My generation has survived well without being named. The cutoff for Xers was set at 1979, and 28 years later, the best attempts at a catchy name have been Generation Next, courtesy of a shitty Pepsi campaign,1 and Generation Y, which is indicative of nobody caring. At most, we’re the computer generation, because we’ve grown parallel to the rise of personal computers and ubiquitous gadgetry. So, for the sake of reference, I’ll call us Bytes.
The Xers are remembered for being fairly bitter, blowing good educations, and not wanting to pay the Boomers’ social security. Since it looks like they won’t have to, the X Gen moaning has subsided, and they’ve mostly dissolved into a buffer of thirty-somethings between the Boomers and the Bytes, hiding discreetly behind late mid eighties to mid nineties angsty romance flicks.
The late Xers and the Bytes have been cultivating a belief for a while. Growing up, I heard all about the sixties, and blamed a lot of my generation’s early nihilism2 on our knowledge that our parents’ generation lived through a hell of a time, while we just had the leftovers from eighties cocaine orgies, and those leftovers were diseased. Turns out, the rest of my generation was not just pissed at missing it, they were pissed at the Boomers for fucking it up.
The Xer cutoff point granted me a narrow escape, and put Kurt Cobain right in the middle of it. Kurt said best what I hear more and more of these days: “I like to blame my parents generation for coming so close to social change then giving up.”
Of course this was couched amoung many criticisms of his own generation. For some reason, most of my generation, which constituted most of his fans, either feels immune to those criticisms or clutches them with ironic fervor. I would rather not have the voice of my generation attributed to a chronically depressed suicidal punk star, but at least he was a good song writer, and quote worthy. I don’t for a second think he shaped my peers, but he accurately represented the extent of our philosophical and social consciousness.
I’m going to throw this out and defend it later: Blaming our parents for failing to create paradise is analogous to blaming the Rolling Stones for not being dead.
What bugs me most is the concept that the Boomers didn’t do anything. The idea that the social upheaval in the sixties accomplished nothing is absurd; yet the Bytes judge them with our own middle line of experience.
The common examples used to prove Boomer failure are the issues that didn’t go away. Like it’s a shame there’s still racism after all that civil rights work. There’s still racism? No fucking way. Racism? Didn’t we take care of that?
This argument usually sneaks in with comments about how bad racism is today, and it’s a shame the civil rights movement didn’t achieve more. There’s a categorical difference between the personal racial issues imposed by people of power, and a social contract that defines a race of people as having fewer rights. Yes, of course there’s still rampant racism and class inequality that evolved from and continues to propagate racism, but the name of the movement was civil rights. They were looking for civil equality, and an end to legally acceptable and legally enforced segregation. No one believed they were going to wipe out hate.
Another common tactic in the great buck passing is to say movements in the sixties were misguided or immediately perverted. I think this evolved from another habit that seems prevalent in liberal arts departments: The more absurd counterintuitive an idea is, the more the budding philosopher is in love with it. The less evidence the better. Honed with cynicism and failure to become a rock star, this habit grows into denouncing any progressive movement that didn’t help us get laid. Case in brutal point: feminism.
Preface: some of my friends are feminists, and I see nothing wrong with promoting the rights of women. You don’t either, unless you’re a prick.
Caveat: The problem with some feminism today is it fails to recognize increased sexual awareness on both sides of the gender line. Life sucks for men too, and though much of feminist thought is as aware of this as keenly as it is aware of the continuing degradation of women by republicans, some feminist arguments do not recognize this. “Feminist”, even in my ultra-liberal, sexually experimental and occasionally deranged college career, was almost an insult, and I can only blame the sect that is still fighting the Tyranny of the Phallus and producing plays with the premise that Shakespeare intended Hamlet to be a woman. For every philosophy bound between Heaven and Earth, there is a crazy in the street.
Point: You know how men got a lot of this sexual self-awareness? Feminism. The struggle of women to be recognized as equal citizens has always produced greater self-awareness in male sexual identity, and we should be so lucky, considering how we’re still encouraged to deny the need for it.
There’s nothing in the past or the present to suggest that feminism was a bad, failed, or discontinued idea, or that it can be dismissed as another misstep in the sixties movements.
And here we hit the big one.
Premise: The government sucks.
Conclusion: Our parents fucked it all up. Not only is there still sexism, racism, disease, hate, violence, pollution, inequality, and all these other things that our parents were supposed to take care of, but on top of all that, our government is still lying to us and taking away our rights. Wasn’t that whole sixties thing about empowering the people, bringing down the man, stopping injustice?
The situation is bad these days, no denying. God is definitely within each of us; you can tell because he’s clearly looking to lay down some holy vengeance on the Himself in each other of us. The environmental end game is coming down in favor of cockroaches. We are, as usual, fighting off the people we armed and trained to fight off the previous round of people we armed and trained to fight off the previous round of… I’m sure this can be traced back to Rome one way or another. I’m not going to bother.
Most of the secular and educated people I know are appalled at the situation, and have never trusted the government, which is fair, because every government since governments got agriculture and teeth has been lying to its people in one way or another. The only difference we might point out is that our generation never trusted the government.
We grew up raised by a generation that rebelled in a non-violent way against a vicious and violent opposition. Though never they never followed through, a good chunk of the SDS leadership was marked for lethal accident by the FBI. Students were shot. Civil rights and a nasty war were competing for attention. Out of all that, the Boomers knew that things had to change, and they got together and changed them. Did they fix it? No. I still can’t understand the mentality that thinks things in the world are broken and fixable. They made an effort, and there are a whole lot of them still making an effort to do something better than complain about it.
And they were raised by the generation that fought World War II. Their parents fought the least ambiguous war in memory, against a stronger opponent. In their day, the world owed us one. I doubt they were telling their kids to fight The Man. They didn’t expect their kids to be carted off to a police action.
The Boomers, after raising us, handed down a cagier attitude, stopping briefly to develop home computers and the groundwork for the internet. The Bytes inherited more access to information than anyone before thought possible. More information was transferred this year than was recorded in the whole of written history prior to 1970.3 With almost genetic cynicism and as much information as we could ever hope for, we have no excuses.
But the same cynicism makes the days a bit more depressing, and all that information is damn distracting. We know our government is lying to us, and we don’t like it, but in the face of global catastrophe, it’s hard to resist all the astoundingly immersive games the Japan keeps sending us.
I’m not blaming us. I’m not saying the Bytes have a better chance at making things better. But the Boomers had a chance and they took it. We are not taking ours. I think we are a savvy public, but the government got wise too, and they got their act together a little faster than we did. Meanwhile the entertainment industry flew straight out of our league and won’t stop until they’ve satisfied every outlandish sensory pleasure we can lust for.
After a couple of decades of no real cause to get behind and not a whole lot to fight against, the neo-hippies contented themselves with hipping, the punks with rock, the socialists with Whole Foods, and when the cause snapped up and hit us in the face, no one knew what to do.
We still don’t. We’re not really trying. Just being something other than what we loath doesn’t do much, but for the most part, we’re okay with that. Let the world blow itself up, let the government lie, maybe complain about it a bit. Protest under police guidance. The articles I read are about the Democrats lacking identity. Looks to me like the educated lack passion. The twenty-something Bytes are chided for not being as savvy and focussed as the people preventing change and taking away rights, but bringing change takes passion.
So, to finally get back to that little proposition above: Saying the Boomers sold out because they went to rehab and got jobs to feed the Bytes is just a miscast of the way life goes, and we should be cynical enough to realize it. They took their college days and spent them on social progress. They remembered what they did, got out of college, and raised smart kids in what they knew was going to be a difficult world, hoping their kids might benefit from the realizations they had when they were kids. Much as we gawk at the Rolling Stones and wonder why they haven’t given up, most of realize that they’ll die as soon as they stop touring. We should extend the same courtesy of understanding to our parents, except substitute “getting through life vaguely intact” for “touring”. Even after a fantastic social revolt, the morning after brings children and weak livers. Even then the Boomers still managed to sort out a balance of passion and necessity.
They Boomers and the Stones did what they wanted to do and what they had to do. The Bytes haven’t done much of either so far.
The world tends to sort itself out. Almost everyone wants to see themselves and their children and their friends go on. The Bytes’ lack of interest is not the knocking apocalypse. But don’t blame the Boomers for not handing us a perfect world. They took their own world and did what they thought was right, and they did a lot more for it than we will.