Hey, Boomers: Shut Up!

pie1Back in the Stoned Age, when I was growing up, there was an unwritten rulebook, which, like The Pirate’s Code, acted as a kinda running guide for the transition from primitive adolescent to responsible adult.  It covered pretty much everything — except sex (which was trial and error) and how to make a salad.  We didn’t so much live by the rules as reference them in times of crisis.  For example, when those pesky grandparents showed up with birthday money you moved the illegal agriculture off the “dining room” table and took down the more aggressive examples of bachelor art.  Here in the 21st century, that old way of life is more-or-less passé and we’ve discarded the rulebook.  After all, it’s usually grandma who’s hiding the drugs these days, and they’re dancing about boobs on the six o’clock news.   However, even though I say good riddance to most of the hypocrisy we practiced back then, it seems a shame that we threw the baby out with the bath water and no longer tolerate some of the niceties of civilized behaviour.

One of the cornerstones of life, as we used to live it, was that old people were stupid.  Every generation knew this.  Somewhere around menopause (male and female) the human IQ drops about twenty points and then continues to slowly decline on a straight shot to the grave.  People don’t actually die of old age; they simply become too stupid to live.  This is one of the tried and truisms, handed down from parent to child since Achmed the Unwashed decided to set up shop in the Euphrates valley – circa 40,000 years ago.

Of course, this utter stupidity never prevents the average old person from running off at the mouth.  They consider it a combination of their right to make noise and duty to be heard.  When I was a kid, most of the blather was irrelevant instructions on how to survive a world war – which hasn’t come in handy, yet.  (FYI, I don’t think my generation ever did convince the parents that the only thing walking away from World War III would be a cockroach.)

However, I digress.  The unwritten rule was that you listened to these old gasbags jawing away.  You shut your mouth, made all the right noises in all the right places (polite was another of the unwritten rules) and, then, after they’d cleared off, you did as you damn well pleased.  The sage advice from the grey hairs was not for you; it was for them.  It was a catalogued recollection of all the opportunities they missed, the risks they shouldn’t have taken and the places they screwed up.  Everybody knew this and acted accordingly.  Unfortunately, those days are gone, and our world is the lesser for it.

Since we threw out the old unwritten rulebook, the same people who scoffed at their parents are now demanding we take theirpie ancient wisdom seriously.  They want to keep running the show.  The problem is they’re retrending the ideas, solutions and institutions they’ve been yipping about since back when Bruce Willis still had hair.  The world has changed since then, and just FYI, that crap never worked in the first place.  And, here’s the kicker: people are listening to these fossils.  This is ridiculous.

I’m as clever as the next fellow — and smarter than most — but I have no clue what’s going on in 2013 and no right to make decisions about it.  I grew up in a time when baseball players swung for the fences, casual sex was important enough to keep private and the truth was protection against prosecution.  The world I see out my kitchen window is alien to me.  Hell, I have no idea what the 83 other buttons on the TV remote are there for – and neither does anyone else on the business end of 50.  We’re not supposed to.  We’re not supposed to be setting the agenda; we’re supposed to be complaining about it!

This is the first generation where the old folks are unwilling to go gentle into that good night.  They’re clinging to power like drunks hanging onto a lamppost.  Unable to go forward, unwilling to go back, they have no idea why they’re there in the first place.  The only thing they do know for certain is if they ever let go, they’re going to be lost in the gutter.

Me, I liked the olden days.  You knew where you stood.   And just like my parents and their parents and theirs — back a thousand generations – sometimes, I’m consumed with nostalgia and want to return to a more civilized time.  A time when young people were seen and not heard and old people were heard but never listened to.

Talkin’ ’bout the i-Generation!

If you’re reading this, chances are good you were born in the 20th century.  If you weren’t, put this down, you precocious little beast, and go out and play.  For the rest of us, the 20th century was the cradle, the nursery, and probably most of the education of our existence.  As Herman Raucher once said, “It is our time, and we’ll never leave it.”  To us, it’s our life.  It’s not history; it’s memory.  The great events we witnessed are coupled with our birthdays, divorces, new cars and houses.  However, in a couple of hundred years (or maybe a thousand) when people look at our time, they’re going to draw a sharp line between the 20th and 21st centuries.  They’re going to separate us like exhibits in a museum.  Right now, we exist simultaneously in both centuries, like two pages of a book — totally different, yet intimately touching at every point and completely useless without the other.  In the future, however, we are going to be one thing and those precocious little beasts poking away at their iPads are going to be another.

As much as most people would like to deny it, we are the cumulative result of history.  There is a direct line from you and me back to the dim reaches of time, when the epic human struggle was merely to stand on our own two feet.  For example, if I wanted to be an intellectual smart-ass, I could trace the birth of our world back to shoddy obstetrics in the Imperial court of Prussia in 1859.  Or I could research (plagiarize is such a hard word) Paul Johnson and go back even further to a Frenchman’s hemorrhoids at the dawn of the 19th century.   My point, of course, is that there is no start to history — only final judgements passed on the results.

Our current 21st century’s i-Generation is a perfect example.  These are the kids who are adapting our world to Facebook and Google, one app at a time.  They’ve changed Wikipedia from a slightly tawdry secret to a tolerated research tool.  They are intent on sharing, not personal experience, but data with the world.  In the future, they will be judged in isolation.  Nobody will bother looking at the seeds and shallow roots provided for them.  Their obsession with consumption rather than creation will be seen as a character flaw – an aberration which was always destined to kill or cure our fat, wheezing planet.  Yet, the i-Generation didn’t just appear one day like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, nor is it even fully grown yet.  It still depends on Generation Y for its existence.

Generation Y! — those 80’s babies who can’t seem to decide if they are a stand-alone product of the Baby Boom or only just an echo.  Constantly harassed about the dangers awaiting them, these are the folks whose abilities have always outshone their underdeveloped egos.  They risk little and expect much.  Their literature is the graphic novel; their art, the expressive font; and their technological advances are made on the playing fields of virtual reality.  Generation Y stands alone — with its devices connected to the planet but they, themselves utterly isolated from it.  Not since the Dark Ages have humans been so devoid of contact with the outside world.  Generation Y lives and works in a series of separate technological villages, timidly toiling like Copeland’s microserfs, afraid to venture beyond their firewalls.  But they, too, did not arrive fully formed like a Botticelli Venus rising from the ocean’s foam.  They are the children of Generation X.

Generation X, the first generation of the Age of Entertainment.  They showed up just in time to see America leave the Moon, never to return, and George Lucas unleash his Jedi to battle the Death Star.  Raised on Sesame Street and Cocoa Puff cartoons, Generation X has never understood why the world doesn’t play nice like its television friends do.  Completely overshadowed, Gen X was forgotten and left to fend for itself.  As it saw the brave old world bending under the weight of its uber-ego parents, it could only step back in fear of the imminent collapse of power, oil and profit and seek salvation in Spielberg and Scorsese.  Still, we must remember Generation X was never abandoned like the solitary child of the goddess Hera, twice tossed from heaven. It was born into the rarified air of the Baby Boom.  It cut its teeth on impending disaster, with only discredited institutions and disassembled Gods to comfort it.

And so it goes; back and back, each generation shaped by the wants and fears of the ones preceding it.  If history judges the early 21th century harshly, it will be because the i-Generation believes that clicking Like on Facebook can change the world.  Yet, it is we, from the 20th century, who taught them that.  I-Gen is the product of two generations of constraint and constriction.  The Xs and Ys watched the world of their parents and grandparents falter, assailed on all sides by everything from financial ruin to pandemic disease.  So they taught their children to be wary, to keep their distance and to “Stay strong.”

John F. Kennedy spoke of his generation (what we call “The Greatest Generation”) as “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”  I don’t have many regrets, but I do regret not being able to hear what the i-Generation will eventually say about itself.

Why I don’t like Baby Boomers

After The Bucket List there were some comments that I was being a little hard on the Baby Boomers.  So to clarify, here, then, is a brief history of why I dislike the Baby Boom Generation.

In the autumn of 1945, millions of horny men and women around the world left the armed forces and returned home after a long absence.  They had just fought the most terrible war in history, and even though they’d hadn’t all been through hell, every single one of them had been close enough to smell it.  When they got home, they had one purpose in mind (Get your mind out of the gutter!): to forget the horrible things they had seen and done and reconstruct the world so their families would never have to witness the madness they had just been through.  They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, I’m here to tell you, but in the process, they created an enduring evil that still plagues us today – the Baby Boomers.

The children of the Greatest Generation were spoiled brats who grew into moody, inconsiderate adolescents.  Now, they are about to become grouchy, grasping old people.  The joys of adulthood escaped them entirely.  They were raised on equal doses of suburbia, affluence and Dr. Benjamin Spock.  They were indulged by everyone, who pampered them with everything the post war economic miracle could offer.  HoverMoms guarded them against all evil, and absentee Dads worked ever harder to provide them the luxuries they’d never had growing up.  Every pout required ice cream.  Every scraped knee demanded an inquiry into playground equipment.  Every wish was somebody’s command.   One bratty kid is a problem; 50 million is a disaster.  But they were the darlings of the world, a living symbol that, despite man’s hideous ability to obliterate all life on Earth, there was still promise and potential for a better future.

However, by the mid 50s, fractures were already starting to show.  In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read.  For anyone who bothered to look, Flesch’s book was not just an indictment of teaching methods but of the entire education system itself — and beyond.  Flesch sounded the alarm that overindulgence was producing an entire generation who didn’t have any basic skills.  He was also concerned that, as students moved through the system to more complex ideas, this ignorance would only snowball.  Flesch was right and he was largely ignored.

In the early 60s, the cracks became clearly visible.  Millions of young adults moved away from their suburban cocoons into the real world.  The shock was palpable.  For the first time, they saw deep social, political and economic problems and were astounded to discover that not everyone had shared their middle class privilege.  Without any basic understanding, they saw this as a systemic flaw which needed to be corrected.  Unable to grasp the simplest connections in a complex society or to formulate reasonable solutions they merely demanded wholesale change.  However, not everybody shared their middle class values or their middle class solutions.  There was no quick fix.  Unable to understand why they were no longer the centre of the universe but very much aware that the powers that be were not going to snap to and pay attention, the Baby Boomers, as they were beginning to be called, got angry.  The result was a five year temper tantrum that flared across university campuses all over the world.  Forsaking Kennedy for Castro, young people decided that steady work for incremental change was too hard.  They preferred the romantic life of the revolutionary (albeit free of serious consequences.)  If the system wouldn’t change immediately to suit them, they would kick and scream until it did.  Like most tantrums, this one tired itself out, but not before millions of lives had been disrupted.

The convulsions of the 60s tore great sections of our society apart.  The problem was, the anger of the Baby Boomers never went beyond childish rage.  Institutions were knocked down.  Social systems were destroyed.  However, without any long term dedication for reform nothing was built on the rubble.  It became Revolution for the Hell of It.  A sophomore party that got out of hand.  By the end of the decade, the Boomers were already losing interest and by the time things got serious, one May afternoon at Kent State, they’d all but disappeared.  They were gone, off to backpack Europe or the Himalayas in a frantic search for their “Me First” souls.

A couple of years later, they re-emerged when Disco swept the neighbourhood.  Their social conscience forgotten, it was time to dance and do coke and play with therapy.  The mess they left was somebody else’s problem.  Yippies became yuppies, and the Boomers never even looked back.  They had 40 more years of destruction ahead of them.

But there are other perspectives of the dominant generation.  Here’s one translated from Dutch — Over mijn generatie