A generation of pragmatists : LEADING ARTICLE

Click to follow
Generation Y - today's young people - emerge from the pages of this week's Independent as nobody's fools. They are not the generation of shiftless junkies or demotivated street brawlers of popular myth. But neither are they sweet, naive and unform ed, experimenting with life in the manner of earlier generations. Rather, they paint a picture of themselves, in their own words, as a strangely practical and realistic bunch. They are, in some ways, very old.

These are the children of the flower-power generation, and it shows. There isn't the degree of alienation that most groups of adolescents since the war have felt from their parents. Today's young people have been reared by mothers and fathers who have recognised the need to talk to their children, rather than just tell them what to do. So, instead of using the language of rebellion and rejection, Generation Y speak about their parents with tolerant exasperation. It isn't their attitudes they abhor, it is their ignorance.

This may explain why those touchstone subjects that have convulsed relations between the generations in the past - drugs, sexuality and politics - are regarded with an almost utilitarian lack of anxiety. Drugs are so widely used, despite their illegality, that there is no more need for a drug culture than there is for an alcohol culture. In fact, a drug is subjected to a simple and practical test - are the dangers outweighed by the pleasures? This consumer psychology has important implications for future drugs policy.

They are also the inheritors of the gender revolution. The label of feminism may not be popular, but in their thinking this generation has come closer than any other to accepting its tenets. Girls don't demand to be treated as equals - they expect it. Having grown up in the full shadow of Aids, it is hardly surprising that they are well-informed and unromantic about sex.

As one would expect, they share in the general contempt for party politics and the antics of parliament. Nor are they tempted by great crusades or ideologies. Their pragmatism finds expression in their support for campaigns that tend to be local and causes that are winnable. More interestingly, they dine a la carte politically, backing ideas from either left or right: a minimum wage for low-paid workers from the left, workfare for those claiming unemployment benefit from the libertarian right, for example.

Appealing to Generation Y will be a challenge to politicians and opinion formers over the next few years. The evidence suggests that it will best be done with honesty and realism, not hot air and rhetoric.