Personal circumstances have given me occasion to think about the resentment that naturally festers between young men who are trying to get ahead and old men who are trying to hold on. To a young man, an elderly colleague appears as a creaky and long-winded valetudinarian, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of napping when his office door is closed. To an old man, a youthful colleague appears as a brash and bumptious braggart, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of sexual improprieties when his office door is closed.
But intergenerational resentment runs deeper than this. Old men resent the low value young men place on their wisdom; young men resent the low value old men place on their energy. To the young man, the old man’s wisdom looks like the overpriced bric-a-brac one sees at a shabby roadside flea market. It is advertised as valuable antiques, but is really nothing more than dingy rubbish that is one housecleaning away from the dump.
To the old man, the young man’s energy looks like a mix of self-promotion and folly, a sort of running in circles while elbowing others out of the way. He looks upon youthful energy in much the same way that a tired old dog looks upon the slobbering antics of a bouncing puppy.
And there is, of course, an even deeper layer of resentment. The old man is on the threshold of oblivion and death. He fears what lies beyond that door, and he resents anybody who tries to hustle him through it. If the hustler is a young braggart with a funny haircut and designs on the old man’s office, that only makes matters worse. No one resents pushy people more than a man with one foot in the grave.
The young man stands on the threshold of success, but his fear is not that he will pass through that door, but rather that he will not. This is why he so deeply resents anybody who reminds him of unfulfilled promise and tumbledown dreams. That wheezing buffer in the cardigan sweater is, in the young man’s eyes, a harrowing premonition—an insult, really, and an affront. Little wonder he wishes him out of the way.
Intergenerational resentment is natural because the vanities and fears of youth are not the vanities and fears of age. Being natural, this resentment is ineradicable, but its intensity fluctuates across a wide range. Sometimes it sinks to the level of mutual amusement, or even pity; and sometimes it soars to the level of incandescent hatred. Sometimes young men laugh at the funny old fellows, and sometimes they ardently wish all the old farts were dead. Sometimes old men smile at the gangly greenhorns, and sometimes they wish the bounders had never been born.
Intergenerational hatred is just intergenerational resentment aggravated by circumstance. Personalities are obviously important, since a little bit of tact can cushion the generation gap and cut chaffing to a tolerable level. But this is not a tactful age and we save our solicitude for people we have never met. Technological change greatly aggravates intergenerational resentment because it humiliates old men, feeds the vanity of youth, and destroys the advantages of knowledge and long experience. Even if I have the good fortune not to lose my wits as I grow old, I am absolutely certain to undergo a sort of technological dementia as my mind is rendered obsolete.
But enough of this and back to work before those pushy squirts begin to think I’m napping!