Ageist for no Reason?

Alongside Fridays for Future and other movements, a new form of generational dispute can be noticed: Young people not feeling that their voices are heard and wanting to break with the past to create their future – by themselves and for themselves.

At first, it sounds like an ideal Diversity story: A pan-European political party, promoting equal opportunity, multi-culturalism, participation and sustainability. As a stark antipole to various nationalist tendencies, Volt is demanding a stronger political Union as well as empowering citizens to strengthen democracy. The latter parts appear to be a standard element of new political parties, for they are in a natural need to reach out to people who are dissatisfied and currently do not feel represented.

For Volt, that group consists of young people. “Above all we also make young politics and above all politics for a generation that still has its whole life ahead of it,” a leader of Volt Germany said in an interview and posted her quote on social media. But why would a party that calls itself “truly open” and “100% democratic” explicitly derogate the majority of their potential voters? A quick look at their programme suggests one possible answer: the wish to change politics, which Volt calls the “fruitless ‘old way’ of doing politics” and “not [to] allow the past to define our societies”.

The fine line between puberty and ageism

In each era, the young generation was impacted by severe incidents or changes. In healthy democracies, civic movements or new political parties emerge as a result – and they are likely to be ‘young’ by evolutionary default. They are vital to societies, systems and states and should therefore be supported. As an immanent issue, the drivers, mechanisms and enthusiasm of young movements are difficult to comprehend by ‘outsiders’. But that is not the case for Volt: Pan-European enthusiasm is even easier to be understood by those who know different currencies and border controls, and who can objectively describe the privileges that we all enjoy today. Being passionately pro-European is probably the least age-related value.

The media, however, keep on highlighting survey results that suggest older generations are less pro-European – as it was the case for those who participated in the Brexit referendum. Other data suggest older people have less affinity to digital technology, environmental issues or equality. At that point, it is only a small step from puberty to an ageism that blames previous generations for having it all messed up. That narrative will propose to break with the past and plan for a clean reset. It mirrors quite exactly the thought process behind many digital start-up companies.

The right and the resources for trial-and-error

Start-up companies drive additional innovation in modern economies, specifically in those where a mix of venture capital and freedom is available. Their challenge is to integrate ground-breaking ideas into an existing reality, including in cases where they create an entirely new market segment. In order to achieve this, they can apply a greenfield mentality combined with an expensive trial-and-error tactic (which is often priced in) or they can strategically explore their fields and adjacent areas to take informed decisions and be impactful from day one.

Most digital start-ups follow the former approach. One decisive driver behind this is the impression of unlimited opportunity which the Internet and its tools suggest: Everything is possible and anyone can do it. This has become one of the implicit norms of a generation that consequently beliefs that most experience (‘it is so last year’, ‘…last week’ or ‘… yesterday’!) will not add substantial value to their plan. While this can be true in some aspects, the reliance on your echo chamber can also lead to limited success or failure. On the other side, there are examples where the start-up has grown and today finds itself in an unfortunate situation – partly because they did not integrate existing experience.

Changing the Europe we have or rebuilding it after it collapses

When the future of Europe is concerned, we cannot afford a trial-and-error approach. Instead, we should develop what we have achieved, recognising the historic journey to date with all its fortunate and unfortunate aspects. “Europe is not an old-school technology that can be replaced by an app,” the European D&I Engineer, Michael Stuber, comments. Similar to his field of Diversity, he sees too much fragmentation in the European movements compared to powerful (current) environmental or other former campaigns. As a pan-European social entrepreneur from day one, he understands the challenges in building a broad and inclusive venture that acknowledges the needs and interests of all stakeholders, groups and regions.

Many of the current business, political or societal initiatives of the ‘younger generation’ – however that may be defined – have two different possibilities to implement their ideas:

  • They can continue to cater to their main clientele and celebrate never-ending success within their filter bubbles, or
  • They can invest additional efforts to integrate different perspectives and realities which eventually will lead to much broader impact.

Admittedly, some might think that the extra effort can be spared if we just wait for the so-called ‘biological solution’ (sic). In this respect, two things should be considered: When you wait for the old ones to retire, you yourself will have reached an older age, to say the least. And when you look at some of the definitions of the European-minded generation, the Erasmus experience kicks in. Well, the first Erasmus generation has already passed the age of 50. So, just like for every other aspect of Diversity: Potential comes in a variety of shapes, colours, genders and… ages.


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