Now that I’ve reached the ripe old of age of 42, I’ve been married for twenty years, and I’ve partially raised four children.
The older I get, the more I realize how very wrong I was to ever think that a disproportionate number of people older than me possessed some sort of special knowledge about how to properly run one’s life.
The amount of laziness, moral degeneracy, arrogance, and general buffoonery I’ve witnessed among the older set has forever cured me of the idea that my “elders,” prima facie, are a source of wisdom.
This doesn’t mean none of our elders provide excellent examples after which to aspire. Many do.
But the problem lies in figuring out which ones are worthy of such consideration.
Many parents will recognize this conundrum from problems encountered while parenting.
After all, obedience and respect of others, practiced properly, are virtues. But who is deserving of obedience or respect?
As a a parent, what quickly becomes apparent is that it takes very little effort to tell young people they should be obedient to people who are in positions of authority. This, apparently, is what people have done in a great many times and places. Many are told to “respect” cops, soldiers, their teachers, clergy, government officials, parents, elders, and people with impressive titles.
But this is also a very lazy way of teaching children how to engage with their world. Any half-wit can just wave a hand and tell children to respect people in positions of authority.
The proper — but much more difficult — way of teaching “respect” is to teach the young that only some people in positions of authority deserve respect. The hard part is figuring out who deserves it and who doesn’t. (Even more difficult is the task of earning respect from others.)
For example, a police officer who doesn’t know the law, shirks his duty, or abuses his power does not deserve respect. A politician who is dishonest or imagines himself a hero while living off the sweat of taxpayers doesn’t deserve respect. A school teacher who is lazy, teaches her subject poorly, or treats students badly, deserves only contempt. A parent who spends the family budget on toys for himself doesn’t deserve respect. An “elder” who lives a life of dissipation ought to be treated accordingly.
Unfortunately, all police officers wear the same uniform. All politicians wear similar “respectable” outfits. There is no easy way to just look at a teacher or college professor and know if he she is competent.
This task is especially difficult for children who are only just beginning to learn how to differentiate between honorable people, and ignorant fools.
But we have to start somewhere, and a good place to start is not by insisting that just because Old Man Wilson managed to avoid death for a certain number of decades, his words must be heeded.
That many people still believe this nonsense, however, has been on display in recent years thanks to social media and and the seemingly endless number of news articles and op-eds about “Millennials.” The recent rise of the dismissive phrase “OK boomer” has elicited even more whining from some boomers about how the youngsters ought to show them more respect. Some have even attempted to claim the term is a slur like the “n-word” or a violation of federal anti-discrimination law.
And for what exactly is this respect so deserved? Admitting that boomers didn’t directly exercise much political power until the 1990s, we still ask:
Do they deserve respect for running up 20 trillion dollars of government debt since the 90s?
Do they deserve respect for inaugurating a period of endless war that began with the periodic bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, and which continues to today?
Do they deserve respect for ushering in a culture in decline, characterized by latchkey children, widespread divorce and out-of-wedlock children, a rising suicide rate, and the continued obliteration of civil society in general?
Do they deserve respect for the destruction of the Bill of Rights through “patriotic” legislation like the Patriot Act and the continued spread of our modern surveillance state?
Too Much Aggregation
This sort of “analysis” of course, misses most of the details, and relies on broad generalizations. It is not true that all boomers supported the sort of policies that led to endless war, out-of-control spending and the destruction of our human rights. Many boomers actively opposed this sort of thing. But many did either directly or indirectly support all these unfortunate developments in recent decades. And they deserve the scorn they receive.
But this very fact makes our point for us: it is never a good idea to pay respect to elders just because they are elders. They deserve no more respect than anyone else, until proven otherwise. The same ought to be applied to any group demanding respect, whether that be judges, cops, bishops, or university faculty.
Reprinted from the Mises Institute.