I interviewed several who’ll spend whole weekends at home very proudly just binge watching Orange is the New Black.
Voice Clip (Fox News): Or doing a Snapchat.
Jason Feifer: Or doing a Snapchat? Oh man. The irony of a bunch of people on TV making their audience feel smug by talking about a different audience of people who sit and watch different TV. God. But anyway, all of this of course raises a question, what propels this cycle? Why does each generation go through this self loathing before coming out on the other side? Greg Easterbrook has a theory because he grew up hearing a very particular thing about his generation, a thing that the older generation kept telling him.
Gregg Easterbro…: My generation clearly we hear all the rhetoric about the greatest generation wins world war II, overcomes the depression. These are great achievements. What have people my age ever done that compares to that? I think you could find that cyclically in history, the young worry that they’re not as good as the old.
Jason Feifer: He heard it from his elders. It’s like that old public service announcement.
Voice Clip: Who taught you how to do this stuff?
Voice Clip: You all right. I learned it by watching you.
Jason Feifer: You taught it to me dad, you did. But seriously that actually literally is what’s happening. They learned it from watching us. When the older generation criticizes the younger generation that doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Do you think young people don’t hear that? They hear it. They internalize it. What monsters we become. We bring a new generation into this world only to convince them of their shortcomings. We send children off into the future telling them that the greatest moments have already passed, telling them that we were better than them, that we’ll always have been better than them and that no matter what they do in this world, no matter how hard they try, they’ll never top us. We did it right. We did it perfectly. We watched Fox and friends instead of Snapchatting our way through Orange is the New Black so the bar is set in possibly high kids, might as well give up now.
So with that, it’s finally time that we got to the big question. Why do we do this whole thing? Why do we participate in this terrible cycle? This ceaseless insulting of the next generation. What is possibly the purpose of it all? And now there are no shortage of theories to answer this question, just Google around you’ll find a million of them. For example, there’s a popular Quora thread headlined, why do older generations seem to love criticizing younger generations? And it looks it’s mostly millennials answering the question, but to get a sense of it, to get a sense of the way that people talk about this, here are a few answers from this thread word for word.
Voice Clip (Quora): It’s because people of the previous generation have the inability to adapt.
Voice Clip (Quora): Tribalism is human nature. We like to organize ourselves into groups, both by joining like people and opposing unlike people.
Voice Clip (Quora): It sucks becoming old. You become less attractive, less physically capable and to some degree, mental abilities decline. People stop paying attention to you, as a result, people become cranky and defensive and constantly want to relive their glory days by contrasting them with what they see in front of them.
Voice Clip (Quora): We all crave safety and many people feel safe by building walls of principles. This is good. This is wrong. This is not like this.
Voice Clip (Quora): Because there’s nothing better to do.
Jason Feifer: I love that last one. It’s like, “Well, Hey, Fox and friends is over and the early bird buffet doesn’t open for a few hours so we might as well hate on some millennials.” But as I read a ton of explanations like this, I kept feeling like there’s got to be something deeper, something more fundamentally human, something that gives this generational divide some kind of purpose. It can’t just be random bias. It has to be the result of something, a symptom of something. And that is how I ended up learning about, you’re never going to guess. Seriously, it’s so random you’re never going to guess.
Andrew Rabin: The basis of all legal relationships in the middle ages was land.
Jason Feifer: Land rights in the middle ages. Who knew? That’s Andrew Rabin, he’s been on our show a bunch of times before. He’s an English professor at the University of Louisville with a specialty in early medieval law and literature. And I had originally called Andrew figuring that he’d have some good examples of Anglo-Saxon old people hating on the millennials of the 10th century and oh yeah, no problem there.
Andrew Rabin: There is a very clear sense that say in Beowulf, with the death of Beowulf, that the age of heroes has passed and that the younger generation is not as heroic.
Jason Feifer: Though Andrew says that’s often a staple of Epic tales going back to Homer and Shirley beyond. It was the age of heroes and now all we do is make podcasts. But those stories are just stories we tell. What about the lives of everyday people? That’s how Andrew and I ended up on the subject of land rights. So Andrew started telling me about how land was the basis of all legal relationships in the middle ages, and stick with me here because this actually does come back around to our central question about why old people hate the young. So, all right, land. Land is everything. Land is status, it’s economic opportunity, it’s power. And if land is also the center of legal relationships, that means that land was also the basis of family relationships as well, which means it’s the guiding force from one generation to the next.
Andrew Rabin: So that doesn’t mean that parents didn’t love their children, children didn’t love their parents, but when you’re talking about law, the primary purpose of the family unit was to ensure the proper descent of land.
Jason Feifer: And just to hammer this point home, this is also why rape was conceived of as a crime in the middle ages. It wasn’t actually because of any perception of women’s rights. Would you expect otherwise? No, rape was a problem because if it resulted in a child, it would confuse the descent and inheritance of land and land as we’ve established was everything. But here’s the thing about land, because it’s meant to be passed down from one generation to the next, that means that you, the parent, the person who owns the land will at some point actually pass the land down from one generation to the next. The rules were different in each community, the age that a child has to be before they receive the land and the reasons why land will be passed. But the point is, at some point, a parent may face one of two options, either pass down the land or refuse.
Andrew Rabin: In which case they have a real interest in either keeping their child at an age of minority as long as possible through whatever means necessary or finding ways of retaining the land possibly illegally, for instance by burning all the legal documents or claiming the legal documents had been lost, that dictated that the land would have to be passed along.
Jason Feifer: So a parent is supposed to pass land to their child and if the parent doesn’t and instead pulls an Enron scandal and destroys the documents, then the child might sue the parents to get the land. And this would happen a lot, enough so that Andrew was actually able to write an entire academic paper on it. So for example, here’s a real world example that he found from sometime between the years 916 and 935. And buckle up because this thing is about to get Game of Thrones. So all right, there’s a kid named Edwin and he is a Edwin son of Anyan.
Brent Rose: I am Edwin, son of Anyan.
Jason Feifer: And Anyan died when Edwin was young. That meant Anyan’s land defaulted to his wife who is Edwin’s mom, but then Edwin became of age and Edwin was like.
Brent Rose: The land is mine now.
Jason Feifer: But Edwin’s mom didn’t want to give up the land so Edwin sued his mom and the case ended up in front of the chief judge whose name was no joke, Thorkell the White.
Brent Rose: My name is Thorkell the White.
Jason Feifer: So chief judge Thorkell the White called Edwin and his mom into court to settle the matter. The question of the day, who should own this land, Edwin or his mom? And here’s what the surviving court record tells us about what happened next.
Andrew Rabin: So the mother then she swells up with anger, we’re told in the document which is a interesting moment in itself. And she rewrites her will on the spot to benefit the wife of the chief judge rather than her own child.
Jason Feifer: Shocking twist. Right there in the court the mom is like, “Oh hello chief judge Thorkell the White. I have an idea. This land belong to my son. It should belong to your lovely wife.” And what do you think Thorkell the White has to say about this?
Brent Rose: Well the land is mine now.
Andrew Rabin: The court rules in the mother’s favor. The mother gets to keep the land, but at her death the land goes to the family of the chief judge.
Jason Feifer: And what happened to Edwin, who now had no land? That part is lost to history. So by now you’re surely wondering two things. One, why hasn’t someone started a death metal band and named it Thorkell the White? And that’s a very good question. Maybe you should do it. And question number two. Why have we spent the last few minutes learning about medieval land disputes? And that’s also a very good question. I have no idea. I just thought it was interesting. Kidding. I kid. It’s because as Andrew Rabin was researching all of these land disputes and watching these parents find sneaky ways to separate their land from their children, it occurred to Andrew that this is a representation of exactly why older generations look down upon younger generations. It isn’t out of some sense of malice or confusion or frustration. It’s out of fear.
Andrew Rabin: A child is a reminder of mortality. Once you have a child, you can get displaced. And so when you dismiss children, when you say that they are not living up to the standards of the older generation, part of what you’re saying is that this child cannot replace me. This child isn’t good enough to replace me. I am in some sense irreplaceable. I’ve conquered my mortality in that way. I have shown that I am too important to be replaced by this person whose basic job in the world is to replace me. And that’s the anxiety and part that comes with these lawsuits about land. Because once the child gains the land, the child has replaced the parent.
Jason Feifer: Why call the next generation lazy? Because that means you’re still valuable. Why call the next generation entitled? Because that means you’re still reliable, that you still deserve the land, that the land can survive without you, land. It’s so simple, so basic that it reflects our basic humanity. Now this I think is what it really means to create the generation that will replace us. We talk of children in terms of continuity, right? We say they carry on our traditions, they take our names. We delight in how they look us and act us and think like us. We want our kids to adopt our politics and our causes and our sense of meaning. In our children we seek immortality, but then they grow up and we discover they’re not us, they are their own people. They’ll find their own politics and their own causes and their own sense of meaning.
They’re more interested in the future than the past. They’ll know their parents’ names of course and probably grandparents’ names but perhaps not their great-grandparents names and certainly not their great, great grandparents names, which means that one day they’ll have children and those children will have children and our names will begin to be forgotten too. We will slip into nothingness, remembered by nobody, having left no recognizable impact. That’s why we say those kids are no good. We can’t accept that life goes on without us. And instead of accepting it, we lay the blame for the whole state of affairs at the feet of the next generation. And yet every once in a while, the cycle is momentarily broken. The old grump, the one bitterly protecting his own mortality will stop and look around with clear eyes. So let’s take a moment to celebrate a man who did just that. Remember Ira Wolfe from the beginning of this episode, he’s the business consultant who wrote the book Geeks, Geezers and Googlization and spent a chapter describing millennials as the dumbest generation.
Ira Wolfe: They were this horrible, spoiled, rotten, narcissistic, egotistical, lazy generation.
Jason Feifer: But even as Ira was writing that book and even as he was advising his clients to beware of millennials, he was starting to realize that the narrative he’d heard about this generation didn’t actually match the young people he’d meet.
Ira Wolfe: We go out to dinner a lot. We’d go to a movie and then oftentimes we’ll go to a local restaurant and we might even sit at the bar although my favorite drink’s a diet Coke. But we’ll sit there and I listened to these young, lazy, narcissistic, egotistical kids who they were either starting up companies, they were entrepreneurs. The gig that they had at the restaurant as a server or as a bartender were all third jobs, and they were going to school and they were working. So it was somewhat that there was this paradox I heard on one side. I was writing about this really lazy generation and this bad group of kids and what we’re going to do when they all grew up and yet the millennials I was meeting weren’t the same. So I started to question that.
Jason Feifer: And he started to realize, this generation was just entering the workforce during the recession. There were no jobs, they had to create their own way and do things that didn’t fit what an older generation might recognize as a respectable career path. And now look at their hustle, look at their determination. So after a while, he started to change his mind. He began calling himself a recovering millennial basher. And when clients called him up asking for advice on hiring and they started complaining about the millennials on their staff, he’d tell them this.
Ira Wolfe: First of all, you got to change your mindset. If all you’re attracting is egotistical, lazy, narcissistic, uneducated kids, it’s a marketing problem, it’s an image problem because you’re hanging out with the wrong people.
Jason Feifer: Every generation has good and bad people. And if you’re a company that’s hiring millennials but your executives don’t actually trust millennials, well that becomes pretty obvious pretty fast. The good millennials will sniff that out in a second and they’ll go elsewhere where they have a right to be valued. All that you’ll be left with is the bad. You get what you give. And it’s funny, as Ira told me all this, he began talking about his own generation which is the baby boomers and how some of them are just as entitled and narcissistic as the millennials they attack, which made me think to ask him something.
Do you remember as a baby boomer, what the older generation said about you when you were young?
Ira Wolfe: Oh yeah. The same thing. We were lazy, narcissistic, egotistical, idealistic, promiscuous.
Jason Feifer: The same thing. When the baby boomers were kids, they were insulted by the older generation, then the baby boomers became the older generation and insulted the next generation in the same way. You know what this sounds like, right? It’s a generation long abusive cycle, and it’s not like this is some new observation. We found a 1928 newspaper column called random ramblings which was written by somebody who just called themselves the rambler, which I guess sure. Why not? Anyway, it’s in the Edwardsville Intelligencer of Illinois and it was talking about how every day a new experts seem to have an opinion on the modern youth saying that they were corrupt or pure leaving people with no idea what to think. And then the rambler 1928 concluded with this.
Brent Rose: So the discussion goes on interminably. History dictates the [inaudible] of young folks has always been an issue. It seems to be in controversy today. Perhaps it will never be settled.
Jason Feifer: No no rambler, but it can be settled because the saddest strangest and get ultimately most hopeful part of this cycle is this, the evidence to defeat the cycle is already in our hands. It’s in each of us, each of us having come from some generation that was dismissed and discouraged, that was spat upon by the people that came before us and yet what did we do? Did we fail as hard as they wanted us to? No, we rose, we flourished, we contributed to advancements in science and technology and arts and culture. We were kinder and more open-minded than those that came before us. We broke down more barriers. We achieved. We continue to achieve and we will achieve more before we’re done. We are proof that the older generations insults were worthless. We are all the evidence we need. But as we compliment ourselves for all of our accomplishments, let’s at the same time swallow a slightly bitter pill.
And here it is, despite all we’ve done, we’re not actually special. History will not remember us as unique. We’re just the latest in a long line of accomplished generations and the line will keep going. We’re as good as they were, we’re as good as they’ll become, we’re sandwiched in between. The greatest thing that we can do that is use our time wisely, to tend to our land as best we can and to support the people who will one day take that land over because someone will eventually take it over. That part is inevitable. So don’t worry. That is the best that I have to offer so don’t worry. The land will be just fine. We’ll all be just fine.
And that’s our episode, but wait I’ve got one last thing for you. This episode largely focused on the English speaking world and the way that it’s older generations grumble about the younger generations, but of course generational divides are a universal issue. So I got to wondering what does it sound like in other languages? And I assembled a pretty cool answers with voices around the world and I’ll share all of that in a minute. But first have you subscribed to Pessimists Archive wherever you get your podcasts? If not, please do that so you won’t miss an episode and leave us a review too. You can also follow us on Twitter at pessimistarc, that’s pessimists A-R-C where we’re constantly tweeting out the ill-conceived words of pessimists throughout history, or visit our website, pessimists.co where we have links to some of the things discussed in this episode.
And we love hearing from our listeners so please drop us a line [email protected]. Thanks to the people I interviewed in this episode. Ira Wolfe, Richard Saller, Gregg Easterbrook, Pessimists Archive regular Andrew Rabin and of course Alli and Jen from 2 girls 1 podcast, definitely check that show out. Many of the voices you heard this episode were from the actor and journalist Brent Rose, who among other things gave me a very difficult decision of which Thorkell the White voice to choose from.
My name is Thorkell the White. My name is Thorkell the White. My name is Thorkell the White. My name is Thorkell the White.
And we also heard the voice of Nat Silverman who is Alli and Jen’s producer, as well as a guy I found on Fiverr who goes by Koji [inaudible]. This episode you just heard is an extended version of a story I originally wrote from medium. We’ll link to it in our website. And thanks to Joe Cohan, the original editor of that story who was also the guy to come up with the idea for the story as well as Elizabeth Brier who helped out with the research. Our theme music is by Casper baby pants. Learn more at babypantsmusic.com. Pessimists Archive is supported in part by the Charles Koch Foundation. Learn more about the foundation at ckf.org/tech.
The Pessimist Archive Team this episode included Louis Anslow and Chris Cornelis. We were recorded by Charlie Culbert at [inaudible] sound and edited by Alec Bayless. And now back to my question from a minute ago. What do cranky, older generation sound like in other countries and languages? To find out I asked my Instagram audience from around the world to send me little audio grams. I wanted them to say and then explain a common phrase in their language that’s used to dismiss young people and some really wonderful stuff came in. So here’s a sampling of that.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): My name is [inaudible]. In Persian we say [foreign language] and it’s usually expressed with a superiority tone. It means, before turning to a sour grape, you have become a Muscat raisin. It refers to the wisdom and experience. And what older people say to the younger to set a tone.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): Hi, I’m Stephanie [inaudible] and in Mexico and in Spain we say [foreign language] an old dog doesn’t bark in Maine. And that means that Eller knows better how to detect a danger or bad deals.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): I am [inaudible]. In Arabic, we say [foreign language]. It’s used by older people to say that young people are just motivated and they know nothing about what they are talking about.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): I am [inaudible]. In India we say [foreign language] which translates to my hair did not turn white for no reason, which means my hair is white, yours is black. My hair turned white for many reasons than just aging.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): My name is Maria and in Guatemala we say [foreign language]. This is the saying older people to younger guns, which means that the devil is wise because of his age rather than because he is the devil himself.
Voice Clip (Instagram Audience): My name is [inaudible] and I’m from Asia Pakistan. So this phrase that I’m going to share with you guys, it’s an [foreign language] and it really has that heartiness element, the arrogance that you actually show while losing or probably winning an argument. And it actually means that you’re coming up with an analogy, a comparison that the kind of experience you possess in a certain topic is much more than the other person’s entire lifespan.
Jason Feifer: That’s all for this episode. Thanks for listening. My name is Jason Feifer and we’ll see you in the near future.