Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ongoing discussion

I don't usually respond to comments, preferring to have my say and let others have theirs, but two of the ones on the last post are provocative and I wanted to answer them. Here's the first, shown in bold, with my comments interspersed.

I think Boomers attract an unjustified level of opprobium.

When I was 18, the level of unemployment amongst 18 year olds (and new college graduates) was as high as any time since the 1930s.

Yahh sure it was stupid to vote for Ronald Reagan and his voodoo economics and his denial of AIDS until it was almost too late. But in the context of the time, lots of Americans, and not just ones born after 1945, voted for him.

I suspect GIs did more than Boomers to elect Reagan (and quickly brought him up short when he tried to tamper with Social Security.) Reagan did relatively little that couldn't be fixed, despite the huge deficits, with respect to the New Deal America in which he had made his fortune, although he did start a big round of union busting. Certainly his nomination and election marked the Goldwaterization of the Republican party.

OK so I am a late Boomer. But the early Boomers had something known as a 'Draft Number' that determined whether they would go to Vietnam, to die or be severely maimed.

Yes, as I have written at great length, Vietnam was the GIs tragic mistake, which allowed and encouraged Boomers to disregard everything GIs had thought, done, and said. That was tragic. But it didn't make everything they did wrong.

This notion of the 'selfish Boomers' as opposed to the 'Greatest Generation' entirely ignores the fact, for example, that the GG did nothing about racism and segregation. And it was Boomers who ended the Cold War.

Here I must totally disagree. The first two blows to segregation were the integration of the armed forces by Harry Truman and Brown v. Board of Education--a Lost President and a Lost Supreme Court. Brown was litigated by two GIs, Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. The next and final blows were the civil rights acts of 1964 and 1965. The key figures in those were Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, A Philip Randolph (who staged the March on Washington), Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, Mike Mansfield, John F. Kennedy (who introduced the bill), Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and, in the streets, Martin Luther King, Jr. That's 6 GIs, two Lost, and two first-wave Silents. Boomers were spectators to the inspiring end of segregation--and immediately declared that pure equality wasn't enough and moved on to affirmative action. Now a Boomer Supreme court has essentially undone Brown v. Board of Education. Boomers can take some credit for women's lib (although Silents pioneered it), and most of the credit for gay lib, but their elders did the hard work on civil rights and deserve the credit for it. And the greatest black prophet, by far, is W. E. B. Dubois, who does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Cornel West, for example. As for the Cold War, Soviet prophets ended it. And how quickly we have turned our back on the era of peace the end promised.

Bush is a Boomer. But so is Al Gore. JFK was no Boomer, but Bill Clinton had a responsible personal life compared to JFK. JFK was boffing mistresses as his child lay dying.

All I can say here is that I share the High attitude that politicians' sex lives are their own business. It was Boomers who decided that a blow job was an impeachable offense, and history is going to laugh at them for it, not least because of their incredible hypocrisy. GIs knew better.

Each generation plays the cards it is dealt with. The Greatest Generation were no saints, and neither are our children.

No, they were not saints, and they had major blind spots about the inner life. But they were much, much better at politics than anyone who has come after them.

I share your concerns about the fate of American Democracy, but it's not just, or primarily a Boomer problem.

The second comment is briefer but almost as interesting.

Fundamentalist Christians can also be (and in some places are) described as religious addicts who use their beliefs to deny their own inner traumas. (Think about Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, or Ted Haggard if you don't believe me.)

It must be so much easier when you can dismiss everyone who disagrees with you as a mental defective. Once a Boomer, always a Boomer.

"Mental defective" is hardly what I said. I said such people were running away from their own inner traumas and that is what I believe. The poster, however, has a point in a broader sense. Prophets, including Boomers, grow up while old truths are dissolving around them, and seize the opportunity to proclaim their own. This is great if they are right, disastrous if they are wrong. Prophets, I think, are almost unique in that their virtues and vices are two sides of the same coin. All I can do is try to be right. . .history and other generations will decide.

Another poster asked about my course. It has been so long that I don't believe I have a syllabus handy. Here, however, is a fairly typical list of materials used.

Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.

Alice Miller, For Your Own Good

A collection of essays by George Orwell

Ignazio Silone, Fontamara

Marcel Ophuls' film, The Sorrow and the Pity

Alexander Solzehnitsyn, The First Circle

John LeCarre, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Alice Miller provided a framework for talking about the characters in the books. Eventually I gave undergraduates the option of writing about how it applied to themselves. The results were quite extraordinary. My favorite final paper topic actually asked whether, in light of the books, life was worth living. It was a lot of fun--the kind of course upon which current academia puts no value whatever.


Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Well, Prof. Kaiser, two events today absolutely confirm your point about Boomers being awful politicians.

1)The Silent Generation's Pete Stark, today on the House floor:

"First of all, I'm just amazed they can't figure out, the Republicans are worried we can't pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where ya gonna get that money? You going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children."

2) Today's Veraficier.

Giuliani and Romney. See it. (Link at my website.)

Anonymous said...

Bob Dylan. Leonard Cohen. Bob Marley. Kris Kristoferson. The Beatles. Simon and Garfunkel. That's the boomer generation. (1960-1980)

Kurt Cobain. Britney Spears. Backstreet Boys (And there many clones.) Shania Twain
That's my generation.

The former, actually had enough soul to rebel. The latter, well when the Dixie Chicks are getting called subversive you know there is something deeply wrong with my generation.

If the music is anything to go by, your generation isn't the problem here, it is my apathetic, selfish and cowardly generation that is the problem.

I wince to think that where the generation before mine is defined by the fight for civil rights and against hypocrisy, who were willing to be gassed, beaten up and thrown in jail for their beliefs, my generation will be defined by the chickenhawks.

There is nothing to be ashamed of it the boomer generation. It won its fights and retired. There is a lot to be ashamed of in a generation that couldn't manage anything better to say for itself in its music then "Smells like Teen Spirit."

Anonymous said...

FYI The Beatles were born during the War so they were the silent generation - not boomers...

David Kaiser said...

I just noticed that a few dozen people have looked at this thread lately. The past dozen years haven't improved the Boomer record--indeed, my generation voted heavily for Trump.