Prisoner’s Dilemmas: X- The Generation Gap

Photo by Thiago Matos on

The great classical philosopher ironically exemplified the tensions between the youth and older generations. In his famous quote: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” This observation of one of the greatest minds in western history is ironic for several reasons. For one, Socrates; was convicted on charges of corrupting the youth and was sentenced to death. I guess respecting your elders is worthy of condemnation and execution (sarcasm). The man described by the Oracle of Delphi; as the wisest of all men; displays an abundance of ignorance. How could such an inquisitive and contemplative individual so easily dismiss the intentions and innovations of the younger generation?

As brilliant as Socrates was, he was still a mortal man subject to the same biases afflicting all people. There is something deeply human about assuming laziness or bad faith in young people. Why? Why do people have the unfortunate proclivity for underestimating or assuming the worst of the youth? A bias stems from the fact that youngsters lack experience and responsibility. One modern example would be men in their late teens/early twenties leading a hedonistic lifestyle; filled with alcohol, drugs, and tramps. However, as we all understand this is merely a stereotype; not all young men enjoy these pursuits. The probability is higher, that young men would prefer such excesses. In contrast to an older man who is established and married, would tend to veer away from such vices.

While older generations may believe they have the upper hand, but they may have unwittingly locked themselves into a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Sure, speak ill of all young people, but this only deepens the generation gap. There are many other conflicts where both sides defect does not reach a mutually beneficial compromise. Therefore, fitting the textbook definition of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. All the censure and criticisms of the “old people” become background noise, essentially static. Instead of young people viewing these statements as advice or legitimate concern, they perceive them as baseless complaints. The genuine concern behind the derogatory statements becomes lost in translation as mere noise.

This tendency towards mutual defection is a communication breakdown. The younger generation does not understand the older generation(s) and vice versa. Both parties were raised under drastically different conditions, with varying norms. For example, Baby Boomers remember a world without cable. Conversely, Gen-Z could not fathom a pre-internet world. These factors contribute to the social and cultural development of both generations. Beyond the cultural variations between generations, the older generation has the unfortunate propensity to use younger generations as scapegoats for moral decay. In order to resolve the intergenerational conflict, both generations need to listen to one another. The youth would perhaps stop viewing older generations as ignorant, out-of-touch, and backward. Hopefully, older people would stop viewing the youngsters as reckless and amoral. We interact with an individual outside of our generational cohort there are profound information asymmetries, there is no possible way to completely understand the conditions under which the other individual grew up. The best resolution would be active listening, open communication, and an open mind otherwise both sides will merely continue to disparage the other.