Blame It On the Boomers?
by Gwydion M. Williams
Boom, Baby, Boom!
Statisticians joke about a nice 1940s match between the number of nesting storks and the birth of babies. Caused by World War Two, obviously. Baby Boomers were the ‘stork generation’. Born to peace: more babies than average till maybe 1964. And overturned a world in which stories about babies being brought by a stork were told to children and partly believed. Where sex might be a surprising discovery.
Baby Boomers get the blame or credit for 1960s radicalism. A half-truth – leading spirits like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger were slightly older; War Babies.[A]
Blame or credit? I’d answer ‘Yes’. Many things could have been done better. But the radical movement might also have failed.
Who would prefer a world in which the massive ‘Cultural Metamorphosis’ from 1963 to the early 1970s never happened?[B] If you could get in a time-travelling DeLorean sportscar and erase it by running over Andy Warhol, would you do so? Or if you could change history without harming anyone? Nothing was inevitable. But the victors from numerous struggles in the 1970s and 1980s like to boost their power by pretending it was.
In the Soviet Bloc, changes began earlier but were crushed with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In China, Mao started his Cultural Revolution in 1965. He maybe began with a minor fight on cultural matters. Went much further when he found young people militantly convinced that all elders except Mao’s favourites were lukewarm and dishonest. The Cultural Revolution burnt out and was rejected after Mao died. The Soviet Bloc declined and fell after its fatal blunder in 1968. But the values the West takes to be normal as of the Twenty-Tens were certain to win out, because…
Because of what? I’ve yet to see a serious argument that tries giving a reason. Just a bland assumption that our norm is The Normal. This is a natural way to think, but misleading. In grammar, if your mother-tongue is English you’d speak of a large blue truck. Never a blue large truck, which transmits the same data. But could you formalise the rule you are applying?
You boldly split infinitives. You don’t expect the Star Trek opening to say ‘to go boldly’. Which in the ‘Next Generation’ became ‘where no one has gone before’, rather than the ‘no man’ of the 1960s original. Where the only prominent woman was also one of only two visible non-whites: a talented lady on the lighter end of Afro-Americans. They added a Russian after complaints, but made him comic. No regular South Asians or West Asians until the promised new ‘Discovery’ series.
[In the printed version, I mistakenly said No regular East Asians until ‘Voyager’ – there was of course Mr Sulu, who somehow slipped my memory.]
Anglos also say ‘mum’ in Britain and ‘mom’ in the USA – did you ever wonder why? The grammar of social interactions is much more complex than the grammar of language. (And included much more class-based language in the 1960s.) Why should the ‘social grammar’ of 1960s radicals win out as it did? Or evolve as it did?
The 1920s ‘Bright Young Things’ were swept aside by Fascism. ‘Beatniks’ were once marginal cranks. The success of 1960s radicals made them routine; even old-fashioned. Younger readers may need to look them up. A mix of good luck and the ever-present Soviet challenge helped the West’s vast ‘Cultural Metamorphosis’. Radicalism became a new normal.
Not The Normal but just Our New Normal.
From Yuppie to Coolheart
The new generation soon went from protest to power. Their elders retired or died, or were shoved aside. Some Hippies became Yuppies in the 1980s, and faded after the half-forgotten economic crisis of 1987. But toned-down Yuppie values became the New Normal. A new elite used clever propaganda to stop most people from thinking that other values were possible.
Call them Coolheart Millionaires, since a name is needed. Ordinary ‘Coolhearts’ have been convinced that 1960s radicalism meant nothing. That ‘Our New Normal’ was always going to happen. For Coolhearts outside a more-than-millionaire elite, this has cost them plenty. While they ‘stayed cool’ and thought they were clever, the ruthless and greedy took back for their more-than-millionaire class the economic privileges that they had before the 1950s.
Coolheart Millionaires are also an Overclass. They live on top of the society, but won’t take responsibility. They’d never get the social privileges of the old ruling class, and might not even want them. They use a rehash of Adam Smith – rich people just looking after themselves is miraculously the best for everyone. An economist who claimed that the Archangel Gabriel would ensure economic fairness would not be accepted even by the religious. But an ‘invisible hand’ sounds scientific and rational.
The disasters of the 1930s told most in the West that this was a damn fool idea. A cluster of interventionist policies labelled Keynesianism dominated till the 1970s crises. The West had its best economic performance from the 1950 to 1970s. Fast mostly-smooth growth that was good for everyone. The poor and middling gained most, with less for the very rich.
Reagan and Thatcher promised to deregulate. To shrink the state, and it never happened. But as ‘needless’ regulations were removed, the rich got the lion’s share of the growth.[C] In the USA, with its fear of ‘big government’, the rich grabbed most of the new wealth in the name of Freedom.
The media, owned by the rich and full of 1960s radicals grown cynical, ‘stayed cool’ in a wave of 1960s remembrances early in the 2010s. Mostly they said that nothing much happened. Only Gays were an exception – they could not discount that the shift from criminal through acceptable to ‘virtually normal’. As of 2017, gays have their own celebration, at least in Britain. From the little bits I have seen, it is OK to say that everything changed for gay males and lesbians. Don’t mention the rest. ‘Almost no longer ashamed to be gay’ is what I suspect most of them feel. Maybe for the young it really is just a normal personal choice. But only because 1960s radicalism won out.
What actually happened was an unexpected part of a far vaster wave of changes for heterosexuals. First the Permissive Society. Then much more power and status for women. It’s also true the radical women botched a campaign that they basically won. Stopped saying ‘Women’s Liberation’. But women who assuredly would not let themselves be treated as most women were treated in the 1950s West also don’t like the Feminist label.
Still, it mattered a lot that cultural radicalism including The Beatles became dominant among my generation. Have kept that dominance.
So are we supposed to be ashamed of ourselves?
For the Benefit of Mr Rich
I’ve heard a lot of propaganda trying to get young people to blame their plight on the Baby Boomer generation. Many of them now comfortably retired with the type of pensions that younger generations allowed to be taken away from them with minimal protest
The most coherent example I could find is ‘A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America’ by Bruce Cannon Gibney.[D] I also found an interesting review:
“The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression, won the Second World War, brought about the enormous postwar economic boom, outlasted the Soviet Union in the Cold War and established the United States as the sole superpower. Since then, the boomers — the Worst Generation, if you will — have squandered most of that…
“Given my own Gen X grievances against the boomers, I was delighted to learn that another Xer, venture capitalist Bruce Cannon Gibney, shares my generational hostility… Gibney delivers an unrelenting critique of the Worst Generation. Perhaps too unrelenting…
“Surely we can give the boomers the blame they deserve for trashing the country while acknowledging that they have also been responsible for major advances in medicine and science, in arts and culture, in civil rights and the rights of women, disabled people and gay people. Can we at least give them some credit for rock-and-roll?…
“Boomers are more properly labelled a generation of narcissists than a generation of sociopaths. (Our own cynical generation has trended more toward the sociopathic.)”[E]
That’s a spat between two ‘post-Boomers’, both ignorant of the vastness of the Cultural Metamorphosis that made them possible. Or chose to ignore it: but when I read them I find them ignorant or muddled about anything outside their own narrow circles of thought. And on the 1960s, the Left has not fed them many insights that they can twist in service to the rich.
The Cultural Metamorphosis that shaped them in their childhood seems literally unthinkable to those people. That’s why I started out explaining it in detail. That their familiar world might plausibly not have happened
Who fears to speak of the Richest 1%? Everyone who aspires to media success, obviously. Gibney does mention the Richest 1% in his last chapters, but evasively. His Wiki entry shows someone either in the Overclass or close to it
We also learn that he had a Chinese mother. Did anyone call her a ‘Chink’? Does he know the phrase ‘Yellow Peril’ – used by racist socialist Jack London, among others. London also wrote a short story in which the ‘peril’ is defeated by the extermination of all Chinese.[F]
The Overclass is Broad Anglo – you can have any origin if you swallow the values and deny that anything else is possible. But most of them have no idea who they are or what they are doing, beyond the small areas of knowledge necessary for their personal success.
Please Tell Lies About Vietnam
No government has a right to send young men overseas to kill or to die on a doubtful theory that the safety of the nation required this. Particularly when the claim rested on a mix of lies and fantasy.
Gibney goes on at length about Boomer protests against the Vietnam War. Is either seriously ignorant, or chooses to omit key facts. Vietnam’s American War was sold by claims of a ‘Domino Effect’: a Communist victory in South Vietnam would cause a run of Communist victories elsewhere. None of it happened, except in Laos
And in Cambodia, where the previously insignificant Khmer Rouge became an incompetent national leadership after a US-sponsored coup smashed the framework of traditional Cambodian politics. Where the USA got a corrupt parliament to depose Prince Sihanouk and abolish the ancient monarchy
Cambodia was trashed without the normal democratic process of a popular vote about the monarchy. Probably the vast majority were royalists back then. With all norms smashed, the Khmer Rouge were incompetent, but everyone else was even less competent. The USA callously abandoned its allies and hindered humanitarian aid. Helped cause an immense tragedy.
In Vietnam, almost all nationalists were also Communists. The USA organised a coup that killed a small autocratic group of genuine anti-Communist nationalists led by President Diem. Thereafter it was the USA’s war. A doomed war, since Saigon’s soldiers mostly thought they had nothing worth dying for.
Young US citizens also knew that there was nothing worth dying for. But the government claimed the right to make them fight it anyway. Meantime Hanoi, a lot cleverer than the Palestinians, never attacked targets outside of Indochina. This was very different from World War Two, in which Japan had attacked first. In which Hitler also declared war and sank US shipping.
Gibney totally misses the point, saying that Vietnam death rates were less than one-seventh of those in World War II. People dying young expect to be dying for something decent. Most of them also need a good reason to kill anyone, even ‘gooks’.
“By no means were most draft dodgers hypocrites judged on their war attitudes, since many did oppose the war. But many were – and almost all dodging, regardless of ideological consistency, had sociopathic overtones, as we will see.”[G]
There’s a story that professional-murderer ‘Lepke’ Buchalter was amused to meet a fellow inmate who was a conscientious objector. That he said “they locked you up for not killing people?” He must have known the difficulty of killing for most people: he became rich because of it.
‘Sociopath’ is the term used by sociologists for a small minority who lack the normal human quality of sympathy. (Psychologists say ‘Psychopath’, without clear differences.) A sociopathic deficiency lets them kill without conscience, and also means that they have no genuine friends. Successful gangsters need to form genuine friendships, or else fool colleagues who are mostly skilled at not being fooled. Mostly they persuade themselves that their killings are right and necessary. Exactly what was missing in Vietnam.
Gibney asks why draft dodgers did not claim to be Conscientious Objectors.[H] This again misses the point. A Conscientious Objector would believe that the war against Hitler was also wrong. Most draft dodgers felt that the Vietnam War was nothing to kill or die for. I am surprised Gibney misses this. I can’t help wondering how he’d test for sociopathy.
Tell Me Lies About Economics
Sociopaths smart enough to avoid crime can have good careers. A concentration is found among surgeons, though the rest of the medical profession typically has above-average sympathy. It is also useful for hedge fund managers and barristers.[I] And they do well in modern management, with its belief in profit and ruthlessness. Some of them “climb the career ladder quickly despite being poor managers”.[J]
As a radical British student in the early 1970s, I found my fellow Boomers mostly generous and sympathetic if it didn’t cost them anything much. A lot of them went on to vote Tory. Some became active Thatcherites. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. But 1960s mistrust of government led them to doubt the need to pay taxes to get a decent world. And herded by a range of clever lies in media mostly owned by the rich, they blamed everyone but themselves when the world in some ways got worse.
In the British election of 2017, Corbyn would have won by a landslide if people over 60 had lacked a vote.[K] People in my own 60-69 age-band split 58 / 27 for Tory or Labour. Very few were sociopaths, but they had a false vision of how the world worked.
As did The Beatles. Liberating for their time, but they refused to do any charity work, unlike most stars. Were not keen to pay tax, like most of the newly rich in the prosperous world created by tax-and-spend economics.
Long before Thatcher said that society did not exist, The Beatles acted as if they believed this to be so. So did many others of that generation. I was part of the minority that knew better. Are disappointed but certainly not baffled that some types of social progress got reversed.
John Lennon dreamed splendidly in “Imagine“, but that cost him nothing. Boosted his already gigantic wealth; 800 million dollars when he was murdered by a Baby-Boomer. A man who fantasised about being part of the Beatles success and murderously resented the gap between this and reality. Who was judged insane but not a sociopath.
Lennon did some good, but could have done a lot more. I’d like to rewrite his famous song:
“Imagine paying taxes
“It isn’t hard for you”
I’ve got no further. It is there for anyone else to expand.
[A] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/6099597/World-War-2-history-memories-from-the-day-war-broke-out-told-to-Melvyn-Bragg.html. It can also be used more narrowly, for a child fathered by foreign military force (occupying or stationed).
[B] 1963 was when The Beatles confirmed their status. Love Me Do was a hit in 1962; but pop is full of what are callously called ‘one-hit wonders’.
[D] Hachette Book Group, 2017.
[G] A Generation of Sociopaths, page 36
[H] Ibid., page 42