About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Most Selfish Generation


This morning I read a an interesting thread on Reddit that started as a discussion of the decline of teen pregnancy, but ended as a Millennial Generation rant against Baby Boomers.  In this thread, almost every contributor shared a story about how their parents called them lazy, selfish, and entitled.  There were also a number of posts about how the Millennials have "ruined this country."  To this section of posts, the replies were almost universal that it was actually the Boomers who wrecked the nation.  This was an interesting point, and one which I want to explore in a bit more depth.

I should take a moment and note here, that I am writing this as a person who is solidly in the middle of Generation X.  We are an odd and relatively small generation sandwiched between the massive Boomers and the even more massive Millennials.  We, for the most part, have been a quiet generation.  We whine and complain, but for the most part, we do what is expected of us.   We don't make waves, and we really have never had much political lout.  We had a lot of cultural influence, but in terms of real power, we never had that much.  This is in contrast to the generations to either side of us, which had both cultural and political clout.

Gen X'ers, are the products of a similarly small and quiet generation called the Silent Generation.  The Silent Generation was unusually small because the combination of World War I and the Spanish Flu decimated the population and this was followed by the financial meltdown of the Great Depression, which made having a large family unaffordable.  Then to top it off for that generation, they were completely overshadowed by the Baby Boom of the 1950's, to the point where many of the members of this generation don't even know where they belong, the older ones think of themselves as part of the "Greatest Generation" and the younger ones think they are Boomers. 

And this returns me to my point, when the Baby Boomers came along, the entire cultural axis of the world shifted to accommodate them.  This shift is understandable.  Their parents were steeped in the horror that was World War II, they saw atrocities the likes of which had not been seen before, or thankfully, since.  And after they returned from that nightmare, they were set on making sure their kids never experienced that sort of pain.

And in doing this, they made their children the centers of their universes.

This was the birth of the profession of "child psychology" and, led by Dr. Spock, children became "special and unique snowflakes." Disciplining your children was out, letting them explore their creativity was in.  Austerity was no longer the rule when it came to toys, lavish playrooms became the norm.   And probably the most important, benign indifference ceased to be the standard in child care, now, heavy involvement became the expectation.  For the Boomers, it was typically just the mother that was heavily involved in the children's lives, because the father still maintained the traditional breadwinner role, but even back in the 50's fathers were expected to be more involved, coaching little league, going to parent/teacher conferences, and, as shown in "Father Knows Best," fixing all of the problems in the family.

And that created, in the children, an expectation that their every whim would be responded to.  Not necessarily accommodated, that didn't come until later, but they still knew that their voice was going to be heard.  I do want to say, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is just that it was taken to extremes with the Boomers.

Another important cultural shift that occurred at this time was the birth of Randianism.  Ayn Rand's books were becoming a cultural touchstone for many.  Atlas Shrugged  was being treated as reverentially as the Bible in the circles of the intelligentsia, and this book enshrined selfishness as a cultural positive.  When this was coupled with children who were never really told no, it created a force majeure in society; people who believed that they were the most important things in their own lives, and that nothing mattered except the "self."

The beginning of the impactful pole shift started in the Sixties with the Vietnam War.  The Boomers turned out en-masse to protest the war.  I do want to state here, that Vietnam was pointless and horrific, and many of the protesters were motivated by that, but to a large part, many of the protesters were against the war because they didn't want to go.  They were motivated by selfishness, and a legitimate desire to not die in the jungles of Asia.

I know this doesn't seem to fit with the myth that we are told about the sixties, that the Hippies wanted peace, civil rights, and flowers, but it is much closer to the truth.  For the most part, there were two separate civil unrest movements in the Sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, which was bracketed by he Watts Riots of 1965 and the Detroit Riots of 1967, and the Anti-War Protests which climaxed in 1972. 

The Civil Right protests, although containing a fair number of whites, were primarily organized and populated by the African-American Community.  In general, white America either protested in support or against the Civil Rights Movement, but on the whole, this battle was won by the black community and by a group of lawmakers who supported the changes to the laws.  Also, by the time that the Baby Boomers really started to come of age in 1968, significant progress had been made in this movement, schools were beginning to be integrated, Jim Crow and the Poll Tax had been eliminated, and, most importantly, the massive Civil Rights act of 1964 was the law of the land.  Although equal rights remains a problem today, after the death of Martin Luther King Jr, the nation's attention on the issue began to wane.

On the other hand, the Anti-War protests were really just beginning in 1968.  This was the point when the war was really heating up, after the Tet Offensive of 67, and when public opinions of the war were beginning to change.  This was the age of "one, two, three, four! We don't want your fucking war!" and "Hell no, we won't go!"  While the Boomers had been on the periphery of the Civil Rights Movement, they were at the heart of the Anti-War Protests.  Further, they had learned from the Civil Rights Movement how much public demonstrations and even riots can effect change.

But at the core, the protests were against the draft and conscription, not against the war itself.  This can be seen from the fact that after the draft ended in 1973, so did most of the mass protests.  In this, Richard Nixon was correct, end the draft and you will end the demonstrations.  The Boomers had successfully agitated to achieve their own ends, which was the right to vote at 18 and an end to forced military service.  Although this goal served society as a whole, it served to reinforce the idea that what the Boomers wanted, the Boomers got.  Basically, they threw a massive national tantrum and changed the law and a century of public policy of national service. 

But it didn't stop there.  As the Boomers came of age, they began to redefine the family and family ties.  Free love, polyamory, swinging and ultimately divorce entered the public discourse.  Where before, adultery was a public shame and divorce indicated a failure of the people involved, now they became normalized and more or less accepted.  The last gasp of this what when Bill Clinton could screw an intern in the Oval Office and watch his poll numbers go up, not down.

Again, I am not saying that there wasn't good in this.  Sex was no longer a dirty and shameful thing, and people could get out of abusive situations with dignity, but the positive aspects of these transformations was not the driving influence.  Driving it was the desire of the Boomers to have whatever they wanted.  If they were board in their marriage, they wanted a "get out of jail free" card.  If they wanted their secretary or their pool boy, they could have them, without social shame, and even more, with a certain cachet that they were sophisticated and modern.  Again, it should be noted that the Boomers had the highest divorce rate of any generation, and among the generations that bracket them, the divorce rate has remained lower.  In fact, among the Gen X'ers, the divorce rate is below the national overall rates. 

The next wave of the Boomers transformation of society was arguably a very bad thing for the nation as a whole.  Unlike the earlier movements that spawned positive social progress, the next actions would turn back the clock with the "Regan Revolution."  Once the Boomers were settled into their comfortable middle class adult lives, they decided that they no longer liked taxes.  They began to say, "if you are a Republican when you are twenty, you have no heart, and if you are a Democrat at age 40, you have no brain." 
As the edge of the Boomers entered the 80's, they became caught up in the Regan Trickle Down Economics.  Again, this was not because of facts (the Laffer Curve was rattled off on a cocktail napkin) it was because they wanted to keep more for themselves.  Suddenly, they no longer cared about a social safety net, helping the poor or anything else, they just wanted more for themselves.  The movie "Wall Street" became an instruction manual as opposed to a cautionary tale. 

Step by step, throughout the 80's the young guns, led by people like Karl Rove began to dismantle institutions that had existed since the Depression.  All of the protections that were put in place after the Crash of 29 were lifted, and Wall Street again returned to a free wheeling casino.  And this made the Boomers rich.

They even subverted the teachings of the Christian Church to validate their selfish worldview.  The Prosperity Gospel is a product of the Boomers, and teaches that God wants you to be rich, and if you are not rich, then you are evil and God has turned His Grace from you.  This way, they can feel smugly satisfied with their own goodness as they look at all they have.

But rather than follow in their parent's footsteps and sacrifice for their children and for their futures, they piled on loan debt on their kids while they vacationed in Belize.  The Boomers have the lowest rate of savings of the modern era, and the highest debt, while still raking in the bulk of the wages.  (And in this, Gen X again exceed the previous generation, investing in 401K plans, IRA's and generally being pretty frugal.) 

Further, unlike previous generations, the Boomers have declined to step off of center stage and allow the youth to begin to take the reigns.  They cling to jobs, locking younger people out of lucrative careers.  They insist on remaining the target demographic, leading the TV to be filled with ads for Viagra and Lexuses rather than ads for diapers and Priuses.  And ironically, the generation that got its start on the public stage protesting war became the biggest cheerleaders for perpetual war.

And most importantly, they continued to dominate the national discourse, as they have since they were about 20.  The older generations are patted on the head and treated like they are demented, and the younger generations are told to shut up because they don't know how the world works.  They dominate all of the discussions.

And that brings us to the modern era.  The world is shifting with the election of Barack Obama.  For the first time in their lives, a man was elected President without the majority of them supporting him.  Suddenly a broad coalition of "others" elected someone who they did not want as President. Even worse, he isn't completely one of them.  Being born in 1961, he is on the cusp between the Boomers and Gen X, with as many experiences in common with the X'ers as he has with the Boomers.

And what followed was the biggest tantrum that the Boomers have ever thrown.  You have 60 year old women on TV screaming and crying "I want my country back."  You have major politicians claiming the President is literally an illegal alien.  You have Tea Partiers shutting down the government to get their way.

If they can't run things the way THEY want them run, then they will destroy everything.  It doesn't matter if the country is ruined, they would rather see it completely collapse before they will let the power shift from their hands.

And this is the biggest caution I can give, power WILL pass from their hands; each generation has it's hour on the stage and then is heard no more.   The question is, what will they do when the power passes from them.

Based on what we have see so far, it will not be pretty.

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