Not With A Boom But A Whimper

Not With A Boom But A Whimper

"I’ve always seen the boomers as a generational trust-fund baby: They inherited a country they had no part in building, failed to appreciate it, and seized on all the benefits while leaving nothing behind." -- Sean Illing

I think Illing’s core thesis is correct. The boomers (and I'm in that age group) tended to be societal conformists except when it came to protecting their own self interests. They supported the counter culture in the 1960s and early 70s because they didn't want to go to Vietnam, and at that time that meant supporting civil rights and feminism and gay rights because it was all one big struggle against the establishment but as soon as the threat of war ended, those allies were by and large abandoned as the focus shifted to making money. Hippies to yippies to yuppies. 

Clearly "not all" boomers did this, just as "not all" cops are white supremacists, and "not all" men are rapists, but there sure is a problem in those respective cultures that needs addressing and boomers have a problem in theirs. 

The good news is that while they keep recruiting more cops and breeding more males, boomers will eventually die out.

Let me go a little further on the topic of baby boomers, in particular what is meant by that term.

The broadest definition is anyone born between 1946 and 1964; '64 being the year when (a few young teen outliers excepted) the first baby boomers began marrying and starting families of their own.

While I agree all boomers were born within that 18 year period, I don't think everyone born between 1946-64 is a boomer, certainly not what I consider the core of the boomer generation.

To me, a boomer is a person -- 

  1. Born between 1946-64 

  2. In a family started after WWII

  3. By a returning vet or someone who lost family & friends 

  4. And were members of the white majority (by "white" I include Jewish American citizens, European refugees resettling in the US, and Hispanic / Latin citizens who lived in portions of the country where they were not discriminated against but accepted into the mainstream)

I include (2) because it seems to me kids born after 1946 into families with older siblings who remembered WWII had a reality check classic boomers lacked.

(4) is particularly important because these people did not see the end of WWII as a continuation of a struggle the way African-Americans, non-European refugees, and Hispanic / Latin citizens who faced discrimination did.

To white America, the end of the war was the end of the troubles, and having gone through the horror of WWII they didn't want to visit anything like it upon their children...which in and of itself is a worthy objective.

Non-white America, on the other hand, still had Jim Crow and hatred and prejudice to deal with on a daily basis, and while millions of children were born to them between 1946 and 1964, they were never spiritually part of the classic boomer generation.

The classic boomer was a white kid with a lot of toys. They were a generation raised with the implicit knowledge that they were the best people in the best country on Earth and as such entitled to all the nice things they enjoyed.

Their status was judged in no small part by their possessions, in particular name brands be they clothes or toys or cars or fast food restaurants.

As I posted elsewhere, boomers were strict conformists >until< conformity threatened to march them off into a futile jungle war in Asia. At that point (again, 1964 as the oldest boomers became eligible for the draft) they resisted the war and, in order to do so, also aligned or at least tacitly supported civil rights for African-Americans & other minorities, women's rights, and gay rights.

While each of those movements couldn't stand up to the establishment by themselves, united they could bring a lot of pressure to bear, serving as a force multiplier.

But the moment the Vietnam War ended, the boomers pretty much turned their backs on their former allies. 

Hunter S. Thompson summed up boomers perfectly in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

”History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

“My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

“And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

”So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” 

Look how boomers tacitly accepted segregation by fighting against "forced busing" then abandoning public schools for private "Christian academies" where non-whites were routinely excluded (until the feds stepped in an put a stop to that). Look how the ERA stalled out. Look how they let the AIDS crisis roar out of control instead of acting swiftly and compassionately.

Look how their love of money in the 1980s led to the destruction of labor unions (one of the chief reasons their childhoods were so pleasant) and the dismantling of American manufacturing just so they could save a few pennies on their plastic trinkets.

They gobbled up the pro-capitalist / anti-communist jingoism because the capitalists told them those gawdammed commies were going to take away their guns and God and make 'em share with "them" (whichever oppressed minority a particular boomer despised at the moment).

It's not that communism was better or worse, but thinking seriously about communism also meant thinking seriously about capitalism, and boomers by and large didn't want to think about anything but their toys.

Later generations learned / are learning the lessons the boomers as a whole so studiously avoided. I have a great deal of hope for this country as the millennials move into power, and as the white majority continues to decrease to the point where they will be one minority among many.

It'll be too late for the boomers, but hopefully their grandchildren will learn the true meaning of "e pluribus unum".


© Buzz Dixon


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