Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 09, 2005

Boomers - the spoiledest generation?

Fully aware of stepping into a hornet's nest, let me give you some (voluntarily provocative) thoughts on the baby-boom generation. Please note that I have tried to list items that are true in most Western countries, and which should not be completely made false by local histories or circumstances.

Do not complain that this is an exageration, of course it is! But can you point to opposite items? Do you want to?

- they have grown up in a time of major growth, thus living their childhood in ever-improving prosperity and in an atmosphere of progress and economic optimism.
They were thus the first generation to have the luxury to revolt against the materialistic preoccupations of their parents while fully benefiting from these material advantages (and not having lived through the Depression and war like their parents)

- they had the incredible chance of living their 20s after the pill and before AIDS, thus being the first generation (and only one so far) able te enjoy sex without limitation and almost without consequences;

- after having experimented with abandon every kind of ideology and -isms, made divorce, single-parent families and criminality grow exponentially, and been generally irresponsible for most of their life, they have lately become "born-again" and are trying to push back medieval morality on the rest of the population ("family values", "war on drugs", welfare reform)

- after having sent their black or poor neighbors fight the Vietnam War, they discredited their military until a few terrorists smacked them in the face, and it suddenly became fashionable - and necessary - for them, fully in power, to use the full force (and more) of the US military to kick Arab ass indiscriminately

- in Europe at least, the social net overwhelmingly favors them, by makingtheir jobs almost untouchable while putting all the needs for flexibility of the economy on the young (who cannot find a stable job easily) and the old (who were kicked out into early retirement or irremediable unemployment).

- they are the first generation to live at a time when (i) there is a retirement age (ii) people live longer than that age and (iii) the system is able to fund their pensions by contributions by those following them - and they could well be the last, as they are keen to let other generations pay - again - for their old age.

- after having been pampered anti-capitalist lefties in their youth, they became ruthless corporate overachievers, and were in charger of the large scale rightist attempt to push back the social net they benefited from but want to deny to others. The massive stock market and housing bubbles this has created have allowed them to capture a huge portion of the wealth (overvalued stocks and houses), at the expense of the young who cannot afford to buy housing or save with a perpective of decent returns

In a word, they are spoiled kids who had everything handed to them on a platter and do not want to share with others.

Please rebut!

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on January 9, 2005 at 08:01 AM | Permalink


Kos cross post

Posted by: Jérôme | Jan 9, 2005 8:44:58 AM | 1


Nice post.

Remember, the boomers who protested are out there. They are just burned out and silenced these days. The David Rockefeller generation saw the protesting boomers as a threat and sought to create a more consumerist society thus silencing any boomer rable. We are reaping the 60s protest today.

The rightest in the boomers were always there, but have only found their real voice in the last fifeteen to twenty-five years. They were always lurking in the background waiting for their chance. Reading the fascist so they could move in as Grover Norquist is doing and tear down what was built by WW IIs generation. Note: GWB came around because he always believed what he's doing, but he was a frat boy that naturally had to sow his wild oats. When he came around he took up the elitist mantle, and frat boys are the boomers in high places that are leading the charge. Notice, most of the boomers like Bush never went to Nam. Mark Sheilds in a article this week, "Is Vietnam service the kiss of Death?"

Notice there are two things that haven't happened in the US. One, the Korean War generation has never had a person elected president. Two, the boomers have never had a actual Nam veteran elected president. The presidency went right from WWII to Nam era. But no Nam veterans.

The leaders of the boomers want to make the boomer so called "sacifice for the good of the next generations" by cutting SS and other social benefits. But the one leading the way, Bushie, is a frat boy who never served in Nam, comes from an elite east coast family, and will never have to worry about his retirement or medical care.

Another point, actually as far as being jailed, Gen X is the most jailed generation in US history and their generation is half the size of the boomers.

But, following the boomers they were the recipients of the clamp down on crime because the boomers did so much bullshit. They reaped what the boomers sowed.

Posted by: jdp | Jan 9, 2005 10:56:23 AM | 2

Well, that's mostly my analysis. They had their cake and wants to fully and entirely eat it too.
They not only are the only generation to have entirely benefitted from all the range of social security gimmicks, healthcare, retirement system and so on, but it should be apparent to everyone that they will also be the only ones to fully benefit from it (think of the current SS reform proposals, and that things will still get worse in the future, even if not as bad as feared; in fact, healthcare costs is where the shit will really happen). They're also, ultimately, the generation who achieved the complete wreckage of the economy and of the environment, to the point of breaking where we're currently standing.
Sure, a minority of them remained honest and decent people who didn't turn their coat when they got rich, but a good deal of the so-called rebel youth from the 1960s just became a bunch of scumbags. Of course, this goes just as much for Europe then for the US; I mean, 95% of the youngs who did May 1968 in France are a bunch of right-wing retards.
I have absolutely no doubt that history will judge that generation very very badly, and I fully expect in the middle run that the youngest ones, in one decade or two, will nastily turn against them - think forced euthanasia for a wide range of elderly people, for instance, just to cut the fat when resources and money will go missing worldwide.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Jan 9, 2005 11:41:06 AM | 3

it doesn't seem that simple to me.

for one thing, a lot of the rightwing impulse in the US is and has always been among the young. College and highschool Young Republicans are a significant force, were a significant force in the 60's as well. it is by no means true that the boomers were generally a lot of "pampered anticapitalist lefties" [methinks Jerome is displaying an uncharacteristic disrespect here for ideological challengers -- a fair chunk of the left impulse of the 60's came from working class thinkers and activists]. there was a core activist group to the left and a core activist group to the right, and a great woolly mass of shallow thinkers and trend-watchers in between -- and the debacle of the Vietnam War greatly strengthened the leftist challenge to state institutions, at the expense of the right which was (correctly imho) associated with the failed criminal endeavour in VN. w/o the galvanising high crime of the VN war, the rest of the social "revolution" (more like a reform movement) of the 60's imho would have taken place far more slowly.

I also question the bland assumption of increased individual (as opposed to State) criminality, which is cited repeatedly without substantiating evidence in rightwing rants everywhere. iirc crime rates in the US have been steady or declining. though US mass media talk up "crime danger" as if most US cities were Baghdad, in reality the average American is at far more risk of becoming roadkill than being murdered by human hand. admittedly, violent crime is far more common in the US than elsewhere but this is a national/cultural problem not a generational one imho. and the association between "lax morals" as in boomers, and physical crime, is a very questionable one. are we then to believe that we would be better off with "strict morals" (as in Dominionists or Shari'a law) and that this would suppress crime? only if we fail to diagnose as crime the stonings, beheadings, imprisonments, whippings, beatings, lynchings and so on that are tolerated and encouraged in "strict morals" cultures adhering to a revealed divine order :-) we should recall that the "good old days" of "strict morals" America in the 50's (the "state of grace" from which we allegedly fell into moral decline) included: forcible psychoactive medication of women who were not sufficiently subservient to their husbands, forcible medication, electroshock and even lobotomy for gays and lesbians, commonplace violence against people of colour up to and including lynching, bans on mixed-race marriage, both cold and hot antiSemitism, and brutal Statist repression of freedom of speech and press (the McCarthy horrorshow). our sogenannte "decline" into moral laxitude was imho an ascent into better public morality, since it meant the abolition (or mostly abolition) of these abuses and many more.

therefore I question the reflex assumption that a rejection of patriarchal tradition -- the father-dominant nuclear family, anti-divorce laws, compulsory pregnancy, legalised child-beating, anti-gay laws and the like -- somehow implies "irreponsibility". irresponsibility is to me far more powerfully expressed in the "devil take the consequences" theories of the neoliberal economists and the unchecked liquidation of resources (this latter has no generational ID tag on it, but has been proceeding at an accelerated pace from Sumer on, in the name of both left and right ideologies).

OTOH I do agree that the boomers, like many other generations before 'em, inherited the fruits of hard work and suffering from their parents' generation and then failed to guard and keep them. they inherited labour rights won at the cost of life and blood by organisers in the violent teens, 20's and 30's. they inherited social programs which were only constructed hastily, post facto, to ameliorate the pain of the last great capitalist crash cycle. and they (we) learned to accept these safety nets and civilising influences as "just the way things are," forgetting that eternal vigilance is the price not only of freedom, but of decency. civil rights that were won at enormous personal risk, costing lives and careers, are taken for granted; workplace rights that were won by similar heroic struggle are taken for granted; freedoms of speech and the press that were wrested back from the US government (after the McCarthy Era) by concerted, long-term effort were taken for granted. and as a result, all can be taken away again by the American Contra while the boomers stand around with their mouths open muttering "They can't do that!" they/we have forgotten that the institutions of power and control yield nothing without a struggle.

not all the Talibornagains are ex-liberals or lefties. there are notable flip-floppers, who managed the (not all that magical) transformation from authoritarian Trots to authoritarian Randists. but many were angry Young Republicans already in the 60's, now seeing an opportunity to wreak revenge at last for being on the losing side of US politics for 40 years. and so on. I think maybe you had to have been there (the US in the years in question) to have a grasp of the fractal complexity of politics and identity -- same true of any country, of course, I am aware that I have in my head only a cartoon version of '68 in France :-)

what is undeniably true is that materialism and capitalist consumerism have been very successfully deployed to defuse the impulse of a generation towards social reform. the "infinite growth" mantra of the neolibs defuses any urgent desire for wealth-sharing, as it soothingly suggests that the poor will surely get their share as the pie gets infinitely bigger. and human nature being what it is, a large chunk of the "alternative culture" generation is now quite happy to feed its alternative impulses by purchasing "alternative culture merchandise" by catalogue shopping, while otherwise integrating fully into the finance/capital system it once desired earnestly to challenge. the decline of Utne Reader into a sort of altie shopping mag probably exemplifies this trend, as does the number of shiny SUVs seen arriving at "lefty" and altie political events.

but if the boomers are selfish, they have certainly been encouraged to be so by more than their own innate human flaws: I dunno if y'all recall Bill McKibben's experiment. he spent a year of his life watching the content of 24 hours of American cable TV and taking notes, to see what US mass media was telling its viewers every day. as I recall his overwhelming impression was that the message was "You, You, You, it's All About You." from talk shows to ads, the message was "you deserve," "get yours," "you owe it to yourself," "it's just for you," "you need" -- an endless litany, both subliminal and flagrant, of entitlement.

if we want to talk about morally deficient education, perhaps we can talk about why we permit broadcast media, much of it aimed at children and teens, to send such a relentless message of solipsistic selfishness, 24 hours a day -- a deliberate education in moral deficiency if ever there was one. do we really expect human beings to manifest a complete immunity to this kind of mass indoctrination, by some kind of mysterious innate moral fibre? any immunity I myself have enjoyed from this propaganda blitz has been won by simply not watching the stuff. you have to visit the US and watch its media to understand the kind of alternative reality that American media consumers live in, and have lived in for decades.

in sum, and apologies for my usual longwindedness -- I don't think we can understand contemporary political phenomena by blaming the personality flaws of a generation. much of what Jerome laments above can be summed up as "decadence," a quality that affects every society when some advantage (be it material wealth, safety, or personal liberty) is won and starts to be taken for granted. it is natural to humans to relax and lower their guard when they feel they are safe, and to indulge in trivial and amusing activities when their primary needs are met. a whole generation may do this if they are fortunate enough to live at a high point of affluence or liberty in their cultural history. their frivolity and inattentiveness to serious issues then make them vulnerable to the next group of predators to invade their local system -- whether arising from within or without.

I grant that the Boomers have been lulled into an enormous complacency, selfishness, solipsism and (tip to rgiap) happy mutual infantilism, by the post-WWII period of engineered economic growth, engineered cheap housing, and relative peace. their consciousness of many things, from class to physics to basic math, has atrophied as compared to their parents' generation. but I see this as the inevitable consequence of the arc of the history they lived through, not as some peculiar moral rot unique to their generation.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 2:11:53 PM | 4

Thank you De for rolling the dough.

As an original boomer (born in 1946) I would ask Jerome to suggest some creative things that our spoiled generation could have take responsibility for the mess we have allowed to develop on our watch.

Many of us have had leisure, some resulting from that post WWII material fetish we all contributed to (by producing or just consuming) and some resulting from a desire to escape our parents' workaholic ethic. And we used that leisure to fight things like Mc-Carthyism, segregation and the cold war defense (aggression wasn't it?) economy that kept us locked in a warlike state. I was there; I did it.

No it is not the boomers' fault Jerome. As time goes on you will be forced to admit that there is another force at work here, dragging us all down in spite of our good intentions. Even Richard over at the all-spin-zone, with his ranting about our bizzarro world, is about to find that no matter how logical and correct your thinking, the evidence drags you back to face the fact that something weird and inhuman is going on. You may deny it but it doesn't go away.

Yep that weird non-human force has been with us since before my birth - I know because I have seen it repeatedly - not until the last three years have I done other than shrug it off as something beyond my control and comprehension. You can no longer ignore it; it is embedded in the persons of Cheney and Rummy, Wolfy and Rove among many others so it has reached the point of great power over humankind.

I don't take the blame, but I'm available to help kill it.

Posted by: rapt | Jan 9, 2005 4:38:31 PM | 5


I am a bit younger than you, born in '54 and consider myself to be on the tail end of the boomers. I quite agree that we are not all a bunch of silly flower children. Granted some foolish things were done but also a lot of very good efforts were made to better our lot. Of course the practical people will say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions but nonetheless many of our generation had genuinely good intentions.

There were still those with their own selfish agendas and it does seem that they have prevailed. They have slowly but surely laid the groundwork for the nightmare we are experiencing now. Televison played a big part by creating an image of the US as all powerful and capable of solving the world's problems in short order. Some have called this the Mission Impossible syndrome whereas all problems are solved within 60 minutes. Violence has been glamorised in all things from sports (hockey, football, and World Wrestling Foundation - granted it is not really sport but some do think so) to commuting (remember the freeway shootings of some years ago in California).

Even though many of us knew someone that was killed or wounded in Vietnam and swore we would not let that happen again, these reptiles slowly brought us back to agression. First by really easy invasions like Granada, just to get people used to the idea. Slam bam thank you ma'am and the island was taken. Then onto Panama where an evil dictator and drug dealer was taken out. Minimal loss of life on the part of the US military and the job was done. Yessirree, we sure showed those Latin Americans who was boss! Then came Gulf War 1. Huge military buildup, worldwide coalition, Iraqi army billed as being awesome - fourth largest in the entire world. Talk of Armeggedon everywhere and then......slam bam thank you ma'am we defeated this army in 10 days or so and liberated a poor Kuwaiti emir from the horrid Saddam Hussein. Hardly any American soldiers died....all in all a huge success. No one ever bothered asking just why this all happened. The lies given to justify the first invasion were never challenged and that is probably our biggest failing.

We now watch as these people take away our rights and freedoms. The things that are happening now to us are the very same things we were told happened in the "evil empire". Wire tapping, search and seizure without a warrant and without notification after the fact, imprisonment without charge amd without access to counsel are now common and accepted in the United States. Un-freakin-believable!

I too want to fight, I do not want to end up like the Black Knight however. Who can suggest an effective way to combat this cancer?

Posted by: dan of steele | Jan 9, 2005 5:07:32 PM | 6

My views similar to much of those above, but I sometimes try to remind myself of some of the positives in my generation (I was born in '56.) Racism in the United States is no longer legalised, is less virulent, and is dwindling. Is it still a big problem? Yes, it is. But in this arena things are so much better than they were in 1956. Civil rights generally are better than they were in 1956. Minorities of any type - racial, sexuality/gender, religious, or whatever still face daily indiginities and outrageous abrogations of their rights, yet the definition, affirmation, and protection of their rights is today generally much better than in 1956.

I am frightened by the legal, moral, intellectual and civil decline in America that I see happening around me, much of it instigated, perpetuated, and propagated by the baby boomer generation. So I do not mean to sound like a naive idealist. But I am not in total despair or pessimism yet, as there are a lot of morally and intellectually strong people from this generation who are not going to go down quietly.

Posted by: maxcrat | Jan 9, 2005 6:27:09 PM | 7

I offer>Joe Bageant, one of my favourite ranters (his prose has a pungent flavour all its own), on the roots of America's current general stinkiness.

Moral values of course had jack to do with anything. What those people were voting for a couple of months ago was hatred of other human beings culturally unlike themselves, particularly gays and lesbians, but also non-born-again Christians. That's why Republicans got constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the ballot in eleven states. They suspected the hate was there to be exploited. And it was, passing easily in nine of the eleven states. It was always about hating those who are different. Hating "the other.".

Being a Southerner, I have hated in my lifetime. And like most people over 50, it shows in my face, because by that age we all have the face we deserve. Likewise I have seen hate in others and know the thing when I see it. And I am seeing more of it now than I have ever seen in my life (which is saying something considering that I grew up down here during the Jim Crow era.) The neo-conservative hate I am seeing now is every bit equal to the kind I saw in my people during those violent years. Irrational. Deeply rooted.

Here is the pisser. Ugly as this hateful half or more of Americans are, it's not entirely their fault. Their beliefs are at least partly the result of a sophisticated propaganda system perfected over decades by a consolidated corporate state media. Saturation has never been stronger. As we speak some 72% of Americans still believe there were WMD's in Iraq, and 75% believe that Saddam was supporting ben Laden. They did not each and independently arrive at such stupid conclusions on their own (if such mindless acceptance can even be called conclusions.) Indoctrinated by state propaganda, they then acted and continue to act accordingly---which is to say grotesquely in the eyes of the world.

There's a lot more and imho it's worth reading. Bageant writes from a working class Southern perspective which is seldom heard on the intellectual US Left...

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 6:35:13 PM | 8

Also, long but possibly of interest, an>Hegelian analysis of US xtian fundamentalism by Walter Davis of OSU.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 6:45:01 PM | 9

Great postings.

Figuring out the boomers can sometimes be quite intriguing. I am at the end of the boom being born in 59. My oldest brother was born in 48 and was in Nam in 1969. I live in a small town area. I saw the divestation Nam had on our small town. Only a few deaths, but many that came back died not long after and many have died young.

Do I believe the boomers are spoiled? Yes, but only in certain classes. My older brother has worked a job where he never made more than 45 grand a year and is now retiring after 32 1/2 years. He deserves anything he has. Working on the steamships on the Great Lakes is no life.

For myself, I was orphaned at fourteen, and started with absolutely nothing. I went to college at thirty and I feel I deserve any progress I have made. Our family is not made of spoiled boomers, but the hard working people that many boomers are.

The problem is even the lower class boomers had alot of smoke blown up their ass about equality and classless society, upward mobility, blah, blah. But it has never been true. All the poor rural and inner city poor were never on equal footing with the top twenty percent. And never will be. The lower class kids that went to Nam were always the kids from the other side of the tracks. Its just that today the demarcation lines have blurred some. That is why there is likely no Nam vets that will be president unless MCCain can break through. That will only happen if he makes a deal with the devil (ultra elites).

The blurring comes out in the amount of classic rock and oldies radio stations that cater to the boomers. All, including elite boomers, enjoyed the 50s, 60s and 70s rock that dominated music for so many years. These boomers, the children of WW II veterans were always told life will be better for each successive generation. Much of this is true, but much smoke was involved. Debt has piled up, national and personnal, the illusion that was once prosperity is now coming home to roast. Now the boomers will be asked to sacrifice so it all don't fall down.

But, next in line is gen x that will not tax society as much in old age. And then the millenial generation that is nearly as big as the boomers. When this generation hits the workforce as the front end has now, they will dominate society along with the boomer with the Xers sandwiched between.

Just ranting, but this is a great time to be alive and a trying time also. Will the boomers sacrifice for future generations? Or will they do for the good of society and take cuts to old age benefits and ride into the sunset. I don't believe so. Many have sacrificed and deserve all the benefits the WW II generation has had. Many have played their part, toiled through life and should respected as such. Will this come to lower class boomers against upper? I believe so and I'm more than willing to wage that war. I believe that SS has taken in two trillion more than spent on current benefits. That money is owed to retiring boomers to cover their retirement. If that money come from the hides of the rich, I have no problem with that. By 2045 when the so called trust fund runs out, I am sure all of those boomers will be pretty well gone. I would be 86 years old and as I said I'm on the tail end.

Posted by: jdp | Jan 9, 2005 6:50:19 PM | 10

Sorry, but this is all generalities and about as as valid as red state/blue state threads. I'm 48, working since I was 16, never went to college, and make more than twice the average US family income. Do I deserve what I get for sitting in front of a computer and churning out reports and graphs that are worthless a week after they are produced? Of course not. Should my employer get a larger share of whatever surplus-value I create? Of course not.

Posted by: biklett | Jan 9, 2005 7:33:45 PM | 11

Well, all I can say is thank you. Here I was feeling sorry for myself because I am at an age where my friends are being to die, I can't afford to send my kids to college and I go to work every day just to pay my bills. I forgot that thirty some years ago I was fucking my brains out with no care for the future. Now that I am here, at least I have my memories. Well, for as long as I can remember them . . . I will smile myself to sleep tonight.

Posted by: Terri | Jan 9, 2005 7:48:42 PM | 12

de- next time a fundie tries to proselytize me, I'm gonna have a little tin of mints ready, and say, "Excuse me, but did you know you have a really bad case of thanatosis?" Then I'll offer them a red pill...I mean mint.

I'm on the tail end of the boomers, and I never considered myself "one of them." While the "real" boomers were off dancing naked to rock 'n roll, I was getting my hair permed for my first piano recital and hating it, and also sharing a t.v. with my invalid grandmother who luuuved Lawrence Welk. But my momma did play Rufus Thomas and we danced with my mongrel dog in the living room.

I have a sister who is fifteen years older than me, and a brother who is eleven years older than me, another sister four years older than me, and they were boomers, not me. Actually, my oldest sister didn't seem like a boomer either. By the time I came of age, disco sucked and big hair bands were the desert of the fake real. I thanked the lawd for punk, but I never pierced my nose with a safety pin. ouch.

Since I have no insurance, no living wage, a child with a disability, and am having to rebuild my life out of bad circumstances that were not of my creation (except for what happened to who I married and where we moved to for his job), I guess I have a hard time seeing myself as part of that selfish group I'm supposed to fit into. I'm more selfishly concerned with not doing a Sylvia Plath on the bad days.

Posted by: fauxreal | Jan 9, 2005 7:55:44 PM | 13

I'm still trying to reconcile Jerome's annoyance with the Selfish Boomers (today's Ugly Americans?) with his theory that human beings are all just naturally lazy, selfish, and whatever that third thing was :-) if all human beings are just naturally that way (greedy, lazy, selfish), why pick on those boomers in particular? anyway, more food for thought today, regarding how the Boomers got that way and whose interest is served by keeping them that way:

A magazine ad for Mitsubishi nicely captures the new spirit of unbridled greed. Beneath a photograph of a well-dressed executive surrounded by pricey personal communication devices, the caption simply states: "The world doesn't revolve around you ... But we're working on it."

So pervasive is the consumer culture in our society that one could easily conclude acquisitiveness is what humans are all about.

But Karl Polanyi, the late economic historian and anthropologist, disputed this. He argued that while every society is designed to meet the basic material needs of its members, an intense focus on greed and material acquisitiveness is unique to modern capitalist societies. By contrast, pre-capitalist societies typically focused more on family, clan, religion, honour, etc.

Polanyi argued that the most basic human characteristic — found in every human society across the ages and around the globe — isn't material acquisitiveness but rather a need to relate to other humans, to feel part of a larger community. Above all, we're social animals, Polanyi insisted. Aristotle made a similar observation centuries earlier.

This suggests that preserving our communities — and the natural environments that sustain them — may be essential for human well-being.

You'd certainly never guess this from the way our governments behave. Under pressure from the business elite, they've directed their energies in recent years toward helping corporations maximize profits. Meanwhile, governments have reduced their role in protecting what used to be called the "common good" — a notion that some would regard as almost as "quaint" as the Geneva Conventions.

But it's encouraging to occasionally be reminded — as we were with the public response to the tsunami disaster — that our obsession with consumption and material acquisitiveness may not be part of our human hardwiring, but just a behavioural defect we've developed under capitalism.

It's interesting to note that in medieval times, merchants determined to make large profits — the equivalent of today's business executives — were seen as anti-social, even repulsive. One tract from the 14th century attacked such people as "Man-haters, opposite to the Common good, as if the world were made only for them."

To which, Mitsubishi would now reply: "Not yet, but we're working on it."

(>Linda McQuaig, Toronto Star) I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that greed is created by capitalism (precapitalist elites managed to be pretty goldurned greedy), but I'd go so far as to say that the capitalist ideology valorises and justifies greed in a way that undermines social solidarity and erodes social capital.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 8:29:54 PM | 14

"I think maybe you had to have been there (the US in the years in question) to have a grasp of the fractal complexity of politics and identity -- same true of any country, of course, I am aware that I have in my head only a cartoon version of '68 in France :-)"

You hit it, De.

@Rapt: something STRANGE is going on: have seen it before, but not full-blown like this.

@Faux: Keep you head out of the oven: bad for the doo.

@Terri: Won't comment as I would probably get banished to the Marx thread, forever.

Posted by: Groucho | Jan 9, 2005 8:32:03 PM | 15

They've never known life without TV, the Interstate Highway system, jet travel, the multinational, markets undreamed of (junkbonds, spot markets, financial futures)--a world entirely mediated by the speed and reach of computer technology. They've never known a world where remote things were hard to reach and hence exotic (perhaps they've never known the exotic as such). So they hardly speak the mother tongue of their elders, and their elders hardly speak their mother tongue. How can we judge in this context? We might notice that they process the things they've been born to rather quietly. Their discourse hasn't always kept pace with their own developing competence. But when does it ever do that anyway--except in lucky and unpredictable moments (in which case the discourse outstrips that competence)?

Posted by: alabama | Jan 9, 2005 8:35:41 PM | 16

More classic Bageant:

If you live in your head in this sterile corporatized state, you will just come up with mechanistic theories about how to help mankind. You will waste time coming up with non-solutions based too much on reaction to the corporate state. To hell with playing defensive ball. We need to go on the attack. Break the law like the Republicans did to steal the elections. Revolt. Burn some stuff down. Then they will crush us like bugs because we will have broken the law. But at least sleeping Americans and the world can see the face of the beast, the brutal repression. No matter how you split this puppy, oppressive regimes never give anything up without a fight. And it is a very old fight, one that dates back to the European investors in Columbus, Cortez and Captain John Smith, whose jobs were to kill indigenous people and take away their land and goods. It goes back to the emerging global money based economy of the 15th Century, which is coming to ultimate fruition now, with the attempted enslavement of the entire world by a powerful few, now that there are no new continents, lands and peoples to discover and exploit. Isabella and King George are now become Halliburton and Exxon. Regarding "puppy love waves" and "illusions of lost love" held by the left, I wish to hell there were that much sentimental capability these days. I wish we were all that human. There is a connective tissue of the human community that has been completely obliterated in the U.S. and much of the supposedly advanced Western world. Lest you think "connective tissue of the human community" is just another grandios liberal phrase, think about all those cities in Asia that have no street names or street addresses, yet the mail gets accurately delivered every day to hundreds of thousands because there is a web of humanity functioning, breathing and making the city work as a living thing. Now how the fuck does that mail get from the post office to all those people without addresses and street names? Because people know people who know people and everybody knows the people in their neighborhood. Or at least someone knows all of them. They are not plugged in at the brainstem to media that drives them to consume, make war, believe state ideology and live in fear of those they do not know. The state is a myth perpetuated to make people believe it is in their interest to support the wars of the rich and the powerful interests of commerce. All that exists are human beings and their environment---everything else is a manufactured belief system, propaganda of one sort or another, to marshal human energies in one direction or another. The best we can hope for is to marshal them conservatively for the planet and expansively toward the self-realization of all men.
We have to ask ourselves how in the hell can the classes in America live in such parallel universes? The rich liberals and neoconservatives, the West coast lefties and the massive unacknowledged working class in this country? How can we remain so oblivious and unconnected with our fellow Americans? Answer: Americans, rich or poor, now live in a culture entirely perceived through, simulacra -- media images and illusions. We live inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation that has not existed for quite some time now. Our national reality is held together by images, the originals of which have been lost or never existed. The well-off with their upscale consumer aesthetic, live inside gated Disneyesque communities with gleaming uninhabited front porches representing some bucolic notion of the Great American home and family. The working class, true to its sports culture aesthetic, is a spectator to politics -- politics which are so entirely imagistic as to be holograms of a process that has not existed for decades in America, if ever. Social realism is a television commercial for America, a simulacran republic of eagles, church spires, heroic firemen and "freedom of choice" between holograms. America's citizens have been reduced to balkanized consumer units by the corporate state's culture-producing machinery. We are all transfixed on and within the hologram and cannot see one another in the living breathing flesh.
I think one of the big aspects of our modern alienation is that as a social animal we can no longer answer a very basic human question: "Who are my people?" As an old line, ancestor obsessed Virginian, I have always been much more aware of who my people are than most modern Americans....aware of the chain of blood and history, raised in close traditional family and friendship ties. There was 250 years of connective social tissue that linked everyone in this town and county in one way or another. I saw the end of the agricultural era and its values here. We were intensely dependent upon one another...on each other's help in getting things done, kids babysitted, vcars fixed, rides to work. People did not own so much, it was still that post-war era when if a person had a TV, a car, a fridge and a couple decent changes of clothing, he was an average middle class American. People lived near each other practically all their lives and for generations on end. It was a neighborhood, a culture and a society with fairly natural underpinning. Connective social tissue. And I am convinced that America has now completely destroyed the connective social tissue that is inherent in man in his natural social state. Our differences between one another are merely what we consume. A yuppie liberal is as defined by what he consumes as the gun toting redneck with his truck. And living here among the reddest of necks, I can tell you that these days rural and small-town people are no warmer, nicer or better connected with their neighbors and relatives and families than the most career obsessed urbanite. Big spook America done gobbled de hearts out of all her chillun. We're talking night of the living dead, only the dead don''t know they are dead because they cannot remember ever being alive. Even older people's memories have been cleansed. I remind my elderly mother of the way life was then, and she can barely find the memory. When she does she cries. Some younger people suspect it should be a lot warmer and more fun around this joint called the U S of A, but they have never seen proof it ever was so. Only the bullshit propaganda of the movies. It's a cold-assed place and getting colder, spookier and more ominous by the day. But Americans seem to be accepting it. We few who feel otherwise are seen as odd, as aliens. Unpatriotic. Eventually we will be classified as dangerous.
I think down inside everyone understands the finite limits of the ecosystem now. Even the dumbest, meanest Republican have a less-than-confident look on his face now when he tells you global warming is a myth. Nearly everything from the Christian "Left Behind" book series to movies and ecological predictions have an apocalyptic tone these days. But there is a mentality among some people, particularly the rich---which is to say most Americans compared to the rest of the world---that says, "Grab all you can. Build armed and gated communities, deploy the armies to loot resources, and let the rest of the world starve in the dark if need be. Kill'em if they come over here." Do I see any hope? Do you? We're all in the same boat. We're all looking at the same seas before us, the same probable outcome for humanity.>an interview with Richard Oxman

and this also -- in its various facets -- explains a lot about the oblivious selfishness of those Boomers. total indoctrination. bankruptcy of social capital. isolation, anomie. primal fear.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 8:51:01 PM | 17


Think you might be speaking of the generation after Boomers.

Born in '48, I can remember a world without all those things you mention. And I can remember Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Amos and Andy, and Jack Benny on the radio too.

Posted by: FlashHarry | Jan 9, 2005 8:59:04 PM | 18

i imagine the only thing worse now than the spanish inquisition is of course - the marx thread

still steel

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Jan 9, 2005 9:00:17 PM | 19

And one more>piece of the puzzle -- Jared Diamond's list of urgent problems facing humanity as a whole, and why even the privileged few in Fortress America are not immune from them.

One reason why the Boomers are so oblivious and why US culture is so incredibly solipsistic, is to deny, distance and drown out the nagging awareness of these feral facts (hat tip to Daly and Cobb). imho.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 9:03:17 PM | 20


Well, if I get in there, it will be.

Posted by: Groucho | Jan 9, 2005 9:14:51 PM | 21

I remeber bracing myself against a shrinking patch of snow in late summer on a coulair above dead man lakes in the sangre de cristos, and just beyond the lake, staring out into the san luis valley, I could see the sand dunes and beyond them the eastern escarpments of the san juans and the faintest ribbon of green of the banks of the rio grande diving over the horizon southward.

The world seemed so vulnerable for the first time. I was 19. I also konew then what my grandfather said of central Nebraska, that the earth seemed incomprehensibly large. Can anyone say that now?

Such a small place we bequeeth to the future.

Posted by: slothrop | Jan 9, 2005 9:17:28 PM | 22

And>a review of Diamond's new book.

When archeologists looked through the ruins of the Western Settlement, they found plenty of the big wooden objects that were so valuable in Greenland-crucifixes, bowls, furniture, doors, roof timbers-which meant that the end came too quickly for anyone to do any scavenging. And, when the archeologists looked at the animal bones left in the debris, they found the bones of newborn calves, meaning that the Norse, in that final winter, had given up on the future. They found toe bones from cows, equal to the number of cow spaces in the barn, meaning that the Norse ate their cattle down to the hoofs, and they found the bones of dogs covered with knife marks, meaning that, in the end, they had to eat their pets. But not fish bones, of course. Right up until they starved to death, the Norse never lost sight of what they stood for.

Now reflect that for decades, Americans have been taught that what they "stand for" is unlimited consumerism; that Greed is Good; that He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins; that The American Way Of Life is Not Negotiable. My guess is that Americans, and their "way of life," will perish rather than adjust their perception of who they are (it is far deeper than just one generation of selfish Boomers).

and I've said far more than enough :-) sorry about dominating the thread. I'll go away and work on something else for a bit.

Posted by: DeAnander | Jan 9, 2005 9:18:52 PM | 23

FlashHarry a Boomer? Not possible! (all boomers were born after 1952....)

Posted by: alabama | Jan 9, 2005 9:36:32 PM | 24


Good news and bad news. Guess I'm just an old fart, after all. Thought I was one of them boomers, though. Oh well.

Re: Nebraska, Colorado,the San Juans, and smallness.

I could tell you a long story about a tree-seed collector who took pack mules up into the San Juan in '29 collecting doug fir and Colorado blue spruce seeds--but I won't.

Suffice it to say that the interstate highway system runs within two miles of the area where he collected seeds in '29.

The world is getting smaller and more easily traversed.

(I'm a nurseryman and collect/buy tree seeds).

Posted by: FlashHarry | Jan 9, 2005 10:02:53 PM | 25

Not sure if you were kidding or not but, technically, the Boomer generation stretches from 1946 to 1964. Can't tell you who defined it that way, but the length of time relates to the peak child bearing years of the "Greatest Generation." Obvioulsy, collective experiences differed based on when you were born in the continuum as well as other factors (urban/rural, race, poor/middle class/wealthy, family background, etc.). I think caution applies as much to this generalization as to all others.

It is probably fair to say that Boomers did grow up in a relatively (to other times in US and world history) affluent time though not all Boomers participated. However, much of that affluence was fueled by their very existence. It was the WW2 gereration that created the demand for suburban housing, largely to shelter and feed their Boomer broods (aided, of course, by cheap American oil). The suburbs needed schools, hospitals, stores, roads, etc. which contributed to the economic boom that provided good incomes to their parents. Later, the Boomers created further economic expansion as they had to provide for their own needs. Consequently, the wealth that many in the WW2 generation accumulated is in large part built on the economic growth stimulated by the Boomers' existence. Unfortunately (from my point of view), the Boomers' definition of "needs" was largely - and unconsciously - determined by the way they lived as they grew up. However, their inflated definition of needs is not unique to them. I live near a community with many in their 60's, 70's and 80's who have monstrous homes for 1 or 2 elderly people - 3000+ sq. feet finished with garages, basements, etc. - so conspicuous consumption is not a Boomer perogative. (No, I don't live in one of these - can't afford and don't want one.)

I have no crystal ball, but expect that the Boomers' Golden Years will be a lot more difficult than their salad days. At any rate, as a Boomer, I can say that I'm tired of all the talk about them. We really are just folks after all.

Posted by: lonesomeG | Jan 9, 2005 10:41:54 PM | 26

Damn, lonesomeG, I would have sworn you could tell when I was kidding....But then you're a Boomer, and I was born in 1939, and, as I said in the earlier post, Boomers can hardly speak the mother tongue of their elders, and the elders hardly speak the mother tongue of the Boomers. This probably applies, above all, to their various comic touches....I notice, furthermore, that FlashHarry could tell that I was kidding--definitive proof that he couldn't possibly be a Boomer!

Posted by: alabama | Jan 9, 2005 11:05:04 PM | 27

Well, I've got it wrong so many times, Alabama, that I'm never sure anymore. Maybe it's all those second cousins that got married back there on the family tree who made me this way. Now, if you'll pardon me, it's time to floss my tooth before I go to bed.

Posted by: lonesomeG | Jan 9, 2005 11:15:47 PM | 28

I'm with you on this one Jérôme. As one who has followed the boomers in life, certain things have stood out along the way.

-Drinking age changed form 18-21 right before Xers xame of age.

-Schools started reconsolodating after the explosion to accomodate boomers.

-The suburbs built to hold all of the new families are now ring cities.

-Marketing has always been aimed at boomers. I have never been old enough to buy what was being pushed in the mass markets. Cool toys when in preschool, Muscle cars were gone by the time I was ready to drive...convertibles too. The latest snake oil is Pharmaceuticles... fortunately, I don't want those.

-And what about cleaning up after all of those fads that were bought into? Frisbees, hoola hoops, skateboards, jarts, toys painted with lead paint? Thanks to boomers breaking their necks or skewering themselves, the fun things got pulled off the market. I didn't know what a skateboard was until the plastic version came out. It took almost my whole generation for companies to make toys safe to market. Even then they didn't care, the big market to cater to has always been the boomers. That's where the focus has always been in our world.

-and now thanks to them, there is a huge supply of children starting to dictate the new markets. We Xers had our brief shining moment in the early to mid 90's now nobody is listening. Our money doesn't measure up to that in the hands of the boomers and their children.

- Finally, it is us who have to clean up after them. Retirement funded programs. We're going to have to clean up their shit in the retirement homes and the shit they've left in our governments and corporations. What generation did the Enron execs belong to?

But I'm not blaming them for any woes, they're just a tough act to follow. We all are living in amazing times. Boomers have brought about amazing change to this world both good and bad as all generations have, they have just had the numbers. So thanks for being who you are and for doing what you do.

"Stop Bitching and Start a Revolution!"
-Zednik (sp?)

Posted by: Xer | Jan 10, 2005 2:27:30 AM | 29

DeAnanders cement mixer reading list was a little exhaustive tonight -- but well worth it. The Walter Davis paper -- seemless, from the particular to the general, showing among other things, that that old phenomenology tree still bears edible fruit, as does Freud -- and what remgiap has been calling (for ever here) infantilism, in the religious right, is fleshed out in some detail. The Bageant piece was a real visceral response to the above.

And so, will confess to being of the bb (b.48) generation, and I suppose the "counter- culture" as well, and with the exception of never actually finding the "sexual freedom league" I have no regrets of pretty much diving right in, anyway. Coming of age in Ohio, in the 60's, the product of (in retrospect) a rather pathetic educational system, the Vietnam war gearing up, along with the draft, my hormones said "fuck all that", so I chased the girls, chased other guys at my high schools first cross country team (all the way to state), was a first generation skateboarder, got expelled from high school for not wearing socks, and finally graduating with a smirk, in the lower 1/4 of my class. The councilor told my mom -- don't waste any money sending that boy to college.

After graduating, with a couple friends, we took to the road in my old 56 Ford convertable, to escape the dreaded oh, oh, Ohio (Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders (whom I met later in Cleveland) -- and all roads then, led to San Francisco. Found a little dump a block from the Avalone Ballroom, tried that LSD, and sucked in all that culture, all that culture that was being made, everywhere by people like me -- and that was a revelation. Looking back, there was this flourish, both a celebration of the of our own power and a rejection of how our destiny had been laid out by that other power. Sure, it was in the conventional sense, irresponsible, but as Richie Havens said often "responsibility is nothing but the ability to respond" and respond we did, with image, word and music -- much of which remains potent today. In many ways it was, what it still is, a spontanious cultural rift that not only created a populist reaction to government, but also awakened a sleeping cultural potential with a novel sense of solidarity and community. Along with an awarness of governmental controls, and war making, there immerged also an awarness of the plight of native americans, african americans, womens rights, immigrant workers, and the enviroment, most of which were brought forth into mainstream culture for the first time. And to think much of this happened outside the Democratic norm, politically speaking, is instructive with the current dilemma in that culture, is the precurser of the political.

3:00AM cont.

Posted by: anna missed | Jan 10, 2005 5:52:12 AM | 30

I was busy elsewhere this weekend and just caught up but I have really enjoyed this thread. 1949, by the way. Thanks, Jerome. I can only add that, even though I haven't traveled very far very much I have always felt any guilt I carry around with me was national rather than generational. I prefer to think of myself as a citizen of the world, being embarassed by my country's wretched excessses.

Posted by: beq | Jan 10, 2005 9:20:45 AM | 31

1952 here. And thanks to De and others for pointing out the flaws in Jerome's piece, which I remind you he had a small disclaimer at the top about his exaggerations. The exaggerations...A writer's conceit, Jerome? Or for provocation? ;-)

This is a subject my husband (also born in '52) and I have had endless wonderful discussions on over the last ten years or so. It's also one for which I have an incomplete manuscript written. Working title: "The Big Lie".

As De sorta said, or at least I read it so, using particular generations in this way doesn't work very well, but it sure sells well, eh?

My daughter and his wife (born '72 and '75) hold the opinion that we boomers had it better than they do now. They erroneously claim that X-ers are the "first" generation to be economically worse off than their parents. Hubby and I see it quite differently. If anything it is my/our parents' generation and that of the 1/2 generation after them that were able to benefit most from the post-war "boom" in the US. We mark the year of change to downward at about 1971. In 1971 I was 19, going to college, but soon to trade my B.A. for an Mrs.

I also see class as more associated with the supposed selfishness of boomers than askew connections to generation. There's of course much more to discuss, but I haven't had coffee yet. Also, the endless blame the boomers thing is wearying. ;-)

One thing we and our non-US MOA cohorts might dig into is how the "post-war" boom was different altogether in Europe... It was later in many countries, or materialized little in others.

De, I loves me that Joe Bageant. I'm think I found him blogging around in the last two years or so. I love his "voice".

FYI all... the US "boom" peaked (for sheer numbers of babies) in 1957, and while some put the end at '64, others see it ending more like at '59. If you want some fun, take a look at the 1/2 generation demarcations. Very very interesting.

Posted by: Kate_Storm | Jan 10, 2005 10:08:34 AM | 32

That would be "my son and his wife". Did I mention no coffee yet? ;-)

Posted by: Kate_Storm | Jan 10, 2005 10:12:00 AM | 33

Jerome, you made me laugh with the recent addition of "voluntarily provocative" to your introduction. Thank you. I needed a laugh this morning. The sky is still wide open, dumping copious amounts of life-giving water to S. California.

An ark! My kingdom for an ark!

Got my coffee, though. ;-)

Posted by: Kate_Storm | Jan 10, 2005 10:42:01 AM | 34

Here's a theory for ya,

the post-war generation grew from the destruction of the Old Order, very close-knit (good), very insular (not so good), dismissive of The Other (not good at all). They say the bright move away, and the marginalised club together. So, the Post War generation gives us Civil Rights and the growth of Universities and Cities (help! My neighbour is dumb as two bricks and boring as rain!).

Now we have the trouble of alienation (I don't know, or like anyone. Help!), and all the social ills of not being close-knit.

It weren't fun back then, except when it was; it ain't no fun now, except when it is. I don't go with the Blame idea. People voted for Bush because...they're stupid? When were they ever anything else? Maybe they're LESS stupid now, but they face issues they never had before (losing their job to a bright Stranger, who is happier with less, and oh, the point is, er, time for an end bracket.) Ah.

Point is, the new challenge is to find a way to re-connect without slipping back into buck-toothed insularity, whether we be Chinese, Russian, or Andalusan.

We is STOOPID. Otherwise, why you all being so bright after reading and thinking a lot? Most people don't, hence leaders. Hence bad leaders, hence, er, enough of my rambling. Mrs. Gumble passes on her good wishes, and her fish fritters (they're tough, they're old, I'd pass if I were you.)


Posted by: R | Jan 10, 2005 12:12:10 PM | 35

Another rant on SS.

George Will, that great bastion of conservative commentary has an article in the New York Post online called "Chasing Bush's cap over the wall." It as much as admits that there is no SS crisis.

He blows the whistle on Bushie for using "the infinate horizon model" projecting out 75 years to get to the SS crisis. In the end Will admits it's all about ideology as we well know.

It is time to stand up and fight this bullshit. The whole theme behind this SS crisis is privatization, not wanting to pay back SS the two trillion in funds spent by the general fund, and class warfare on the middle and lower classes.

Posted by: jdp | Jan 10, 2005 12:14:11 PM | 36

born in '53 and raised near s.f. i was part of the first generation of women that had access to an abortion while in high school,never wore a bra, did not feel any pressure to get married, could have unmarried sex w/out getting a 'reputation', got a home loan w/out a husband to co-sign,did not resign ourselves to aspirations limited to being mothers, nurses ,secretaries ,teachers. women were practically chattel before our generation.

growing up during the 60's in the bay area was a blessing. lsd, hitching over to bolinas after school in junior high to run naked on the beach,tripping on mt tam w/ the dead and airplane , cafe trieste and beat poets, hanging at the avalon, sweat lodges, zen meditation. it felt like our generation invented reality, not to mention music, and geez i don't think ecology was even a word. environment ? what environment?
some of us rocked the world in a positive way.
and i'm sorry for all thats gone wrong.

Posted by: annie | Jan 10, 2005 3:39:49 PM | 37

when i was really young i remember thinking 'the world's so fucked up, it must be my parents' generation's fault'. now they're the 'greatest generation' and boomers are blamed. a bit facile, don't you agree?

my 'stats': civil rights movement in high school, kicked out of ivy league school in '69 for action against vietnam war, don't have a dime, doing projects at a center for agent orange victims in vietnam.

wish i knew how to do more. and hope future generations can make more of a difference than we did. but we hardly all fit the nasty generalizations i've read here. so, lay off us, huh?

Posted by: hanoi john | Jan 11, 2005 1:12:13 AM | 38

I know this thread is more than dead (sadly), but I can't resist posting the link to Joe Bageant's piece (PDF): Lafayette Park Blues

Excerpt: "Speaking of lies since and about the Sixties,one of the most pervasive is that all activists of the counterculture grew into fat,happy yuppies.I know dozens who’ve remained true to their beliefs at great personal cost to their lives and families... and now teach in tribal schools,work in social services,clinics,etc.They are making the world better and could do more given the chance.The trouble is,they have no voice and are effectively kept out of politics because of their pasts,kept from running for office by things like youthful drug possession charges,etc.But we are starting to see some of their children enter the arena... children who I know are sharers of the dream.It may well be that the best in my generation inadvertently pulled off a coup by simply loving their kids and sharing their hopes with them.If the coldest among us can impart their bitter vision to their children,why can’t the poets among us do the same? You in the generation that came of age in the 80s and 90s will have to bring new vision.What a line of bullshit! Sounds like a politician.My god a’mighty! You confront a worse specter than we ever did. You were born into a hardening police state and have lived your lives inside the invisible bars of a corporate military consumer society.Your government hands over your nation’s coffers to the feasting rich and plays shell games with the coffins of your brothers killed at a voracious free market’s far flung edges.And if you point any of these things out you will be called ‘over the edge’.Love it or leave it,or stay and suffer the consequences.It’s not just you kid. All of us manage to love America for deeper philosophical reasons feel like battered lovers these days."

Posted by: Kate_Storm | Jan 17, 2005 2:50:07 PM | 39

Older Addicts Face Uncertain Twilight
Drug-Dependent Seniors a Growing Concern, Experts Say

Posted by: Jérôme | Jan 18, 2005 4:24:51 AM | 40

Aw mjc, cheer up.

Posted by: beq | Feb 27, 2007 12:42:01 PM | 41

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