Ageism is characterized by negative stereotypes of, and discrimination against, people in specific age categories such as the elderly and adolescents (although neither group can be clearly delineated). Generally, the underlying causes of ageism can be connected to economic restructuring. When a group is seen as unnecessary, unproductive, or burdensome, its members are stereotyped, caricatured, and blamed for dysfunction in the economic system.
Like a Supreme Court justice said about pornography, I can’t define ageism but I know it when I see it. The self described neo-conservative David Brooks – a shallow pundit, if ever there was one – provided a sterling example of ageism in a New York Times op ed piece last week. The column, entitled “The Geezers’ Crusade,” set forth the following three complaints about the older generation (however that is defined): (1) “Far from serving the young, they are now taking from them,” (2)they are taking freedom because, “in 2009 every single penny of federal tax revenue went to pay for mandatory spending programs,” and (3) they are taking opportunity because they are causing higher tax rates, which “mean less growth and fewer opportunities.”
In his vicious attack on older Americans who need Social Security and Medicare for survival, no distortion was beneath this rich, white guy. For instance, he claims that “the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.” This is blatantly false and is designed to pit one group of Americans against another – a tactic we have seen employed by reactionaries throughout U.S. history.
Adolescents and young adults are also catching it these days. Have you looked at The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein? This author thinks the younger generation is going to hell in a hand basket due to digital technology characterizing the era in which they have grown up. I become especially incensed when I see these attacks on youth. I am around college students on a frequent basis. What a great group of young people we have coming up these days!
Until very recently, adolescents and young adults played a vital role in capitalist economic systems. Furthermore, they had to work to help the family survive. They provided low wage labor while they learned work habits and matured into adults. As adolescents and young adults are needed less and less in the workforce, they are increasingly seen as a threat. Hence, they have been the primary target of legislation because of a societal problem such as drunk driving. I am certain we will find plenty more for which they can be blamed.