ActivismFeatured

You’ll Agree With Me When You’re Older

Recently (and by recently I mean a month ago) I was in an online argument with someone when they decided to use, as an argument, that I was young and that when I got to be older I would change my mind and come around to my opponent’s point of view. Needless to say, I nope’d out of that conversation too quickly to sum up all the reasons “You’ll agree with me in twenty years” is a terrible argument. But this is what blogs are for, so here:

First, it’s extremely condescending. So condescending, in fact, that it displays a prominent position on the Condescending Internet Argument Bingo card, right there at the top. It’s condescending because of the implications it makes about the younger person’s knowledge and experience. By assuming that my point of view would change as I aged, my opponent was basically saying, “You can’t possibly be right, because you’re younger than me!” Not only did my opponent completely ignore all of the actual points I was making, they essentially took the position that, in an argument between any two people, the older person always wins.

I could choose to be extremely charitable and note that most of the evidence brought up in that argument was anecdotal. In reality, my opponent was likely saying “I have more life experiences than you, so when the debate is between my life experiences and your life experiences, I win because I have more of them.” But this argument still fails. The underlying assumption my opponent was making was that as I got older, my life experiences would turn into their life experiences. It’s one thing to say “I have these experiences that show that your argument is not universal” and quite another to say “You will all become me in twenty years!”

Further, it often turns out that young people are very likely to get it right, while the older generations aren’t. For instance, statistics show that young people are overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage, while seniors are still very much opposed. Similarly, young people approve of interracial marriage almost unanimously, while nearly a third of seniors are still against it. I sincerely hope my future opinions don’t end up reflecting my elders’.

And this raises a broader point about how intrinsically worthwhile the viewpoints of older generations are. Ideas have lifetimes, and an idea that was extremely valuable (or even popular) twenty, thirty, or forty years ago might not be as valuable or popular today. Times change, and experiences that were relevant a generation ago might not be relevant anymore. I’m going to go ahead and argue that the life experiences and ideas of younger people are actually more valuable because of their relevance to the issues and events that concern us now.

In short, playing the “age card” is not only insulting, but inaccurate. Being older doesn’t make your opinions and life experiences more valuable, nor does it give them any extra weight. If anything, it’s the opposite.

And if you disagree, I guess you’re just too old to understand.

Previous post

The Physics Philes, lesson 88: Under Pressure

Next post

Reality Checks: Sports, Billion Dollar Movies, and Being in Awe of the Universe

Avery

Avery

Avery is a 23 year old recent college graduate, and when he's not busy wishing he didn't major in physics, he enjoys go, juggling, and music.
You can find him on his blog, Google+, or on Twitter as @PhysicallyAvery.

2 Comments

  1. March 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm —

    I’m 33 now. In high school I was told that 1) I would grow out of my atheism 2) I would grow out of my love for Ayn Rand.

    Number 2 was absolutely true and thank goodness! Number one not so much.

    Young people really are susceptible to some fallacies more than older people, I think. It’s easier to buy into the “just world” fallacy when you’re young and have less experience of injustice, for instance. On the other hand, old people are more susceptible to other fallacies, like “sunk cost,” given that they’ve already invested a lot on their beliefs.

    But what I remember saying when I was sixteen or so was that if being 40 made you so smart, then all 40 year olds would agree with one another. Instead I found I was usually agreeing with one set of 40 year olds and disagreeing with another.

    If I meet any 40 year olds that still admire Ayn Rand, though (and I don’t meet many) I tend to pity them for not having grown out what I recognize to have been a youthful fallacy in myself. I wonder how they managed to remain so sheltered.

    And if I meet a 16 year old who does, I tend to think… They’ll grow out of it.

  2. March 18, 2014 at 9:58 pm —

    Yeah it’s a tricky thing. Like mks.mary I was unfortunately introduced to Ayn Rand in my teens and bought into the whole philosophy for several years. And if somebody had told me I was wrong back then I would have made the very same argument about the “age card” and the fact that an intelligent person of any age should be able to reach the correct conclusion by thinking carefully about problems, and that life experience is overrated as a means of knowing.

    But the thing is, the longer you live, the more time you spend critically re-evaluating your positions and thoughts on a wide variety of topics…well, at least ideally. I have changed my mind about a lot of things since I was 16, or even 25. And while there are quite clearly many many people in the world who live to be 80 without any serious introspection, there are also people who are seriously committed to a lifetime of careful thought and personal growth.

    So while the “age card” is definitely an informal fallacy, it’s important to remember that informal fallacies don’t necessarily always mean that a given proposition is false. And living longer doesn’t just mean one has had more time for introspection or to collect anecdotal experiences. A voracious reader who is 40 will have read far more than a voracious reader who is 20.

    The world is just too complex for anyone to understand completely in a whole lifetime, let alone a couple of decades. Time is an advantage when it comes to knowledge and understanding; the question is whether any given person has chosen to use it wisely.

Leave a reply