I'll Never Respect My Elders After What They've Done
21 years ago, I walked into my 5th grade teacher's classroom and it was dead silent. The TV was on. Something was happening that I didn't understand, but my instincts told me that This Was Very Wrong. That moment is carved into my memory not because of what actually happened on September 11th, which I was too young to fully grasp, but because the way the adults were behaving signaled to my young mind that this was very important and I needed to remember it.
I have one other distinct memory from that time, which was either someone on the news or a teacher in a classroom explaining that “the goal of the terrorist attack is to make us scared. If we let fear rule us, the terrorists have won.”
I guess I should congratulate the terrorists for winning the war on terror.
The utter lack of rational behavior that followed was something that continued to bother me as I grew up and went to college. I could tell something was wrong, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. As I realized college wasn't going to teach me anything useful, I just started taking more and more difficult classes in an effort to glean math jargon I could Google instead. My faith in institutions was shaken, and continued to decline when I got a job and realized how much of the business world was complete bullshit. However, Obama was president during this time, and as a result I still had some faith that while we clearly had problems, these problems were surmountable. We even signed the Paris agreement in 2015, and I hoped we would finally do something about Climate Change.
Then we elected Trump.
I'm not going to rehash the Trump years, we all know it was a clown show. But somehow, I still believed that Trump had only been elected thanks to massive voter suppression efforts. Then Covid happened, and it taught me a very important lesson: People don't give a shit. We managed to politicize one of the worst pandemics in modern history. We completely refused to obey even a partial lockdown, let alone a full lockdown, or even slow the spread with properly implemented contact tracing and testing, because this required people to act for the sake of their community, instead of themselves. At this point, America is completely incapable of collective action.
Every single year that September 11th rolls around, people point out that 3000 people dying really isn't that many when you compare it to, say, 1750 people dying from firearm homicides every month, which we continue to do nothing about, and every year people say this is in “bad taste” or is “disrespectful”. But now, idiots on social media are trying to say that this somehow isn't the right time to point out that Covid-19 killed ONE MILLION PEOPLE in the United States alone, because we're supposed to stop and remember the 3000 people who died because a terrorist from a group of rebels that we set up in the first place blew up a skyscraper?!
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
You want my respect? How about you explain to me why my friend's boyfriend had to die from a preventable disease just because they lived in Venezuala and never had access to a vaccine that America was hoarding after scientists said this was a bad idea? He's dead now. He's just as dead as whoever was in the World Trade Center when it collapsed. Why are we honoring the people who died from being torn apart in an explosion and not the people who are being torn apart in slow motion by a trillion tiny viruses? Where are the Covid-19 memorials? Why does this country need something to fucking explode before we care about it?!
One of my friends is transgender. Their mom is, shall we say, not supportive, to say the least. Two years ago during the pandemic lockdown, her mom (who works as a nurse) showed up uninvited at her doorstep, without a mask, and essentially barged into her apartment. They messaged me for help, and I showed up to make sure her mom didn't pull any stunts, because we already knew she was extremely manipulative. Meeting this slimy ghoul of a woman for the first time is something I will also never forget, because she made my skin crawl in a way that I can't explain. It was like every word out of her mouth was dripping with deceit. Everything she said was an attempt to control the conversation or weaponize the situation against us. The entire time she misgendered and deadnamed her daughter while showing zero respect to anyone. All she did was act “polite” and then tried to pretend that saying please and thank you means being respectful. As the argument continued, she eventually said The Words.
“You should respect your elders.”
In that moment, it took every ounce of self-control I had to not tell this horrible woman that she had no right to tell me anything. Instead, I simply said “excuse me?", because this was not my fight - I was there to support my friend's decisions, not my own, and to ensure her mom actually listened to those decisions. We did eventually get her mom out of there, but the fact that someone actually said that has stuck with me, because it reeks of the bullshit I have been fed for the past decade from old people who demand respect yet have done nothing to earn it.
I want to make this absolutely crystal clear: I don't respect any elders. They're destroying the planet and they want me to respect them? Get out. I don't think the older generations understand that you don't ask for my respect, you earn it. One of the very few people from older generations that I do respect are my parents, because they never told me I should respect them. They didn't tell me what to do. They simply tried to be good parents and respected me as a person by letting me make my own decisions, and as a result I deeply respect them, and they respect me, because respect is a two-way street.
The bullshit that conservatives say nowadays reminds me of my friend's mom. It's so patently disingenious, so obscenely manipulative, so obviously bad-faith that the only reason I take it seriously is because a real person said the same things to me in real life. I don't think they respect anyone. I don't think they care about anyone other than themselves. To conservatives, social behavior is just a game of pretend where everyone lies about everything all the time. It's performance, where you say the words you're supposed to say and do the things you're supposed to do, and if you don't you're a Bad Person.
The worst part is that this bleeds into programming. When I was a senior at high school, I argued that garbage collected languages were too inefficient for core game systems because it would cause memory fragmentation. I was brushed off because people said that magic heap compaction from the garbage collector would take care of it. 15 years later, all mainstream game engines are still C++ and many have data-oriented architectures specifically designed to minimize memory fragmentation! Despite this, I still see people brushing off younger programmers pointing out that these same problems are precisely why Rust is necessary, but when I step in and make the exact same points, they listen to me, because I'm older and have a job at some game company they've heard of. This means people are not actually listening to the technical substance of an argument, but judging it by the credentials of the author. JeanHeyd Meneide mentions this exact phenomenon in a 2020 talk about problematic behavior in the C++ standards committee, a committee is supposedly purely about technical merit that is nonetheless plagued by intense hypocrisey.
Long ago, we had a hole in the Ozone layer caused by CFCs. World governments got together and banned it right before I was born, and now the ozone has partially recovered. Today, we can't even hit the Paris Agreement goals, we're dismantling nuclear power and replacing it with coal, we continue building car dependent infrastructure while refusing to maintain any of it. We are the architects of our own demise, except I didn't vote for any of this garbage, and other millenials didn't, either. The boomers won't give us health care, they tell us to go to college but won't pay for it, they buy up all the houses, and for good measure they almost took down the entire financial system.
These people want my respect?
Performative social behaviors are not respect, and you are not entitled to my respect, or anyone else's. If you want respect, you can earn it, by respecting the agency of the other person, by actually listening to what they're saying, and by having an honest dialogue instead of arguing over semantics. Maybe if boomers actually cared about other people, they'd get some respect.