Thursday, January 19, 2012

Old Worker & Young Boss--Capitalist Anomaly

The Industrial Revolution Was
Revolting in Many Ways
Many cultures respect and revere the elderly. From Native American tribal groups, to the Hmong, the Aka and the other hill tribes of Southeast Asia, natural human communities reserve a special place for those who have given their time, their lives to the work of the society.

In the corporate world the basic equation of learning and life experience is turned on its head. Youth is sought after and prized while age is feared and despised. This may stem from denial and fear of mortality, but, whatever the cause, this reality plays out in a tremendously inhumane fashion.

Just as the loss of decent paying jobs with union protections and benefits affects us all, this dismissal of the elderly should threaten the young as well as the old. It is a waving red flag from a future where every worker is both disposable and interchangeable. The "there are more where you came from" philosophy hurts everyone and that indeterminate future always seems to approach more quickly than any of us want to believe it will.

Due to the fact that the massive generation of baby boomers is now beginning to become old people, we are faced with the prospect of a society that includes a high proportion of members who are "of age." Throw in the unbridled capitalism that has reared its very ugly head of late and you have the makings of workplace disaster. Combined with the slash and burn workings of capitalism we have the odd and unnatural coupling of young bosses and old workers.

Many of us from the baby boom generation will continue working long into our "golden years," not because they love their jobs, but because, from a financial perspective, they have no choice. The boss/worker relationship is a strained, anti-human one under the best of circumstances. When that boss is half your age, the contradictions and unfairness of the system are magnified and rendered more unfair and ridiculous than ever.

For those who have children it is a particularly ironic bind. Older folks are often told what to do by their adult children, but most commonly, this is after a degree of impairment has set in. Workplace interactions between those of different status classifications can range from low-stress and facile to hierarchical and difficult. It all depends on the specific work site and its cultural norms.

But if corporate stratification followed our native instincts and promoted the values of learning and experience, we would take instruction from those among us from those who have had the time to acquire knowledge, our elders. Try to envision a society where leadership ability was proven over time and not awarded for superficial, extraneous factors like youth, beauty, family money, gender and ethnicity. You need to have a good imagination to even begin.