November 12, 2007

The Colossal Hubris and Stupidity of the Baby Boomers


Why does NEWSWEEK commemorate 1968 instead of 1918 or 1941? The answer: because all of us, young and old, are stuck in the '60s, hostages to a decade we define ourselves as for or against.

In a word: NO, at least if you are talking about the 1960s. I'd make an argument for the 1860s, and the long term effect of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the failure of Reconstruction, except Reconstruction's decline was a failure of political will in the 1870s. But if there's a sixties that is neglected, it's the 1760s, and the failure of the Hanoverian regime to manage the collapse of France in the Seven Years War that led to the rise of American independence. Manage that well, and we're still shooting off fireworks and BBQ on November the fifth instead of July the fourth. Somehow, in light of that, the historical awesomeness of the Baby Boomers and their precious 1960s will seem a whole lot less significant in two or three centuries.

As the pages that follow demonstrate, the '60s were not necessarily, as some baby boomers would have it, America's defining moment.

That's right, the 1760s and 1860s were a tad bit more significant.

But they were an era when a generation held sustained argument over the things that have always mattered most: How should America show its power in the world? What rights were owed to African-Americans, to women, to gays? What is America and what does it want to be?

I absolutely LOVE that always, because it summarizes in a nutshell the colossal hubris and arrogance of the Baby Boomers. I think you could do a much better job of finding the questions that have always mattered most in some other sources and places---they are the types of questions that got Jesus and Socrates killed, and Galileo and Newton tied into knots over faith, science, reason, passion, and the meaning of life. In the American context, yes, these are important types of questions, but to say that the Baby Boomers were the first to debate them systematically at a "generational" level is comical in its lack of familiarity with American history and the role of social movements itself. It's an insult to the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, the progressives, the movements social, religious, and political spawned by the Second Great Awakening, the post-Civil War labor and workers movements, the campaigns over the status of Indians, women's suffrage.....the list just goes on and on.

How well does Country Joe and the Fish's "I feel like I'm Fixin to Die" stand up over time to Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," for example? Which generation in its choices of music shows that they took the issues of "What is America and what does it want to be?" more seriously: a generation that stood and fought a horrific and bloody war to end slavery, versus a generation that took a lot of drugs, had a lot of sex, listened to a lot of rock music while doing the above, and cut classes to march against "The Man"?

Yips! from Robbo: Sing it, Brutha! Remember the Walking Purchase! Never trust a man with a greater than four foot stride!

Posted by Steve-O at November 12, 2007 11:01 AM | TrackBack

When these b*stards are 80, we're going to be reading stories about how we're losing the Woodstock generation at a rate of 10,000 a day . . . what a tragic loss! . . . soon no one will be alive who was actually at Woodstock!

If the generation that fought WWII was the greatest generation, we won't have to look very far to find the worst generation. It's their narcissistic children.

Posted by: The Colossus at November 12, 2007 12:04 PM

go, Steve-O. Question, since you're the professor here. Do today's kiddie's understand this? Or were we fortunate to live in the Reagan/Iron Lady/JPII dominated 80s and therefore experienced the first big correction from the 60s lunacy?

Posted by: tdp at November 12, 2007 12:25 PM

Oh, they get it, in the sense of seeing the Boomers as Grandpa Simpson-like characters. Then again, I'm 41, and I'm on the wrong side of the Grandpa Simpson generational divide. And soon, even making references to Grandpa Simpson will put you on the wrong side.

Put it this way Tom: whenever I go into the Intro American classroom, I always try to remember that the year the frosh were born was the year the Berlin Wall came down. And that the Netscape browser was introduced the year they entered kindergarten.

Posted by: Steve the LLamabutcher at November 12, 2007 12:32 PM

Steve-O -- what's the level of historical knowledge of your students like these days? Back in the late 70s, early 80s, in junior high and high school, we generally had very good history and civics classes, especially in US History. What are your kids in class like today? Are they competent, or has the high school curriculum been so utterly ravaged that they now come in effectively knowing nothing?

Posted by: The Colossus at November 12, 2007 01:54 PM

In some respects I have to disagree with you. The 60's and 70's were the era where our culture took a hard left turn. That is significant. The advent of birth control, drug use by middle America, the "new society" enshrined in increased welfare benefits that enslaved millions to lives of marginal productivity as well as a knee jerk questioning of anything political is in my mind a fairly significant development in western culture.
We now reap the seeds of what was sown in those days. A bending over backwards to accomodate any and all life style choices, citizens that now think that free speech includes violence and vandalism against those they do not agree with and of course the explosion in one parent families.
While I understand your point of view, I do not think you should minimize the radical sea change that took place during the youth of baby boomers.

Posted by: Babs at November 12, 2007 02:20 PM

I failed to mention abortion on demand...
This one issue has had a huge effect on our society. I would say that it is right up there with the woman's right to vote.

Posted by: Babs at November 12, 2007 02:24 PM

Technically, I guess I'm a boomer (b. 12/1957 - I turn 50 next month), but I've never felt like I was a part of that generation. I was too young to have had to go to Viet Nam (Graduated HS in 1976), and I was far too young to have been to Woodstock or any of the other epic concerts (Altamont, anyone?).

I always thought "the older kids" were a tad crazy, and I wondered why that was. Of course, my dad was a USAF pilot, so I was raised in a Republican household... thank God.

I do like a lot of the 60's music though: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, et al.

Posted by: Hucbald at November 12, 2007 03:48 PM

Has anyone else noticed that "Viet Nam Vets" in sitcoms and such are very rarely portrayed as being much over about 35? Like, off by about a quarter century? Pisses me off, and my Nam-vet buddies are not folks you want to meet in daylight with a clear path of escape, much less in a dark alley.

Posted by: ktel at November 12, 2007 09:24 PM

When will the Baby Boomers stop patting themselves on the back?? Its getting tiresome.

Posted by: stillers at November 17, 2007 05:20 AM