Friday, March 19, 2021

Did the Boomers Blow It?

“Bracing” the reviewer calls it, and about that he is certainly right. Helen Andrews’ book Boomers, a systematic takedown of the pretensions of the baby boomer generation-- those born between 1945 and 1964-- has the wit, the intelligence and the energy needed to produce a major rethink.

Andrews judges the boomer generation harshly. She believes that they were handed a great country and have reduced it to rubble. She takes no prisoners, and perhaps she overstates her case, but still, she wants to hold that generation-- of which I am not a member-- to account for its self-righteous preening and posturing. And for its serial failures.

So, Andrews is a fine essayist and she is doing what I would call contrary opinion. She takes the boomer claims for success and argues that they are all failures. 

Reviewer Elliot Kaufman, writing in Commentary, (via Maggie’s Farm) summarizes her point cogently:

The successes that everyone else grants the boomers, she considers failures. Racial progress? That’s stolen valor from Dr. King’s generation. Boomers threw so much money at the race problem that it became too lucrative to solve. Women’s liberation? Only for the “atypical woman.” On the whole, boomer feminism left women worse off, she insists, “taking the choice that was making most of them happy”—homemaking—“and removing it from the set of options.” The mass entry of women into higher education? If you can call that an education, Andrews retorts. Sexual liberation? Mere cover to “make women more sexually available to men.” The poor boomers couldn’t even get leftism right. “If a left-wing party is no longer the party of the working class, what good is it?” she asks. “What left is it?”

If you will, we can also allow Andrews her own word, from the text. It gives you a taste of her fine writing and her take no prisoners style.:

The baby boomers have been responsible for the most dramatic sundering of Western civilization since the Protestant Reformation. If that is hard to accept, it is only because the boomer revolution has been so comprehensive that it has become almost impossible to imagine what life was like before it. 

And also:

For all their claims to be women’s greatest liberators, it would be hard to convince an impartial observer that boomer feminism has left women better off when one in five white women are on antidepressants. Feminism, for the boomers, mostly meant channeling women into paid employment on an unprecedented scale. Women have always worked, but never in American history did women outnumber men in the labor force until January 2020.

But, boomer hearts were in the right place. Their intentions were good:

Drugged up, divorced, ignorant, and indebted, but at least they did it out of idealism. That has been the baby boomers’ universal alibi: our intentions were good. Later, they will admit, perhaps that idealism curdled, motivation flagged, the weaker-willed sold out. Still, the original impulse was altruistic.

And then there is this intriguing apercu-- that boomers defined themselves, not by what they produced, but by what they consumed. You might find that to be slightly oversimplified, but its purpose is cogent. After all, as Andrews remarks, boomers have amassed a massive quantity of debt-- especially if you include the American national debt. We are currently engaged in a national orgy of spending, one that assumes that we will never have to pay it back. As the dollar’s collapse is fast approaching, the boomer generation has no plans for how to pay it back. They want to assure that the punch bowl is still full. Its fearless leader is boomer, Jerome Powell.

It has been said that the baby boomers were the first generation to define themselves by what they consumed and not by what they produced. Putting advertisements for brands on one’s clothes, for example, would have revolted a more dignified generation. But boomers degraded consumption as much as they elevated it. The products grew shoddier, and so did the experience of shopping. Discount giants like Target, Walmart, and Kmart—all founded in 1962—marketed themselves as stores where you could shop in your pajamas if you wanted.

[For your added interest, here is a link to a post I wrote about one Helen Rittelmeyer, now Helen Andrews, several years ago:


David Foster said...

Sebastian Haffner, who was a teenager and young man in German between the wars, wrote:

"Despite everything, one could find a fresh atmosphere in Germany at this time…The barriers between the classes had become thin and permeable…There were many students who were labourers, and many young labourers who were students. Class prejudice and the starched-collar mentality were simply out of fashion. The relations between the sexes were freer and franker than ever–perhaps a fortunate by-product of the lack of discipline of the past years…we felt a bewildered sympathy for previous generations who had, in their youth, had the choice between unapproachable virgins for adoration and harlots for relaxation. Finally, a new hope even began to dawn in international relations; there was less prejudice and more understanding of the other side, and an unmistakable pleasure in the vivid variety that the world derives from its many peoples."

...some similarities, I think, to the US in the late 1960s thru 1970s. A question in both cases: were the positive aspects possible without he negative aspects?

urbane legend said...

Feminism, for the boomers, mostly meant channeling women into paid employment on an unprecedented scale.

I always understood that was a big part of what they wanted, with equal pay and opportunity.
Feminism . . . meant channeling women . . .
Sounds like women being acted upon by some force beyond their control; is that what happened?

Mr. Foster,
Doesn't every change bring with it both the positive and the negative?

jmod46 said...

Everything in the article points to the Boomer's failure to listen to Churchill (paraphrased):

If you are 18 years old and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are 50 years old and not a conservative, you have no head.

We only conformed to the first part and ignored the second.

JPL17 said...

Sounds like women being acted upon by some force beyond their control; is that what happened?

Yes, Urbane Legend, that's a big part of it. And the mysterious force that acted on women wasn't so mysterious after all. It was "economics." I.e., as women moved into the workforce in large numbers beginning in the 1970s, the percentage of households with two earners instead of one increased dramatically. This caused housing prices to skyrocket. In desirable cities and suburbs, the price of desirable homes literally jumped by factors of 2, 3, 4, and 5 in just a few years. At that point the only households that could afford the types of houses preferred by the upwardly mobile were ... naturally, two-earner households. Working was therefore no longer an option for women. It became a necessity.

BTW, this forcing of women into employment whether or not they wanted it was a conscious part of the feminists' plan, and it worked.

Uncle Max said...

The Boomers didn't do all of this on their own. There was WWII and the aftermath was a huge factor. Booming economy... Universities brimming with GI's, and Gramaci and the Commies. The Great generation brought up the Boomers and curiously failed their kids with unrealistic ideas about politics, world culture and religion.