We're all screw-ups. Our parents lived too long and they held power for too long.
That's my sister's view of why we Baby Boomers keep, well, screwing up. Let's not quibble. Let's just put the words "Greed" and "Self-indulgent" right here and concede that as a generation we don't appear poised to leave a strong legacy.
Not every last one of us is a screw-up, of course. Indeed, a few of us are brilliant and, then again, a few of us are colossal screw-ups. But for the most part we're middle-management screw-ups who, a sage once pointed out to me, left our so-called revolution to tend houseplants and sell insurance.We are indeed the pinnacle of bait and switch -- driving Suburbans to fossil fuel protests and joining Save the World organizations and flushing into the nearest tributary.
My sister claims our failure to grasp Real Life stems from our parents' generation refusing to hand over the reins. I contend that we don't want them. Regardless, she says, we never learned what to do with them. We never learned how to be adults.
Try not to picture Lord of the Flies.
As is the wont of Baby Boomers my sister places the blame for this arrested development squarely at the feet of someone else. In this case; the Greatest Generation, those Americans who came of age believing they had already saved the world which their Depression-addled parents had bankrupted.
"They named themselves the Greatest Generation," my sister says, meaning what novelist Tom Robbins meant when he pointed out that the brain is what tells us the brain is the smartest organ.
As the 1950s opened the newly minted middle class (that would be one returned GI plus one stay-at-home wife) moved into suburban homes bought on the GI Bill. The men went off to work somewhere and the women consumed, which was what their new homes were designed to do. Many of their own mothers ran complicated home economies in their more rural and decentralized times, but those times were over.
So the Greatest Generation had babies and the women stayed home to pamper and educate us to become consumers in a way unimaginable to anyone coming before.
They made us, my sister says, but "they never trusted us. Our parents thought our way of thinking was BAD," my sister drags this out over the telephone. "We didn't follow the rules. We didn't play kiss-ass."
Even those of us who were and are prodigious rule-followers, we really didn't follow their rules. We may have left the revolution early, as my sage suggests, but we really were different.
They started, the Greatest Generation's overhaul of the framework of America had our economy based on things that hadn't even existed before the war. Rather than start listing them -- plastics, appliances, pantyhose -- consider this one thing that didn't exist before the Greatest Generation returned from World War II: Garbage.
"Garbage is a new invention," my grandmother would say as my grandfather carried food scraps into the garden. Once a week they had a fire in a small cylinder for those rare items worn beyond repair -- the only things I recall in the ashes would be an occasional tin can from the store. My sister probably won't remember this. She is younger. Garbage, as a commodity, caught on quickly.All that was needed were consumers. Boom.
No matter that if you did or didn't grow up to look like them, vote like them, scold like them -- think back. Remember your father's face when you brought home James Brown's first album? Remember the Walrus? Remember whatever then slipped from your short term memory and is now stored somewhere in your long term? And the biggest punchline: Vietnam, a war without a point. Remember?
My sister is right: We were and remain a different commodity, and our parents not only didn't want to give up the reins to a society that mocked them, they really and truly didn't believe we had the moxie to keep it all going. And looking around I have to wonder, maybe we don't.
We stand ill equipped my sister contends, to take on what we all pretty much still want to see -- equality and access and free Internet and unlimited gadgetry. Nobody hungry. Nobody tortured. Peace. We still by and large believe all that stuff, we just wish he grownups would come back and take care of it all. And a darn good thing, some of us are thinking, that are kids are showing signs of early rein-taking.
We're busy supporting the economy.
It's what we're trained to do.