Friday, December 05, 2003

Avoiding intergenerational conflict

Fellow Gen Xers Simon Castles and Peter Chen have recently written to this effect.

Personally, I am less optimistic that anything could, or should, be done. If the housing market collapses – and I’m praying for main course Schadenfreude on this front (John Quiggin’s predicted 30-40% price fall is only entrée-sized, in my book) – the fallout from this may snowball into other long-overdue policy changes, like mass job creation schemes (particularly for tertiary-educated GenX men), but I’m not holding my breath.

Some grounds for optimism over my generation’s plight do exist, however. Unlike a fair few of the educated-but-drifting GenX men of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, we have resisted that most fucked-up – and baby-boomer-invented – career option of all: becoming cheap suicide robots (“cheap” for obvious reasons, and “robots” because the agent is largely denied volition, and therefore dignity, in terms of the time and place of their suicide).

In Germany, the educated GenX male labour surplus has also seemingly taken a gruesome turn – of young men wanting to get killed and eaten. While the current trial of Armin Meiwes involves a boomer sautéing another boomer – all fine and dandy, if you ask me – another detail from the trial suggests the classic Osama organisational set-up: an engineered shortage of places at the top, and a perverse surplus at the bottom:

In Germany about 200 people on the internet were offering to be slaughtered, 30 ready to do the slaughtering and 10 to 15 wanting to watch.

In case you don’t get it, such hierarchical labour-market pyramids are perverse because they commodify death – and “commodify” here in the strict sense. Al-Qaida and the German cannibal sub-culture do not operate as whole-of-life cults/brainwashers; instead, they offer nothing more – or less – than a career path in a theoretically competitive, but utterly-denuded marketplace.

In Australia, as I said, we don’t have these things – although perhaps it is only a matter of time. If indeed death does become a career path for numbers of Australian GenX men, it will be interesting to see whether it will function as a surplus for boomers' private delectation (as, at base, 9/11 was for bin Laden, a man of unsophisticated tastes), or as something that comes to overwhelm its offerors with the magnitude of its surplusage.

On either front, as the degree of economic inequality between GenX and boomers inexorably increases, the taste of material success can only be refined – should it not, in the meantime, runaway – to the point of toxicity.

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