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WTF Happened to the Baby Boomers?

Earlier today I replied to a post by actress and former journalist Stephanie Woerhmann, who was writing about the generalized lack of inertia in Generation X and how this resulted, in some ways, from the duplicitousness of the Baby Boomer generation. Here is what I offered in my response, followed by some additional commentary.

As a tail-end Baby Boomer (I’m 52), I can definitely see my reflection in your work. It’s quite true, in my opinion, that the Boomer generation started out with high ideals but ended up consumed by a passion for consumption. It’s an addiction, really, and the cartel for it is legitimate business. Capitalism. The epidemic has washed over us so completely that we feel we have devolved at some basic level, in our DNA perhaps, so that we need this to survive. But it’s our own creation and as complicated as it looks, we can change it. That I think is the mindset of those of us who still believe in humanity.

Now, I am sure there are some who feel that our present form of capitalism was created and established by the Founding Fathers through some Divine Inspiration. Sadly, they’re wrong.  The earliest American economic system was a mixture of old-world ocean-based trading, new world colonization and expansionism, and good ol’ fashion plantation farming, which existed primarily through the labors of slaves.

In fact, up until the 1920s or so, the vast majority of Americans lived on farms, and the primary economy of this country was based on farming.

How far we have come.

In the past 100 years, this nation has catapulted itself not just out of its farming base, but off the planet as well.  This great launch didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen, surprise surprise, because of the Baby Boomers.

It was the creation of those whom Canadian television journalist Tom Brokaw lovingly refers to as “The Greatest Generation,” aka the leaders, veterans, scientists and captains of industry who rose out of the Great Depression and World War II.

It was this generation that was responsible for the military industrial complex, the housing boom, the revitalization of higher education and the development of atomic energy, to name just a few.

But this generation also put its stamp on the American psyche, creating the “Hell or high water” mindset of goal orientation without regard to consequences.

Today, we haphazardly note that the Baby Boomers were the kids of this group, without taking serious note of what this means, e.g., most of us were Army brats.

There are a few points to be made about this.

First of all, Baby Boomers didn’t grow up in a vacuum. We were greatly influenced by our parents. This meant we had a core set of values that included Faith, Loyalty, Discipline, Focus, Bravery, Respect, and Duty.

It’s often said that each generation is the product of a rebellion from the last, and that was true of the Baby Boomers as well. Kids who were born in the Boom had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to life, and they were right. This became the genesis of the Beatniks, the Flower Children and so on, which to many observers blossomed in 1968, the Summer of Love. This generation valued relationships, culture, science, art, music and theater to an unprecedented degree. It was a generation of dreamers, born with a mindset that anything you could envision, you could do.

Of course, because the Boomer Generation hadn’t yet taken the wheel of industry and government, the Greatest Generation was still in control, resulting in the Viet Nam War, which shook the Boomer generation to its core and divided it along several lines that still exist today in the platforms of the two major political parties: gun control, drug policy, womens’ rights, gay rights, immigration, and the military industrial complex itself, to name just a few.

This resulted in a stunning philosophical and political conflict within the Boomer generation itself, which may in fact be its defining characteristic.

At the same time, this confusion enabled the military industrial complex to persist, lazily following behind the technology industry, undermining civil liberties through better surveillance.

Almost every major company in Silicon Valley in the 1960s, 70s and 80s had its roots in some military project of the time, mostly basic research into the computing technology necessary to create and test military hardware. As this technology came online, it spread quickly into university applications, corporations and finally to the general public in the form of personal computing.

But at each step along the way, it fell short.

Raised on values like discipline and focus, the Boomer generation rebelled, looked inward, and then it produced a modern progressive technology-based movement that is removed from the military industrial complex and yet still feeds it.

It is a generation that values freedom and liberty and yet still has the desire for castles, fences, and passwords.

It’s a generation that intrinsically understands that every human being should be able to do as he or she pleases, and yet can’t overcome the tendency to see women as sex objects, homosexuality as sin, and religion as a means of social control.

It’s the generation that put a man on the moon, but still can’t figure out how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

The Boomer generation grew up playing with GI Joes and toy guns, Barbies and pink bicycles, and when it was old enough and mature enough to enter the workforce, it reshaped American industries into modern giants of computing, entertainment, transportation, applied science and pharmaceuticals, to name a few.

But the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree. Certainly, biting into it hasn’t produced the promised magical transformation.

The Boomer generation did produce dramatic social change, but fundamentally, it has sabotaged itself by surrendering that energy and replacing it with a selfish desire for personal gain that has only resulted in riches for a few and painful disappointment for many more.

Today, the Boomer generation is mostly disheartened. Cynicism is rampant. Our politicians still bow to money and the military industrial complex and our business leaders hire and fire their own friends with a casual coldness born of a desire to simply disconnect and protect their own interests.

Cognizant that the old system is broken, but unwilling to continue questioning the ancient narrative of our parents, we’ve given up on the prospect of offering a suitable alternative. We’ve become content to hole up in our homes and market little things to each other. Things that produce complacency or mildly entertain rather than inspiring or moving the next generation to a new level of greatness.

In short, we’ve produced a system that rewards Generation X (a term coined by marketers, of course), to pitch war game apps and Nikki Minaj videos to the planet. We’re not even offering a candle of hope to them.

It’s no wonder there’s restlessness in the crowds.

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4 comments on “WTF Happened to the Baby Boomers?

  1. Charles Jones
    February 4, 2012

    The “Baby Boomers” was a well thought out and insightful article.
    However, I take issue with putting part of the blame on “The Greatest Generation.” These were the men, women (and boys) who fought and died in freezing cold weather, stinking rotten jungles and Pacific islands made up of ash and blood. We owe everything to these men and women that fought a war on 2 fronts and came out (against all odds) victorious.

  2. Doug Thorne
    February 5, 2012

    Sweeping generalizations and vacuous logic. Thank you for not killing any trees while you blessed us with your diatribe.

  3. Lawrence
    February 7, 2012

    Enjoyed this thoroughly, well done.

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2012 by in Social Responsibility.
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