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Talkin’ About My Generation

Last week a friend posted on his Facebook page a Boston Globe guest article by Bruce Cannon Gibney, author of a book released today, March 7. The article summarizes Mr. Gibney’s polemic entitled A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Apparently failing at careers as a hedge fund manager and attorney, Mr. Gibney now claims to be an author. In choosing an inflammatory topic, perhaps he hopes to igniting interest and hence, sales.

I doubt he’ll gain either. The target of his scorn, the Boomer generation, are the primary buyers of books and there’s little chance they’ll spend money to hear his half-baked allegations.

Gibney, like my young friend who praised the article as “what he’d been waiting for,” has fallen for a half century of corporate propaganda meant to discredit Boomers.

In defense of my generation, here are a few rebuttals to his claims:

The author claims:

In 1971, Alan Shepard was playing golf on the moon. Today, America can’t put a man into orbit (or, allegedly, the Oval Office) without Russian assistance.

The truth is that Russian/American cooperation in space programs saves both nations money and furthers efforts to discover distant worlds, investigate dark matter, and watch for potentially deadly asteroids that may need to be diverted from direct impact. We are, after all, one planet facing a daunting universe. Space program advances not only include men and women living in space but also such amazing technological feats as the Hubble telescope.

The author states:

Improvidence is reflected in low levels of savings and high levels of bankruptcy. 

Assertions are free, so Gibney spends nothing but his credibility asserting that this state of affairs rests solely on some deficiency of the boomer generation and has nothing to do with old-money one-percenters and corporate profiteering over fifty years of gobbling up an increasing share of the economy.

Further, he states:

Interpersonal failures and unbridled hostility appeared in unusually high levels of divorce and crime from the 1970s to early 1990s. 

Hard to know how crime and divorce should be considered jointly, but here’s the thing about divorce. Until women gained better footing in the job market circa 1970s, divorce meant losing financial support. Women stayed with abusive husbands who, like Don Draper of “Mad Men,” caroused at their pleasure while the little woman stayed home to suck it up.

As far as rising crime rates, one only must look at the Nixon/Reagan drug war to figure out why the numbers went through the roof. Drug prohibition creates flourishing criminal markets and a marketplace that can only be policed by underworld gangs. It’s been 80+ years since alcohol prohibition, apparently too long for us to remember the lessons it taught us.

Gibney continues:

[Boomers] were the first generation to be raised permissively, the first reared on television and subject to its developmental harms, and the only living group raised in an era of seemingly effortless prosperity. 

Few of the Boomer generations escaped physical punishment by parents and teachers, so this idea of being raised ‘permissively’ is Gibney’s fantasy. We were also raised with regular schoolhouse drills to hide under our desks if nuclear war erupted. So much for the laissez-faire childhood the author imagines.

As far as ‘developmental harms’ caused by television, granted Boomers weren’t out in the fields each day hoeing cotton. But television made them more aware than any previous generation of the world around them—the plight of children starving in Africa, the devastation of the environment, and the butchery of war, a war that plucked brothers, lovers, and classmates up from whatever they were doing and dropped them into a fetid jungle with napalm and guerilla fighters. The world suddenly wasn’t what they’d been told, all those fairy tales about happy endings and the greatness of America. Watching their illusions die on television screens motivated Boomers to try to make America what the Founders had promised.

The author continues:

 In the 1970s, the older establishment had already begun bending to boomer power, though not always cravenly enough, a problem boomers resolved by becoming the establishment itself.

Patently absurd. The older generation never bent to boomer power. It bowed up as Boomers tried to stop the war, stop environmental destruction, and gain liberty and justice for minorities, disabled and women, not only beating demonstrators (and at Kent State killing  them), but more pervasively by sending them to jail. The drug war specifically targeted Boomers and provided a government tool to disenfranchise, bankrupt, and discredit an entire generation.

Gibney evidently has zero understanding how Boomers transformed from the materialism embedded in 50s upbringing to a New Age of awareness. Mind-altering drugs along with the events of the times fostered a change in consciousness. Boomers walked away from corporate jobs, fancy houses, and the latest fashion in shoes.

Nothing could have terrified the corporations more. Their entire marketplace was at risk of going bankrupt. Together with government already in bed with the military-industrial complex, corporate power brokers destroyed what they could of the Boomer generation’s credibility and co-opted the rest. By the end of the 70s, ‘hippie’ had become a dirty word.

So no, the “older establishment” did not bend. They came back with Reagan and it’s been a street fight ever since.

The author conveniently skips over the 80s when Reagan handed a death sentence to worker unions and then Geo W Bush followed on his heels, both the manifestation of corporate power and ‘older establishment” control. To claim that Clinton served the selfish Boomer agenda with disastrous results is simply making it up as you go along.

But hey, this guy has a book to sell.

Gibney tries to have it both ways as he explains that all the excesses, failures, and wrongheadedness currently facing the nation is a result of this sociopathic generation when in fact every possible side of politics and social attitudes can be found within this large population of people. To claim that despite the staggering diversity of the generation, they somehow all arrived at a more or less equal degree of selfishness and shortsightedness is clear evidence that Gibney has a theory in need of real facts.

He states, for example, that

The 1 percent is, by definition, just 1 percent, unable to dictate national policy on its own.

But that’s exactly what the one percent does with ownership of the jobs, real estate, and the wealth upon which the other 99% must depend for survival. It also owns the government, most assuredly since the SCOTUS decided that corporations had the same rights as real people.

In his desperation to bend reality to support his paper-thin thesis, Gibney states that

Reagan lowered taxes on income while raising them on capital gains (when boomers had salaries but not portfolios)

as if Reagan, hero of the aging Silent Majority, suddenly reversed his position and catered to the Boomers.

Then there’s Gibney’s outrageous claim that the increase of the national debt is due to Boomer extravagance while he ignores all the other factors that have created the debt, towering above all else the corporate exodus to third world countries for cheap labor and lack of environmental regulations.

The author states:

Finding decent growth requires stretching all the way back to the 1990s, and even so, the 1990s barely edged out 1970s’ squalor on a per capita GDP basis. Thanks to boomer policies, the new normal is 1.6 percent real growth, well below the 2.5 to 3.5 percent rates prevailing from the 1950s to the 1980s. For the young, the price will be incomes 30 percent to 50 percent lower than they could have been.

In truth, real growth has been dropping as the nation exploited the vast trove of natural resources gained when settlers killed off the native population. Within a relatively short time, the gold and silver was mined, most of the forests cut, and natural fisheries depleted. A modest growth spurt occurred with the development of technologies that produced food without armies of people hoeing crops or steel girders without men scorching their faces as they poured molten metal into molds. The downside was that with each wonderful technical advancement, people lost jobs. As more and more jobs fell to technology and cheap foreign labor overseas, more of the per capita GDP dropped.

The author’s whine is loud and long. ‘If only’ those self-indulgent shithead Boomers hadn’t been such sociopaths, incomes today for the ‘young’ would be 30 to 50% higher. I’m wondering what magical metric he used to arrive at these statistics.

Mr. Gibney’s vantage point is that of a disillusioned young man with enough anger to fuel him well into his 50s. I suggest he get out of his suit and out of the big city and wade around in the real world for a while where millions of Boomers go about their lives with dedication, caring, and enthusiasm. I could almost forgive him for this screed, considering that I know how hard it is to sell books. But I won’t. His immature ideas malign an entire generation without offering any rational solution for his litany of woes. Short of nuking the entire generation, I’m not clear on what Gibney wants to do about it. [I won’t be reading his book to find out.] At the least, his writing outlines a self-serving excuse for his failures.

One thing is certain. If it weren’t for the Boomers, he and his fellow millennials along with the rest of those younger folks looking to assign blame would live in a much more dismal, broken world.

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