Making a world fit for the young

Carolyn Moynihan
30 April 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The interests of youth and future generations need greater representation in the political system of our ageing societies, argues Australian post-graduate student Luke Kemp, and I agree with him. As part of the ageing problem engulfing many nations, I concede that self-interest does not simply evaporate with age, as the great pension debate has shown.

It is plausible, too, to argue that citizens who are about to shuffle off their mortal coil are less concerned about fracking, or whether the sewerage or public transport system are about to collapse, or what the government should do about youth unemployment. But as Kemp says, these are very live issues for the younger generations who inherit much of the bill for supporting the aged population, as well as a damaged environment and crumbling infrastructure. In fact they are important issues even for people, young or old, who are not much concerned about them. So let's have more focus on the interests of youth.

But there is a difference between youth interests and youth issues. What is in the interests of younger generations may not always tally with the causes that consume them. Some of these give even a fair-minded Baby Boomer pause in front of proposals to give Millennials a greater voice in shaping public policy.

On the eve of the passing of New Zealand's same-sex marriage bill two weeks ago national television showed a group of young people from all the political parties outside parliament demonstrating their support for this revolutionary piece of legislation. Polls here, as elsewhere, have shown that far more young people support "marriage equality" than do over 65s.

I don't blame them for that; they have heard nothing else from school, the media and pop culture than propaganda about gender diversity and the perfect naturalness and loveliness of any kind of sexual attraction and consensual sexual activity.

Young people have been taught that sex is a contact sport that they can play safely by using the right gear and tactics - contraception and abortion. They have deduced from this that sex has nothing essentially to do with marriage or children. Marriage, they have decided, is something to crown a relationship that has lasted long enough to seem like having a chance of survival.

Once again, I can't blame them. It was the Boomers who started writing this life script when they embraced contraception and easy-peasy divorce. The intergenerational contract began to break down, not when they started collecting their pensions, but when they decided that parents had the right to make their children miserable by walking away from each when a marriage got a bit stale.

Two generations have refused to pass on the social and spiritual capital of the family, the values and virtues which are fundamental to the wellbeing of individuals and society, but the majority of younger people appear not to realise that they have been disinherited. No-one has suggested they do a PhD on why we have an ageing society and a population that will stop growing and stagnate - probably before most Millennials die. I will bet that UN chief Ban Ki-moon's special envoy on youth has not been briefed on that.

This is what bothers me about the youth vote and commissions for the future. There can be no future worth the name if the truth about what constitutes the basic health of a nation - that is, human ecology -- is ignored or deliberately withheld. Luke Kemp and his peers need to wake up to this (I am assuming that his silence on this vital area of concern means he hasn't yet) and claim their stake, their interest in the family.

It would benefit the whole of society if we put the real interests of youth and future generations at the centre of political debates. These include, of course, greater care for the natural environment and a fair compromise between the needs of the young and the old when it comes to social support. But these things by themselves will not make the world fit for the young. Only by placing the family and respect for everything that makes the family at the centre of our efforts will that happen.