Ok boomer! - Dealing with those who disagree with us

Martin Vengadesan

Modified 14 Nov 2019, 7:22 am

COMMENT | Sometimes I am amazed at the short-sightedness of those on the other side of the political fence.

Be it the voters of Malaysia, the UK, US or otherwise, it baffles me how many poor and middle-class people sell out their own interests to support the likes of Najib, Johnson and Trump.

They vote for a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

Cause if you can’t spot that these fellas are born into privilege, detached from reality and really only care about the interests of their own elite class to the detriment of the rest of us – you must be a moron, right?

But as tempting as it is to just dismiss these people as imbeciles who are “getting the government they deserve”, it’s clearly wrong.

And not only is it wrong – it’s also going to keep progressives at the losing end of the electoral process.

A few days ago New Zealand’s Green party MP Chloe Swarbrick (above) was delivering an impassioned speech about the climate change crisis. Aged just 25, she lambasted previous generations for allowing the situation to come to this, and when she referenced her age, an older MP heckled her for it.

“Ok boomer,” she said in words which have been in common parlance amongst younger internet users – apparently best suited when an older guy begins admonishing the young with a ‘back in my day’ kinda story.

Of course, it touched off a spark of sensitivity from the senior citizens of the post-World War II baby boom generation about age-ism, but it’s missing the point.

Because Swarbrick is right about the urgency in climate change. And she is right that past generations had been made aware of the dangers of unbridled exploitation of our environment, but had not mobilised to heed the call. And she is right that it is younger generations who have the most invested in the future.

Let’s note that we are in a country waiting for a 90-something to hand over power to a 70-something who looks frail after many years in jail. That’s not the future, folks, that’s the past.

The unfortunate thing about the attention that Swarbrick’s quick-thinking barb has received is that it deflects from her main point, and the whole debate has been hijacked. I can only wish that we had such intelligent 25-year-old MPs in our house.

I must confess that I am guilty of using sweeping statements – in my mind at least - to brush off a whole set of concerns that others might have.

It's easy to dismiss people like Jamal and his red-shirts.

Those who supported Malay Dignity Congress – village simpletons led by scheming racists.

Those trying to portray Mahathir as saviour of the nation who should stay on forever and forever – cynical ***-carriers or turncoats.

Making too much fuss about Tamil schools – overly influenced by Rajnikanth movies.

Passionately defensive of mainland China – chauvinists blind to the faults of the dictatorial regime.

Weeping and wailing about Palestine, but quiet about injustice at home – kesian (pity) them, they are brainwashed from birth.

Sabah and Sarawak politicians blaming orang Malaya for their state’s lack of development – wah, party-hoppers and yes-men to BN all these years, now talking big to the max.

There’s a glib one-liner handy to dismiss everybody. To reduce them to a negated stereotype with a withering cutdown.

When I hear people whining and warning about the dangers of liberalism, I think - “What’s wrong with these idiots? All we have really had for most of my life is close-minded conservative rule. Do you really think that’s working?”

But that is clearly not the right approach.

Former US President Barack Obama (above) touched on this point at the third Obama Foundation a couple of weeks in fact, urging liberal people not to attack the other side on a personal level, but to find ways to engage them.

“The world is messy, but you have to realise the people you are fighting - they love their kids too.

“I do get a sense that (people out there are thinking ) - the way of me making change is to be as judgmental about other people as possible,” he said.

“That is not activism, that is not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

Obama rightly said that achieving change was a much more substantial challenge than simply using social media to denigrate those who hold opposing views.

The truth is that the world needs a revolutionary change from a consumerist mindset and identity politics, but people fear and misunderstand the needed changes. We are trapped by our own fears. Fears which allow people to accept illogical and malevolent narratives.

It just so happens that my fear is doing nothing while the world burns, while for many the fear is that change could bring about something worse, and for those living closer to the subsistence line – that change could mean the difference between life and death.

Please note that I am not advocating a wholesale pandering to the fears of the right-wing. More a reminder to myself to engage and not dismiss those with different views. To try and find a little common ground before it’s too late.

It’s been a year and a half since those heady days of the change of federal government, and we can see that the wheels of peaceful revolution have stopped moving forward and are spinning in the mud.

Politicians who were once brave wolves are doing fantastic impersonations of silent lambs.

But the battle will truly be lost when we, the people, turn a deaf ear to one another and refuse to engage, allowing ourselves to be more malleable to those with divisive agendas.

MARTIN VENGADESAN is a member of the Malaysiakini team.

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