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A partial defence of baby boomers

The other day I came across this article during some random Web surfing, which contained a fairly familiar conservative hammering of what is loosely defined as the Baby Boomer Generation, that portion of the mostly Western population now on the verge of hitting the age of retirement.

In essentials, the argument runs like this: baby boomers are self-obsessed, adopted some mind-bindingly dumb (mostly left) political views; undermined respect for any kind of authority; addled their brains with drugs during the infamous Sixties and now expect we younger folk to shoulder the burgeoning cost of keeping them in retirement. Blah, bloody blah-blah.

Yes, you may have guessed it – this writer (born in that greatest of years, 1966, about a month before England won the soccer World Cup) is not entirely sold on the conservative critique, even though I share some distaste at the dumb political and cultural stances that were taken by said generation. But one thing which I frequently note is this – the BB generation is often attacked for being self-interested and focussed on acquiring self-esteem. But wait a minute. As a libertarian and unashamed individualist, I have to ask: what is wrong with wishing to improve one’s life, exactly? After all, one of the most widely books in that stiff-necked era, that of the Victorians, was Samuel Smiles’ hymn to self-improvement.

Surely, anyone who believes their life is their own, and not that of the State, Volk, proletariat, God, Allah, or the Great Green whatever, will embrace the notion of self-improvement. After all, much of the libertarian movement we know today, with all its different strains, acquired a considerable amount of energy during the 1950s and 60s. David Friedman, for example, who is the son of Milton Friedman and a leading exponent of anarcho-capitalism, might be regarded as a baby boomer. A good number of those who were inspired by the ideas of author and philosopher Ayn Rand were baby boomers. The Libertarian Alliance’s own director, Dr Chris R. Tame, and LA editorial boss and Samizdata.net scribe, Brian Micklethwait, were of the boomer generation.

To put it another way, let us avoid the groupthink mentality that would bracket a whole generation under one heading. The BB generation contain a fair share of boobies, charlatans and fools. It also contains folk I greatly admire and am proud to call my friends.

16 comments to A partial defence of baby boomers

  • Amelia

    I think in the US disgust with the boomers is a reflex action to their constant self righteousness not really their self centeredness. Being self centered is okay, but claiming you’re really caring at the same time is annoying. I think also people of my generation, X that is, also got really tired of the glorification of the sixties. I still believe most of the hippies were at the protests not out of any deep feeling, but mainly to get laid. It’s the hypocrisy that gets me. The sixties kids had great economic times throughout most of their lives, have lorded over everyone about how great their generation is and now they expect me to pay their SS? I would much rather abolish the system. I realize, of course, that not all boomers fall into this category, but a lot do. Prehaps we should revive another Victorian concept, but instead of the “undeserving poor” the “undeserving spoiled rotten brats.”

  • Amelia is right, surely the critique is not that the caricature BB is self-interested but that he dresses up this self-interest self-righteously as altruism. A good example of this is the attitude of government workers whose sectoral concerns are presented, straight-faced, as a matter of “better public services for everyone”.

  • Amelia and Frank seem to be nearer the mark. I think the claim that boomers “undermined respect for any kind of authority” is the false one that is pertinent. They didn’t undermine respect for authority, they are in fact quite authoritarian. Their battle with conservatives, then and now, isn’t about principles it is about which team will be in authority.

  • Joe

    I wouldn’t mind so much that they want to “improve” themselves. That has never been what is wrong. What’s annoying is they then think that EVERYONE should do the same thing. If they want to run with Jim Fix, fine. Accept that I ain’t interested. Want to eat veggie? Fine. Leave my steak alone.

    I despise boomers. Die boomers die. (Simpsons reference. It’s German…)

  • Sandy P.

    It’s not that they want to improve their life, it’s that they think they know better than me and want to improve my life. They’re not used to the word “NO!”

    I’m a tail-ender.

  • Steve

    Personally I think the boomers, one way or another, is much ado about nothing.

    That age group is common through the bureaucracy at the present time, is the group in which younger members of any society, from any generation, are most often going to encounter hyprocrisy and abuse their authority of any kind, and the 1960’s is an obvious target for that reason in the anecdotal comments in this thread.

    Most baby boomers didn’t do LSD, didn’t protest anything, and had no interest in undermining anything. Raised in the fat days of the 1950’s they likely might qualify as the “soft” generation. But they also were taught, of all groups, not to rock the boat. The fact that a prominent minority stood out as somehow representative should suggest they stood out and attracted attention for some reason.

    The time had come for the Civil Rights movement, but only a relatively small white minority was involved. The 1950’s provided little literary or intellectual output, ditto the 1960’s. What’s found in either case is leftist and not especially interesting or original.

    It appears they stood out because they were vocal and so contrary to society as a whole. Any press is going to be highly critical and provide undue coverage.

    The war in Vietnam didn’t become that unpopular with a large portion of the U.S. population until 1967 or 1968 and that arguably can be attributed more to TV news coverage and attrition rather than the influence of a small number of hippy demonstrators.

    They may well be found guilty as charged of being too “soft,” but that’s largely due to the spawning of large numbers of yuppies than it is the hippies of popular myth. I’ve never seen a study of their voting demographics that suggests that generation doesn’t vote Republican more than it does Democrat.

    The generation of flower children had wilted and was nowhere to be found by the end of Watergate. That suggests their numbers couldn’t have been that great. Popular myth. They seem to have been no more interesting or unusual than the previous decade. The careless disregard for lack of individual responsibility began then, but didn’t really see fruition until later.

    Kerry, Clinton, Bush all belong more to the 1970’s than any other period. Since that decade likely gave us oral sex and laid the foundation for technology we likely have them to thank for any of society’s perceived problems today. ;)

  • Boomers to me are the definition of self-righteous twats who believe their generation reinvented everything. Nothing was the same after they got done with it. I think the criticism BBs get is well justified. And its not just conservatives who are sick of them, the libertarians are too fond of most of them either.

    And who are most likely to call for a ban on anything they don’t like or is fun for anyone else? Baby boomers that is who.

  • Tim Haas

    Anyone who needs further fuel for anti-boomer rage will find this site useful.

  • Shannon Love

    To the extent that an entire generation has a zeitgeist, the boomers are not self-improving individualist but selfish narcissist. Painting with a broad brush, they are individualist when they wish to escape responsibility but collectivist when they can’t.

    Most of the anti-boomer rage comes not from the boomers elders but from their children, those who got to see the real world effects of the “me” generation up close and personal. To many boomers approached child-rearing as a means of personal fulfillment i.e. the child existed for the benefit of the boomer parent, not the other way around.

    Gen X & Y are justifiably terrified that when the boomers retire they will turn into collectivist redistributionist of the first order. The demographic that most strongly supported the expansion of prescription drug coverage was not those currently retired but those boomers within ten years of retirement. At least the retirees voting bloc of previous generations had some generational concept of self-sacrifice and self-restraint.

    I don’t see that in the boomers at all.

  • veryretired

    I will not attempt to defend the many eccentricities of the BB’s, although the comments so far are laughable in their reliance on stereotypes and media myths, but I will point out that there are significant reasons why we have some of the characteristics we do.

    In school, we hid under our desks as the sirens sounded, practicing for the day the evil commies would send their H-bombs at our cities. But, we were told, our powerful and stalwart government would save us, and who could doubt it? After all, Ike was in charge, and he beat the Nazis, didn’t he?

    Some see the ’60’s as an exciting, exhilerating period. I am afraid I view it as one of the truly disastrous periods in our history, punctuated by assassinations, betrayed by mendacity, and disillusioned by war without purpose. Many of the myths regarding the sensibilities of this generation grew out of the media circus which the tumultuous issues of this period turned into for the willing TV camera’s eye.

    It is clear to me that the essential element of this period is that we were lied to by both sides, and our cynicism and skeptical outlook concerning many subsequent issues is directly attributable to having swum through this sea of deception, each trying desparately to find some anchor of truth upon which to fasten their lives.

    The next time you read about the BB’s seeming continual search for “meaning” or “faith” or some Sunday supplement puffball leading up to the breathless discovery of the latest fad of yoga-based, vegan, metrosexual kickboxing, or some other such nonsense, remember that we were cut loose. If stupidities abound, as they do, even more praiseworthy are those ordinary men and women who went through their lives, working honestly, raising families, doing whatever service they could for their communities and country, and rejecting the siren song of drugs, immaturity, and never ending adolescence.

    Personally, I think it will be a good thing when my generation passes on, and relieves our children and grandchildren of the burden of caring for such a large and demanding group of out of work relatives. But it is funny to me to hear younger people complain that we are flawed and imperfect, just as we criticized our elders when we were young. What do you think your kids and grandkids will say about you?

  • Steve

    Thanks indirectly to the link provided by Tim Haas, this humorous comment was found: “As they enter late middle age, the Boomers still can’t grow
    up. Guys who once dropped acid are now downing Viagra; women who once eschewed
    lipstick are now getting liposuction.”

    This modest indictment can be found at a linked 70’s site (?). The original site is of course the best inasmuch as it provides a Death Watch for Boomers.

    All very humorous, but all very immature Any of the (few) surviving acid heads can’t afford viagra, let alone liposuction. (Notable exception in the latter case being Jane Fonda, not exactly a representative member of her generation, but one with lots of star quality and money allowing her to really stand out.) One could pick any generation and find a similar (small) group of fools to (appropriately) mock and even defile if desired.

    Very amusing. There’s even a Chicago 8 deathwatch at the original referenced site. I love it when a generation blames its own problems on that of its elders, at least somewhere in close proximity of time to its parents’.

    Shows how hopeless they are in being self-reliant and attending to their own problems in their own life and times. LOL

    Good old fashioned, albeit somewhat anal, scapegoating. Great stuff although probably more suitable for cartooning than a waste of so much text. Malcolm X appears to have been inadvertently omitted and the FBI tapes on MLK are available are they not? This whole charade would be more effective if the focus weren’t entirely on WASPs and also included the yuppies who own foolishness was pretty grim as well. LOL

  • Altho I was born in 1950, never in my life did I boom a baby.

  • Scratch Two

    I just love all this GenXYZ whining about Boomers. You’re worried about US taking YOUR money?

    “Hey Dad, I need another $50K for college next year. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be doctor after all. Now I want to be a web designer.” “Mom! You need to buy me a new car. This one’s dirty.” “Aw, gee! Can’t I live here just one more year?”

    Please.

  • Johnathan

    Jesus, I wrote that we should avoid groupthink in damning a whole generation, and looking at about 80 pct of the comments above, I see folk engaging in precisely that. Try and think outside of cliches, people.

    Remember, our kids will be slagging us off in 20 years’ time.

  • Amelia

    Johnathan you’re right I kind of fell into that soup, sorry. I just have particularly bad memories of self righteous college profs waxing perpetually about their radical glory days and I really am scared of the coming SS disaster.
    Scratch Two- Would you like to have student loans? You can have them. I can’t get rid of them since BBs killed off bankruptcy relief in that area.

  • Punchy

    Sorry Boomers but when you go to tax me I’ll be earning bugger all as my job isn’t my life. Money poor time Rich whilst still young!!!! Suckers

    Oh if you are successful in getting me to pay for your retirement I’ll move. Got the choice between 6 countries (not counting every European nation). I’d rather be OS paying high taxes than here being bent over for a good time by the local boomers