The discrimination of the age

There are many kinds of undue and harmful discrimination in modern society, all of which collectively tend to privilege a few. Women are treated with less respect and given fewer opportunities than men; heterosexuality is privileged over “deviant” forms of sexual identity and the alphabet community (currently LGBT and variants) has fewer rights than the heteronormative community; racial discrimination is rife in places like Australia, America, India, Malaysia, China, and so on; ethnic nationalism is on the rise worldwide; and mental illnesses are consistently caricatured in the general community; religious and freethinkers are considered less than human; and the poor are treated as moral failures and a burden on society. I sometimes think that if you removed all the discriminated classes of people from society, you’d be left with a dozen or so individuals. Worldwide.

Generic culture is framed by the media and political classes in such a way that these which form a majority in society are pictured as exceptions instead, and so most people find a way to ignore their own deviance and pretend or aspire to being “normal”. Much ink has been used on the topic, so I won’t belabour the point. But I would like to note a kind of discrimination that is rarely if ever discussed even by those who advocate for equal rights in the other cases. It is ageism, and I want to also point out a form of it that is not usually talked about even when ageism is.

Ageism is general thought to be discrimination against those who are old. I have certainly suffered from this: despite my academic achievements, I do not even get invited to interview for jobs, because I got my doctorate at 48, rather than 28, since I studied while working full time and raising a family. Hence it took me 24 years from my entering tertiary education (at 24; I was kicked out of high school, long story) to getting my PhD. I was lucky enough to get a postdoctoral fellowship with the estimable Paul Griffiths, who saw past my age, but since then I have not been so lucky. And I am one of the luckier ones. The number of people who are unemployed in their 50s, who are unable to get regular or even any work is rising. In Australia alone, there are over 140,000 unemployed older people who do not qualify for the aged pension, and even if they get it, cannot live on just that income.

But that is not what I want to discuss now. Despite it being my condition, it is one of two kinds of ageism. The other is ageism against young people. Recently the British minister for employment, Esther McVay, said that young people do not want to work and are unwilling to turn up on time. In short, it is their fault.

In an interview with the Mail, she admitted that young Britons are less prepared for the world of work than foreign migrants and need to learn the basics, such as turning up on time.

But she insisted that those who want to work hard can succeed if they are prepared to learn the ropes and ‘be realistic’ about their abilities.

The most recent figures revealed that 941,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are out of work, while 282,000 under-25s have been jobless for a year or more, the highest level since 1993.

Miss McVey, 46, vowed that tackling youth unemployment will be her ‘top priority’ but said that those looking for work have to be prepared to get a foot on the ladder before expanding their horizons.

Asked if they should be prepared to take ‘entry-level jobs’, she said: ‘Absolutely. You could be working at Costa. But in a couple of years’ time you might say, “I’d like to manage the area” or might even want to run a hotel in Dubai.’

Last year, more than 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at a new Costa Coffee shop in Nottingham, which paid between £6.10 and £10 an hour.

But the minister said many young people have unrealistic expectations about what jobs entail, and it is only when they start do they realise it can take years to become proficient.

She said: ‘Everybody says, “That’s what I want to do,” but I think you’ve got to realise the hours, the years [needed] to be able to do that job. When you see your first piece of work and compare it with who you want to be, all of a sudden you realise what skills you don’t have.’ [Where else? The Daily Fail]

One wonders if there are 941,000 jobs at coffee shops in the UK. Similar comments are made in Australia, where youth unemployment is 50%, although it seems that widespread attacks upon the young themselves is yet to begin. Moreover, there are often comments about how badly young people behave: they are portrayed as violent, rude, criminal and unprincipled. I can safely say, having been involved in education for around the past ten years, and seeing young people (under their mid-20s) give me seats when I was on crutches the year before last, when fit young business types would raise their newspapers as they sat in the disabled seats on trams to pretend they hadn’t seen me. I believe that young people today are exemplary human beings most of the time (subject to the 95:95 rule), and generally behave much better than their elders-but-not-betters. If I have any criticisms of the young, it is that they are too nice. A bit of bolshevism wouldn’t go astray. But that’s not their fault. They have been encultured to behave and toe the line.

Any sentence that begins with “Young people of today” and does not end with something like “are fantastic human beings” indicates that the speaker is a perfect prat, one of the “normal” privileged. And they are the problem, not the youth.

3 thoughts on “The discrimination of the age

  1. I do believe you have just described the human condition? Deep down everyone discriminates against anyone who is “different” than them…


  2. I am frequently the one who gives up her seat to someone older or less able and I am older than you, Young John. However, I will now pay more attention to how old the other stander uppers are.

    Must you always make me think?


  3. I’ve long marvelled at the concept advanced by apologists that one is ‘too qualified’ for a job. Most irritatingly, this is said by people who claim to be supporters of the Great God Market. A real organization would (theoretically) want the best possible employees. The fact that they don’t is sign of the fact that the Great God Market doesn’t exist.

    Both on the young and old side, there’s far too much attention paid to the age of the applicant rather than their ability to do the job. Peeving me as, in addition to you, my son is trying to find suitable employment. In both cases, seriously smart, talented, and hard-working people.

    Susan: It’s his philosopher’s curse!


Leave a Reply