The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, September 4, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Society ...

When I was around 16 or so, I remember walking down a local street one day and seeing two guys in a city maintenance truck setting up for some sort of job. As I passed them, I remember one saying to the other “Aaron, kids today just don’t want to work”. I couldn’t help but recall incident that after making similar comments recently to another fellow Baby Boomer regarding the up and coming Millennial Generation of today. I guess that it’s a natural cycle; we couldn’t understand why the older people were bitching about us so much when we were young, and we in turn find things to bitch about regarding the next generation now that we’re old. This cycle has probably been going on for a long, long time.

But to be honest, I wonder if Aaron and his friend were fundamentally correct about my generation. Looking back on what has happened to the world during the reign of the Boomers, I can’t say that there is much to be proud of. We grew up when America and its middle class were unquestionably secure in their economic privilege, and we assumed that we could speak for the whole of humankind. We focused a lot on rights – rights of the minorities, rights of women, rights of consumers, rights of long-haired freaky people, you name it. Unfortunately, we didn’t think too much about responsibilities.

So naturally, the Boomer generation fell in love with credit and debt. We found ways to “make borrowing work for you at home”, we allowed our government to borrow staggering sums so that our taxes could be cut, and we helped the corporate owners to borrow even more so that they could become even richer (leveraged buy-outs, mortgage-backed obligations, short selling on margin, etc.). And in 2008, the house of debt-backed cards finally started to fall.

We realized after the first oil crisis in 1973 that petroleum was not available endlessly, but did very little to reduce our energy consumption. Instead we bought bigger and bigger SUV’s so that we could always get our kids to their piano lessons and karate classes no matter what the weather. Then we found out that all of those SUVs burning all of that oil were contributing to global climate changes that may eventually have very scary implications. But how much did the Boomer generation do about it once the problem became clear? Thus far, next to nothing.

The Boomer generation turned out to be very good at enjoying the good life, but not so good at making the sacrifices necessary to keep the system going in good order. We didn’t want to fight in wars, we didn’t want to pay taxes, and we didn’t want to save for a rainy day. We wanted to “do the work” on improving ourselves; but as Aaron’s friend said, we weren’t too crazy about doing any work to keep the underlying social and moral systems going. We talked a good line about ‘community’ and ‘communitarianism’, but when it came time to put our time, treasure and talent on the line for the common weal, we found the easiest ways to get by. I.e., by passing our debts and crumbling infrastructure and divisive “me-first” politics on to the following generations, hoping they can straighten it out. We liked the idea of “world community” and internationalism, but when we found out that other members of the world community could out-compete us in more and more important things, we put our heads in the sand.

For whatever it’s worth – just about nothing, actually – I’d like to offer an apology on behalf of my generation. I wish we had done better; I wish we had stepped up and faced the big problems. I wish that I could ease into a rocking chair looking back upon a better world in the making because of our spirit and effort. I hope that the following generations can at least learn something from our mistakes, as they try to unravel the after-effects. I hope that they will learn to do the work that Aaron and his partner thought was needed to keep a decent, civilized society going.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:55 pm      

  1. Jim, Wow! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about the baby boomer generation.

    As far as I can see, you are the absolutely *only* one that has taken responsibility for anything in that group–and for that you stand out way above the crowd and deserve what should be an award for “outstanding sense of responsibility.” MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 5, 2011 @ 9:45 am

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