Sunday, May 29, 2016
Thoughts on the Generational Malaise
One of the most disheartening things I ever heard uttered was by the chief instructor of the Electronics Technology department at the community college attended in the early 1990's. I had chosen electronics as my course of study because the chief instructor, Mr. Benson who besides having an impressive array of professional credits and years of experience teaching, seemed a genuinely nice guy. It also helped that he was a 1960's era Air Force veteran, which to me was important since I had just left the active army.
However, as the two-year course wound down, the strict teacher/student relationship Mr. Benson had with me and the rest of the guys left in the class began to blur. It was during a casual conversation at the end of a long day with him and a few others that the topic at hand allowed me to mentioned it was the G.I. Bill that allowed me a pain free two years without having to juggle the demands of a job and studying. My words hadn't really faded before Mr. Benson's facial expression went from the usual congenial nice guy to that of a disgruntled curmudgeon who always looked as if he had just finished sucking an entire lemon while watching a bunch of kids trample through the flowers in his front yard.
“I'll have you know I paid for that G.I. Bill with my tax dollars.” He said with an attitude that suggested he had actually written a check from his personal account and paid for my tuition and books for the entire two years of the course. My immediate thought was that Mr. Benson had not only thrown the idea of solidarity among us veterans out the door but that he had poured gasoline all over and set it afire. Quite frankly his words utterly pissed me off, but a smart man once said a wise person never starts a war they most certainly would lose. I still had final exams to go through and the last thing I needed was to have the chief instructor of my course nursing a grudge against my sorry ass. So I just smiled and allowed another one of the students to pick up the conversation.
Right before we all left the classroom to go home Mr. Benson caught up with me and tried to explain his remarks. He started out with what would become the usual Teabagger talking points decades later about how he and all other hardworking Americans were taxed enough already. My skin crawled with the desire to counter his point by saying I hadn't taken a damn thing from him, that I had set aside four years of my life to serve my country and the G.I. Bill was part of the compensation for that time and effort. Once again, I just smiled and walked out of the building.
Unfortunately, Mr. Benson's attitude was the proverbial tip of the spoiled iceberg signifying a disturbing trend among the baby boomer generation that has only gotten worse as the years have passed. It doesn't take much in the way of effort to find a person like my former instructor who bitches about having to pay property taxes even though he or she personally didn't have any kids or grandkids attending local schools or how some nasty regulation or law prohibits them from exercising a “God given” right. The best off the top of my head example for the latter being an inspiring business person on the coast upset they can't rip up then pave over protected marshland for the marina or golf course they want to build. Mr. or Ms. Business person's rational for yet another strip mall, condo development, or golf course being all the fantastic jobs that would be created because of their enterprising spirit.
Little things like the fact marshlands act as a buffer against tropical storms, filter the chemical runoff going into the ocean, and provide a sanctuary for a lot of baby marine organisms that eventually end up as seafood on Mr. or Ms. Business person's dinner plate are all trivial concerns. To hell with the greater community or the environment, it seems the aging Baby Boomers are far more concerned with keeping money in their pockets or what they might be able to earn by trashing the planet.
Not to digress but this attitude was perfectly typified by the character Meg Jones in the 1983 movie The Big Chill. If you've haven't ever seen the film the basic synopsis involves a group of 1960's former college radicals getting to together after a friend commits suicide. After espousing free love, the need to ban the bomb and bras, and end the Vietnam War turns out that over intervening years the majority of them became exactly what the hated. In the case of Meg Jones, the idealistic young lady that wanted to fight for the downtrodden as an attorney ended up working for a corporate firm that “just wants to rape the planet.”
The author or World War Z, Max Brooks summed up the apparent baby boomer attitude best when he appeared on the documentary Doc of the Dead and said when that generation was under thirty years of age they held their arms up making peace signs while talking about saving the world. But when they passed that age, the peace signs became middle fingers pointed towards the rest of the world with their existence geared to nothing but self-centered advancement.
This all leads to a piece of history I was reminded of a few days ago while watching a historical documentary on YouTube. Way back during the Egypt's Sixth Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) this one pharaoh, Pepi II, came to throne at the age of six and stayed there possibly ninety-four years! This during a time when the average human lifespan wasn't much past eighteen. Well, with the old geezer seriously outliving most of his intended heirs, succession struggles were highly likely which made effective government impossible. Throw in a massive drought, remember ancient Egyptian civilization based its entire existence on the water from the Nile River, and a strangely familiar story of the central government growing weaker while regional governors setting up what amounted to little personal fiefdoms, and you have a huge recipe for disaster.
Long story short, with everything going to the crapper, Egypt soon descended into what historians call the First Intermediate Period (2181-2055 BC) which consisted of famine, strife, civil wars and all the fun things survivalist these day joyously sit inside their bunkers and dream about as they chew on dehydrated food.
What does all this mean? Well, besides watching historical documentaries that would never see the light of day on any form of American television, at times I also hear people ask the question as to what in the hell happened to our society. After the Second World War the United States was a bastion of optimism and “can do spirit.” Sorry Europeans, especially you Brits and French, but while we were late comers to the fighting during WW2, it was American money, technology, and effort that saved your asses from having Soviet tanks and troops taking up residence in Trafalgar Square and around the Eiffel Tower. Yeah, I fully realize we didn't do this out of the goodness of our hearts, that in the long run it saved our sorry asses as well but that is not the point. The biggest, and maybe the most improbable given the technology available at the time, was that America put several men on the moon and brought them back home safely.
The list of American twentieth century accomplishments is a long one but around the 1980's instead of being a driving force, we started coasting and living off the efforts of those that did all the hard work. Yes, there are some big exceptions to the previous statement but no sane person can deny that Americans are the same fearless and optimistic people we were just a few decades ago. A good chunk of our population is completely close minded to the possibilities and troubles we face in the twenty-first century. They are largely an intolerant mass wrapped up in their collective and irrational fears while yearning for some “simpler time” that in reality never really existed. Yes, I largely mean white folks that see the demographics of America rapidly changing with them becoming just another minority a few short decades from now.
Making matters worse this generational malaise has pretty much shut down American democracy when it is not tied to the self serving desires of billionaires. Our national roads, bridges, schools, power grid, and many other vital pieces of the national infrastructure are overwhelmingly crap held together with duct tape, scrap pieces of wire, and empty promises. I'm agnostic but I say without much irony, God help the poor group of fools that suggest a tiny raise in taxes to fix any of those things.
Given that I spend way more time thinking about this crap than the average witless suburban pod person I find myself living amongst, I believe I have come up with a time frame when this despondency will pass. In short, nothing much is going to change until the vast majority of the Baby Boom generation takes their selfish asses to the Great Beyond. To put it another way, what I am saying is that I believe the United States is swamped with a bunch of privileged Pepi II's holding up progress.
No one of the Baby Boom generation should think I am calling for the their removal by force. Hell I was born in 1964 myself and depending on how the generational divide is set, I can fall in with either the Boomers or Gen Xer's, which have their own set of issues. Still though most of my hopes for the future of the United States and the world ride on the idea that the teenagers of today will have to look past the narrow mindsets of their grandparents and parents and pick up the pieces of our seriously screwed up planet and finally make it work for everyone.
Millennials get a bad rap from most of the older folks, and truthfully I am especially disgusted with their worship of Bernie who I feel is an impractical dinosaur, but if you listen to their concerns they seem to understand the situation. Yes, my hope is wafer thin but quite frankly given the attitudes that prevail in the halls of power, I don't see any alternative.