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164. Pushing upward (III)

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

The Boomer is the enemy: this sentiment has become common over the last decade, particularly on the political right. Inter-generational warfare inclines to the right because it concerns the family, the generations, and patrimony—biology, put simply. The left, in whatever form, disdains and ignores biology; it can rise to, “Fuck you, Dad!”—But it cannot go much beyond that, to explore the differences between generations leads, almost inevitably, away from mutable social classes and into the realm of biology and blood.

For the right, the Boomer—the “eternal Boomer”, long-lived as the Wandering Jew—represents the epitome of a selfish, godless, and vapid generation that, despite giving away the family shop, remains unbearably smug and self-satisfied. It is a generation of hippies that morphed into corporate raiders: naïve, foolish, and greedy. The Boomer first luxuriated in the playpen of post-war Keynesianism—full-employment, well-paid factory jobs, and free university—and, ungrateful, set about pulling the entire system down: first pulling down all the values of the West, as youths, in the guise of the New Left and then, in middle age, turning to neoliberalism to plunder the economic patrimony that suckled them in their youth—in short, “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative.” The cry of the eternal Boomer.

Is this entirely fair? First, it is natural for grandchildren to side with grandparents against their parents; so for a Millennial or Zoomer to dislike the Boomer is the course of nature. Ironically, today’s Boomer-haters merely replicate the generational rebellion and anxiety of the Boomers; they revolt against the Boomer in the name of orthodoxy: “Fuck you, Dad! Why couldn’t you respect your Dad?!” This is, in part, the spirit behind “Boomer hate”. A degree of generational animosity is normal; each generation has to push against the last generation to define itself—though it is true that the tension was higher than normal in the 1960s.

I would like to say this in defence of the Boomers. First, they were not responsible—as the right likes to pretend—for the social liberalism of 1968. The changes to the law regarding abortion, divorce, contraception, and so on were almost all carried out by the Greatest Generation; and the Boomer youth revolt occurred—just like today’s Woke movement—as the logical conclusion of what Boomers learned from TV and in the education system; in other words: the Boomers did as their elders told them—or their most revolutionary elders, anyway. Secondly, the Boomers were spoiled, but they deserved to be spoiled. The two previous generations had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression—the world wars were unprecedented events in human history. It is no wonder that the post-war generation decided to indulge the Boomers: they were trying to make up for what they never had.

Finally, it must be remembered that the Boomers and their parents lived in an age where it was widely expected—quite credibly—that nuclear holocaust would destroy the world with a “three-minute” warning. Given the two world wars, it seemed entirely plausible that the planet was in the waiting room for the third. The existential and provisional nature of Boomerdom—its careless and feckless nature—was formed in this atmosphere, now almost forgotten. “Like…whatever, man.” California Zen, drug bliss, and sexual escapism were all responses to existential dread—“Just chill out, man. Relax.” And why not? The world was on notice, three minutes to complete fiery extinction. In comparison, climate change seems like a paper tiger—hardly frightening at all.

The social pathologies of the West run deeper than the Boomer and the 1960s—much deeper than postmodernism in the 1980s. Indeed, some of the pathologies are spiritual struggles that are recognisable, in different degrees, across the aeons. Before the Swinging Sixties hit the working class, the Roaring Twenties hit the middle class, and before that the Gay Nineties hit the upper class—the rot starts from the head down, and the head began to stink much longer ago than 1968.


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