I hate generational stereotyping. I think it is secular astrology. “Oh, you were born in 1961? Well, you must have real commitment issues.” Using the label “baby boomer” to explain one’s personality or behavior is only slightly more reasonable than saying I’m good in bed because I was born in the Chinese year of the horse.
I’m not saying the terms aren’t useful, but they are also profoundly misleading. In a demographic sense “baby boomer” means everyone born between 1947 and 1961. But when used in a cultural sense it’s shorthand for a certain kind of person born between those years. Essentially, it means a person who feels overeducated, underestimated, and is plagued by a certain kind of guilt for not “living up” to some undefined and constantly moving expectation.
They got this idea because their parents’ generation grew up in the Depression and won World War II while they lived in unprecedented prosperity and went to various elite and semi-elite colleges, convincing themselves that they were destined for better things than fighting in a foreign war or becoming a “company man” or permanent “homemaker.” All sorts of Rube Goldberg-like ideologies, theories, and social gimmicks were created to either manufacture this new destiny or ameliorate their guilt for not living up to their personal expectations: feminism, the “Me Decade,” the anti-war movement, the nuclear-freeze movement, the Green movement, “swinging”, communes, millennial cults, disco, etc. In this sense, baby boomers are in fact a very narrow slice of the people born between 1947 and 1961 who are plagued with guilt, nostalgia, or messianism about the 1960s.
This explains why baby boomers are astoundingly interested in themselves and believe that their views — oops, sorry — feelings are somehow like strands of DNA which explain a huge population. I’d say once a day I get an e-mail from someone who says, “Well, as a baby boomer, I think…” What the hell does that mean? No generation is intellectually, politically, culturally, or religiously homogeneous. For example, during much of the Vietnam war polling suggested that young people were more supportive of the military than their parents. Gen Xers — my generation — aren’t any better. We are supposed to be apathetic, lazy, bored, etc. And many of us are — or in my case aspire to be. But the reality is that “Gen X” was invented by lazy and bored journalists and mass-marketing types. The journalists believe that since generational stereotypes apply to them, they must apply to the damn kids today, too. Logic demands that once you define yourself in generational terms, you’ve got to do it to everybody. The mass marketers have more of an excuse. They simply needed a quick way of summarizing the tastes of a vast swath of the population so they could figure out which illiterate basketball players should sell them beer, hamburgers, and sneakers. Hmmmmm, burgers . . .
The media and intellectual centers in Washington and New York are run by baby boomers. The influence of Jews, feminists, liberals, gays, Trotskyists and the rest of the usual scapegoats are ancillary to the overwhelming influence of the boomers. These people were student leaders in college. They ran the school newspaper, were president of the student government, or ran their campus chapter of SDS. They cut class, because the [fill in blank] movement made demands on their time. They talked the most during meetings (In the first days of Clinton’s first term, he reportedly finished a marathon-length meeting, pushed himself back from his desk, stretched, and said, “That was great.”). These boomers convinced themselves that they were speaking for their “people.” Their “people” then were a bunch of kids going to college either to get ensure a career, to stay out of a war, or to spend thousands of their parents dollars on the opportunity to stare at a lava lamp all day at a great distance from home.
But the boomer leaders don’t care. They still think that some arbitrary demographic label has as much salience as religion, region, ethnicity, or interests. In fact you can still turn over a rock at some universities and find semi-fossilized professors jabbering about how they were “a million strong” at Woodstock.
BILL SCHNEIDER MADE ME DO IT
So why am I ranting about this?
I’m not really sure.
On Tuesday, Bill Schneider, the senior political analyst at CNN (a fine fellow and former neighbor of mine at the American Enterprise Institute), explained that the pictures coming out of Kosovo were generating support for ground troops — despite the conventional wisdom about the U.S. never supporting ground troops — because: “Young people who didn’t live through World War II know those pictures, they’ve seen them in the most moving and powerful films of their own time, movies like Schindler’s List, and Life Is Beautiful. The message of those films and these pictures seems to have gotten through: Never again.”
I like Schneider and I think he’s extremely bright, but I thought this was really a cheap analysis and illustrates the problems of television journalism. I mean let’s see, “young people” apparently means anyone born since 1946 — and maybe earlier, since you can’t really say babies “lived through the war.” So if you’re 53 years old or younger, you shouldn’t have a problem with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo if you haven’t seen Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful. I suspect that readily available clips from those movies had a lot to do with that argument.
But perhaps what he really meant by “young people” — rather than half the adult population — was Gen Xers, the language of their moral universe being confined solely to television and movies. That may be true about me (which reminds me, I’ve got to put a horses head in Bill’s bed), but it’s an awfully facile way to talk about millions and millions of peoples’ attitudes about sending troops into a war. So I started writing about that and ended up with the screed above.
Okay, sorry about not filing yesterday. I was busy achieving my dream of eating the world’s largest hoagie and reading all of my hate mail from the Goth community. I really pissed off those black-haired, white-faced, human-pin-cushion pawns of Satan.
But I do owe everybody a new poll.
I have been astounded by the diversity of conservative responses to the Kosovo question. The debate in Washington is heated and getting personal. The editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, has been suggesting that Republicans are veering toward isolationism, because of their hatred of Clinton. Personally, I think this is, at minimum, overblown and perhaps even ridiculous. The Republican Party voted for NAFTA and took the lead on the Cold War when the Democrats ran and hid after Vietnam. They voted disproportionately in favor of every successful (and unsuccessful) foreign excursion for the last 30 years.
It is unfair to say a Republican who’d unhesitatingly endorse action in Korea or Taiwan if necessary is somehow an isolationist because he thinks this Kosovo gambit is ill-advised and ill-conceived. The essence of realism is to pick and choose your fights. Then, there are plenty of libertarian-wing isolationists who think that America has just as much right to interfere with countries abroad as it does to interfere with business at home (if you’re one of them, I recommend www.antiwar.com).
Anyway before I taint the sample I should get on to the poll. Here it is:
|The Jonah Poll||What best describes your feelings about U.S. intervention in Kosovo?
Huge Mistake, Get Out Now
Huge Mistake, But Finish the Job
Right Idea, Bad Implementation
Right Idea, Right Way
Please: All of you would-be international human rights lawyers and utopian libertarians, don’t write me saying I got the questions wrong. If you want, feel free to interpret “Huge Mistake” as, “a violation of the Jeffersonian/Washingtonian principles upon which this nation was founded! Not since the abandonment of the gold standard and the introduction of fluoride in our water has their been a more egregious example of Tyranny…..”