There are clues in the ancient myths. The best-known legend about Bronze Age Athens is Theseus and the Minotaur: the story of how King Minos of Crete demanded that Athens send his boys to the island as tribute, to be killed by the monstrous half-man, half-bull creature in their Labyrinth would be eaten.
In one of Athens’ few mythical exploits, Theseus is sent by the city to free the young captives and slay the Minotaur. The myth possibly contains a kernel of truth and symbolizes the submission of Athens to the Minoan Empire in the second millennium BC. However, if you visit the current Minotaur exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, you might suspect that the legend is close to literal truth.
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While I was there, looking at the excavated bones of a teenager lying on a sacrificial slab made me wonder if the Athenian tribute was in fact in the form of young souls and city gold.
Great Britain has become rather Athenian in recent times. Not that we’re entering a golden age – don’t be silly – rather we seem to be sacrificing our children, or at least their future and the future of our yet-to-be-born grandchildren. How else can one view the stormy push of Rishi Sunak’s government towards “maximizing” oil and gas?
The move has little political backing. Instead of making our energy supply safer and cheaper, most oil and gas is profitably exported. Much of the discussion of the Rosebank oil field near Shetland has made little mention of the fact that it is operated by Norway.
According to UK life expectancy figures, someone like me – around 50 years old – has about 30 years left. So it will be around 2050 when I say goodbye to the world. Optimistically, I could – I stress “might” – avoid the worst horrors of climate change. Though the Mediterranean Sea has been burning like a Roman candle every summer for the past several years, perhaps that’s the definition of ‘The Boldness of Hope’. Evil is upon us.
But my children will not escape the climate catastrophe. And I shudder to imagine the world my yet unborn grandchildren will inherit. At the thought we should all sleep soundly in our future graves.
Small wonder, then, that so many young people today – particularly Generation Z, born in the mid to late 1990s – feel that older generations are at war with them. That might be a very crude way of looking at what’s going on, but for someone in their 20s it’s a perfectly understandable position.
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Look at what was taken from them. In many ways, older generations had it all: free education, full employment, cheap housing, good health care, gilded pensions, nationalized public utilities. I was the very last of the “kids on full child support.” The state practically paid for my studies because of the level of my parents’ income. Bingo: Through social mobility, working-class children attend some of the country’s top universities and become doctors, engineers, writers, lawyers and academics.
Today, even in Scotland, where there are no tuition fees, our children are saddled with brutal educational debt. Young people have little chance of climbing the corporate ladder unless their parents are overburdened. That’s why they get sucked dry in the rental market.
Their wages barely meet their needs as we have given them a world of precarious employment and unpaid internships. You grew up in a country where the healthcare system we older people once cherished is now an international laughing stock. For someone under 40, an appropriate pension must be like winning the lottery.
Worst of all, the older generation electorate drove young people out of Europe, robbing them of the identities they grew up with and shattering their dreams of studying and working abroad. The lives of our young people have been shortened by the decisions of their elders.
We – all over 40 – must take responsibility for this. I didn’t vote for Brexit, I didn’t support the destruction of the NHS, I didn’t smile when workers’ rights were eroded or I said, ‘Hey please pull me up the ladder, I just got my free degree , but don’t want one.’ Young talkers get the same perks as me.’ I haven’t done any of this, and probably neither have you, but it was done under our supervision. We were in the voting booths, not our children.
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And yet we – the older generation – grumble about heat pumps and environmental zones; They mock young people who are afraid for their future and who are taking to the streets because of climate change.
How do we have to look to them? It’s easy to find out. We all have young people in our lives. Just ask her. They will tell you that older generations look like selfish idiots sacrificing their future for our suicidal self-interest.
However, it might not be that simple. Do the older generations deliberately put the young on the table? Or is it the government: politicians who for years have courted older voters at the expense of the young to stay in power? After all, it’s easy to be seduced.
Are we – the older generations – just suckers and scapegoats, collectively putting the X in the wrong drawer and looking the other way for too long in a life of endless consumerism, giving power to the most depraved among us? And now they are sending our children to the Minotaur. Are we just stupid, lazy spectators of the catastrophe?
It’s certainly more reassuring to blame the politicians than ourselves.
Here are two facts. First, a company set up by Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law reportedly signed a billion-euro deal with BP two months before the opening of hundreds of new oil and gas concessions in the North Sea.
Second, the Conservatives received millions of pounds in donations from climate deniers and parties with interests in the fossil fuel industry before backing this series of new North Sea energy licenses.
Who brandishes the sacrificial knife over youth? You and me? The governments we elected? Both?