Lower the boom

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“The body politic rests on the slab because boomers put it there, because decades of boomerism produced the problems and disaffection of which 2016 was merely the latest expression.” –A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney

Stinging, blistering indictment of the Baby Boomers – I ended up highlighting so much of what’s in this book that it would be foolish to try to reproduce or quote at length, but if you are curious about how the country (the United States, that is) came to be … well, the nightmare that it is now, the book makes a compelling argument (or many arguments, really) that the Boomers are to blame. In every failing segment of society, from taxation to education, from finance to regulation, from infrastructure and the environment (a Boomer himself, Al Gore* – self-appointed, once it became clear that he’d need a second act in public life, environmental ‘champion’ – describes the current state of the environment as: “…a nature hike through the Book of Revelation”, an issue which is arguably one of the most pressing and about which the Boomers have been most selfish/blind) to voting rights, Boomers have poked their fingers in virtually every pie and flung the filling everywhere once they were sated, i.e. ruined it for everyone else. Meanwhile they live out their last days – either denying that their end is coming, or, as the book describes, demanding historically unprecedented “long and pleasant retirements”.

I suppose we could point the finger to some degree at the Boomers’ parents, who reared them to be this way – gave them everything and wanted them to grow up believing that they could have everything without sacrificing or suffering real consequences. I would not relieve the parents of Boomers from responsibility as day-to-day caretakers, but the book delivers a particularly scathing review of pediatrician, Dr Benjamin Spock, whose (in)famous, best-selling 1946 book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, guided parents of Boomers to permissive parenting that put the child(ren) at the center of family life rather than letting children orbit the family life, focusing on the Boomer children’s wants rather than needs – creating what critics have called an undisciplined, self-involved generation hell-bent on instant gratification and self-interest. (That’s boiling it down to a very simplistic understanding of course – but supports the thesis of this book.)

With each chapter prefaced by a part of the clinical definition of sociopathy according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the parallels between the sociopathic behaviors and Boomer actions are clear.

The sociopathy that characterizes the entire generation overrides the prudence of previous generations, who by and large seem to have tried to enact public policy and law that benefited the greater good (or at least aimed to). It remains to be seen what later generations will do (even if trends indicate that they are less self-involved and more civic minded than their Boomer parents and grandparents) because the Boomers, stubbornly afraid to age and not able to afford retirement, are still such a massive force in the population.

Their influence still dwarfs that of subsequent generations – not just by sheer numbers but because they have, during their ‘day in the sun’, stacked the deck in their favor. It’s going to take a long time to undo it – and the slog will be slow because the Boomers are still standing in the way. Likewise, the Boomers were/are (many of) our parents – we might not have liked their parenting styles, but did we learn to do any better? Are we any better? Will we have seen the destruction their policies and actions (or inactions) have wrought, absorb the lessons and influence things to go in a new direction?

One passage suggests that we may have gone too far in the other direction. Addressing the crumbling, unsafe state of American infrastructure, which received a “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1998, Gibney practically exclaims: “If GenX parents received a similar report card regarding their children, the whole war machine of upper-middle class Helicopter Fathering and Tiger Mothering would swing into action: money, tutors, apocalyptic lectures, pedagogical investigations, and marches on the PTA. The Boomers, devoted practitioners of latchkey parenting, simply shrug.” It’s a lot like a passage in a rather comical article I read not so long ago:

“Back when I was young, an athletic season either ended abruptly, without fanfare, or the Phys Ed staff threw some crappy banquet with paper bowls and food service-chili where the superior athletes got a lousy plaque. We had one of these banquets once for my seventh grade soccer team. I think it was the first time all season the parents actually showed up. I recall hearing a bunch of dads snort: “My kid played soccer?” And then they all laughed and stayed inside to smoke.

If you tell this story to a Millennial, they think it’s sad. “But my dad came to EVERY game,” they gasp. “AND every practice. AND he brought his zoom lens.” If you tell this to a Generation Xer, they stare and say: “You had a dad?”

(I don’t know what happens if you tell this to a Boomer. Probably: “Ahh, yes. Smoking.”)”

Side notes:

The book echoes other threads of scholarship and documentary evidence, ranging from recent documentaries like 13th about the 13th amendment to the US constitution and its effect on the US prison system, or something as seemingly benign as Al Jazeera’s presentation on the Federal Reserve. Every focal point of the author’s hypothesis is documented in the book but further borne out in other sources.

“Medicare covers any number of expensive medications consumed by Boomers, and, in the case of tax-advantaged plans, can even end up subsidizing Viagra. There is something decidedly off-putting about indebting GenXers to pay for their fathers’ erections.”

*Full video of Al Gore on how the ‘immune system of democracy” – a free media and open public discourse guided by evidence and facts – has eroded and arrived at a place where “false belief collides with physical reality” to create an “assault on reason”. Gore, too, is sufficiently gored in this book.

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