Sociologists have classified the different generations. They decided that I and anyone over 70 belong to the “Greatest Generation.” While I love that nomenclature, I can’t help but think what a smug description! Who says? And, as compared to what?
Anyway, based on these classifications, the “Vanity Fair” magazine in its November 2015 issue ran a chart about the . . . “generational divides – and the state of our psychic disunion.” It is as terrific as many of this magazine’s articles are. Now, most people will probably read that piece and have light-hearted fun with it. Others, like me, might give it some serious thought.
The writer of the piece, Bruce Feirstein, says that the “Deepest Fear” of the Greatest Generation is “America 2015.” Wow, how right he got that! I think that most of us are sleepless over this present day America, because we have been around long enough to witness how this nation has been behaving more and more like an erratic, reckless and arrogant empire than that ideal bastion of freedom and democracy that we grew up – perhaps naively and romantically – believing in.
He follows that up with an existential statement that is begging for a comeback: “And, finally, the key question of their lives” which he explains with an equally existential question: “Where the fuck did we go so very, very wrong?” I put the magazine down after reading this and stared into space for a long time all the while running the tape in my head of all the events that have spiraled so badly out of control, and that have caused me and my peers to really wonder how the fuck did we, the Greatest Generation, get it all so very, very wrong?? And, did we?
How can it possibly be that my generation could have engendered so much damage that has today brought us to the very edge of this precipice that is our dismal political reality? I say political reality because when I look at the absolutely amazing things being done and invented by individual efforts, collaborative efforts, or collective and organizational efforts all over the planet I am awed. Whether this hard work is bringing potable water to remote areas, clinics to immunize babies and children who will otherwise die, agricultural solutions to hungry communities, literacy to thousands, computers and cellular phones to kids who for the first time in their young lives are connected to the world, women’s anti-rape activism, solar heating methods to places that were suffering extremes in temperatures, bicycles and motorcycles to individuals who had never been mobile except on foot or by navigating dangerous rivers, as well as hundreds of other examples each one more amazing than the other. And, it is only when we look at the political landscape, at the inept and corrupt politicians and corporations leading the world, and at the humongous collateral damage that the wars they designed and ordered have produced, that we see this extraordinary misery and despair.
Yes, it seems that we, the “Peace, Man” generation, have managed to produce generation upon generation of children and grandchildren who have opted to amuse themselves with everything else but electing decent people to political office. How the hell did we manage to do that? Here, and once more to illustrate the point beautifully, I refer again to Feirstein and to what his poignant assessment about how the different generations respond to: “And, finally, the key question of their lives”:
Baby-Boomers (1946-1964): “Where’s the Viagra?” My explanation to this question/statement is that we have raised our children to be totally self-engrossed with their egocentric pleasures, their entitlements, with their careers and their immediate needs. In other words, by opening so many doors for them that had been closed to us, we ended up by giving them self-centered attributes. It seems that for some reason, they ended up feeling that the external battles had been won (Women’s Liberation, ending of two World Wars and Vietnam, ending of segregation and establishment of Civil Rights, family planning with the invention of the pill etc. etc.) And, it also seems that they felt that since those major battles were over and done with (not that they are at all), they could now focus internally on themselves. So other than voting once every four years, they entrusted their politics to elected officials. Is that what we did? It seems to be the case, though I doubt very much that this was our intention.
Gen X (1965-1979): “What’s the point?” My explanation is that this 9/11 generation feels that there is no need to get bent out of shape for any one thing, cause or situation other than their families and jobs, and not much point in voting because politicians will screw it all up anyway, including the “hope & change” President who fired them up and a whole lot of other disappointing political events in the US and on the world stage. Having survived the post 9/11 mostly fabricated fears, and having grown up in a 24/7 television world and surveillance era, they are now bringing up the Millennial and iGen children on whom they are lavishing their parenting desire to do better than we did. In that process they are overdoing the parenting and the doting, as well as the micro-management and undue involvement in their children’s lives, which has earned them the apt titles of “Soccer Moms” and “Helicopter Parents.”
Millennials (1980-2000): “What’s a career?” My Explanation is that the kids of this generation feel that there are no lifetime commitments on any level. They all have personal compelling “issues” and “dramas” to attend to and unduly fret about. Spoilt rotten on the one hand, and royally neglected on the other by well-intentioned parents who were totally absorbed with their own careers, long-term “security,” buying homes and “things” and leaving their kids to come home alone, they feel that while they want to vote and become more politically involved, they also do not think that politics merits much more than a few laughs while watching SNL, Jon Stewart or five minutes of News and then quickly back to playing pretend war and “Call of Duty.” However, as they mature they might – and, I hope – awaken to the fact that unless they get politically involved they will be going off to fight and die for no higher ideal at all and that their lives will be adversely affected by sitting on the sidelines while corrupt politicians screw up the very air they breathe and that they may eventually become “collateral damage” of wars, climate change and all else. I think that many of them will eventually shape this into a very interesting and smart generation.
iGen (After 2000): “What’s a landline?” My Explanation is that this generation is into technology, gadgets and gizmos and not much else interests them at the moment. I also think that they are the subjects of a bigger social and political experimentation than any other generation whether this is going on in all the lousy educational labs that we call schools, in the a-socialization taking place because their time is taken up with so many “activities” that family and friends have taken a backseat, making them disconnected with their own family history, as well as with the stories and lore of the common-sense past. Also, many of them are living far away from extended family and meaningful community interactions. It seems to be that they are truly the sons and daughters of a Brave? New World. This is a bit worrisome, although it might be too early yet to read them properly.
I am not a sociologist (or any “ist”), however I think that all the generations share a similar common goal: we all want our children to do and be better than us. That is why we try to analyze and make sense of the past. We do that in order to understand, correct and create better people and, hence, a better world.
We, the Greatest Generation, still have a bit more time to translate all our experiences and all our desires for the benefit of the younger generations and, hopefully, to inspire them to become more active and to avail themselves of the many tools that will, if they so choose, change our miserable and corrupt political landscape, as well as reverse the climate damage that will ultimately affect each and every one of them and their children. I also hope that we can try to somehow make them grasp and appreciate those aspects of the past that connect them to us and to the planet as a continuum of events and not, as they seem to believe, that they are what they are simply due to an egg and a sperm coming together!
Perhaps there is hope that either Gen Xers, Millennials, or iGen will, at some point before it is too late, claim the title of Greatest Generation for themselves by saving this sorry planet from the greed, corruption, bloodshed and pure selfishness that have so far driven our political landscape to its slow death, and made my generation dread “America 2015!” And, perhaps it will turn out to be that we didn’t fuck it all up that badly after all???!!!