Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baby Boomers

                I am driving in the passenger seat of a new car to a restaurant to have a bite to eat and the driver of the vehicle is about twenty years my senior. She is apart of the so called baby boom generation.  This is a curious set of people, as they are arbitrarily accredited and discredited, depending on your politics, with various things. Protesting against the Vietnam War and helping to end it and bring the troops home, raising awareness about the environment and it's intrinsic importance, the Civil Rights Movement and so on.  There are a handful of people, for better or for worse, who spearheaded these movements. Many of the original hippies were in fact people who were independently wealthy and therefore had the resources necessary to take time away from the workaday world that most people were rigidly committed to. While the U.S. is supposed to have been at it's heyday in the 1950's, these were, in reality, very grim times. The threat of nuclear war, the paranoia that emanated from this threat, the Red Scare and the consequent Communist "witch" hunts spearheaded by Joseph McCarthy, the lack of opportunity for women and minorities...all of these combined hardly evoke a sense of goodness about this time period. It was the beginning of the promotion of industrialism and the consequent consumer culture that was to fuel the need for industrialization. Sexual mores were supposed to be conservative of the Puritanical ideal and everyone was supposed to be satisfied with the status quo.  There is, naturally, more than one version of the state of things, as the realities that people occupy are separate.  The 1960's was a reawakening of the human spirit and an affirmation of the human condition.  We are not machines, meant to function as tools in a hierarchical industrial and governmental order, but people who have wants, needs, dreams and desires that oftentimes fall outside the realm of so called Puritanical conduct. Not to mention how people were not so pleased with being called upon to fight in what was obviously an ethically compromised war...or do they still call it The Vietnam Conflict?  American corporations are still denying their culpability for dropping so many tons of agent orange on civilian populations and its environmental damage.  Given this backdrop, it is hard to say that these were the best of times for the United States of America. What was most insidious about this era, the post WWII era, is how it heralded in an age when people were expected to fall in line with the new economic and social order, regardless of how they felt about it. 
           My mother grew up in Wichita, Kansas.  She was married and pregnant by age 18 and not necessarily in that order. She was the product of parochial education and a two parent middle class family.  Her marriage was untenable, if only for it's banal and unpromising quality.  She left her husband and took her son out of the state and went exploring. I enjoy listening to her adventures and admire her nerve, albeit with reservation, as her actions were not supported by any real goals, but by her desire to enjoy life. She did protest against the Vietnam war and even lost a job over it, since the man who owned the dry cleaning shop where she worked did not appreciate her voicing her opinion.  This was not easy for a single mother with a son. She worked to raise awareness about the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility when it became clear how it was contaminating the environment and causing cancer.  She did her part to be progressive. 
            One day I was driving with her in Boulder, Co and she was explaining to me, in her typical bubbly tone, how their were two camps of hippies, those who cared about issues of social justice and spirituality and those who were into drugs and the lascivious lifestyle.  "And you belonged to the latter group," I teased her. She laughs, as it is partly true. Then again, the rampant alcoholism of that time is not any more attractive, than the illegal drug use of the time, if not less. The point being is that the baby boomers fell short of offering up a viable and lasting plan to cure the world of its ills.  Those who could ultimately decided that, if they couldn't beat the establishment, they'd join it and they did. Were things improved? That is perhaps too soon to tell. 
            As I am driving in the car to go and eat with a person who is about the same generation as my own mother, we are discussing the current environmental catastrophes, namely the drought that likely will plague the area for years to come. She begins to offer up a diatribe about what "this generation" will have to face, describing how "they have never been in a war, they have never been ...." I am put off by this rhetoric because it wreaks of a dictatorial quality as well as a certain lack of accountability among the baby boom generation.  I feel free to criticize because I have been on the receiving end of the ageist criticism and have fought back by simply explaining that blaming the younger crowd is not indicative of ones superiority, but their lack of leadership and accountability. I, myself, have always been politically active, but I am weary of labels, generalizations and prejudices that are apart of any clique, group, movement, and so on. I am impressed by the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement, the women's rights movement and the like, but it is clear how the economic forces that make exploitation of natural and human resources, as well as human differences, has hardly been abated. In these times they have been accelerated and it is difficult not to participate in ones own undoing. The person whom I am driving with is a decent person on the whole, but her words betray an obvious level of obliviousness.  She asserts that "this generation" (presumably mine) has never been through a war.  The fact is that we have been in the throes of what is described as the longest war in U.S. history, these wars in the Middle East.  She asserts that this generation has never had to go without...no, I have been very much aware of the pressing economic circumstances that have been a grim reality since I was a child.  For me, conspicuous consumption was never the order of the day. It seems that what I am hearing is a boat load of propaganda that has been preached by the baby boom generation. For all practical purposes, they really should be pointing this criticism for lack of experience at themselves.  They enjoyed the ride of their generations rebellion and we, those born after them are left with more hierarchy, more war, more pollution, more disparity, more people and less time.  I am not a fan of ageism and so I would invite people of all ages to take responsibility for the role they play and their contribution to the current status quo.  Unless we all take responsibility for our own actions, emotions and ideas, we cannot positively effect our communities and the broader society.

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