As generational zeitgeists go, the Millennial one sucks. Having been born in 1982 and lately come to socialize mainly with peers roughly three to eight years my junior, I’m unfortunately one of them. Culture, at its most meaningful and fundamental level, is the way that people interact with one another. I could certainly do without a youth culture driven by a whiny, neurotic need for praise and reassurance, an inflated sense of self-esteem, preening, inflated expectations of quick success (at least among the affluent young), an officious and salacious interest in the private business of others, a pathological inability to maintain cohesive and stable mixed-sex cliques (often on account of sheer self-centered immaturity in the dissolution of romantic relationships), and a generally terrible sense of personal boundaries. I’d much rather go back to 1985, chat up some chick with gratuitously puffy hair and a much less gratuitously puffy interest in the sensitive personal doings of her peers and, in due course of time, get her out of her Miami Vice pastel gym clothes. Giggity.
This isn’t in the cards. What is in the cards is figuring out who’s responsible for raising us this way. Talkin’ (mostly to myself) about my generation, and about atrocious rock music, and about those who came before us, I’ve reached a verdict:
It’s the fucking Boomers.
Logically, Gen Xers should have been our predominant cultural influence as children and teens. Late Gen Xers are likely among our older siblings and their friends, and under a rough twenty-year generational model, early- to mid-Gen Xers are presumably our parents. The problem with this reasoning is that our social habits are fucked up in ways that the Gen X mainstream can’t grok. It’s bizarre to think of such a well-adjusted generation raising one whose noisiest members are so callow, insecure, and bumptious. There’s just no credible path here from there. If we were socialized predominantly by Gen X parents, some of their stoicism, patience, realism, consideration for others, and the like should have rubbed off on us. Word on the street is that it didn’t.
Besides, if Millennials were pissed off at Gen Xers, we’d have seen the flame wars by now. Instead, Gen X has managed to stay overwhelmingly above the fray of generational flaming. Not only that, no other generation has been trying to bait it into the grand food fight. If you visit bottomfeeding generational troll bait sites like Salon (Salon was all about this nastiness in the depths of the Second Great Depression circa 2010), you’ll see Millennials flaming Boomers, Boomers flaming Millennials, square Boomers flaming hip Boomers flaming the squares right back, and workaday Millennials flaming their presumably lazy peers. May the circle be unbroken. Yet there’s practically nothing in crude generational terms from or about Gen X. Back in the day there was some Boomer carping about Gen Xers being shallow, but it’s pretty sparse now. Gen Xers are stuck between two warring generations and somehow managing not to get in the way. This is no mean feat. It seems to say something about their character, like that they have more of it than the fuckheads to either side.
Like most people of good character, they’re awfully quiet about it. Think of this as another of P. J. O’Rourke’s paradoxes for the stupid: as a civic matter, they ought to blow their own horns louder so as to drown out some of the noise coming from the self-important blowhards jockeying for moral street cred around them, but if they did that, they too would become obnoxious blowhards, men and women of tarnished character. Maybe at some level the classic Gen X vice of apathy is just resignation to the truth that those who fight monsters risk becoming monsters themselves. The implications of this paradox are, on close examination, soul-crushing. You may want to pour yourself another gin and tonic, or perhaps summon your butler: “Fix me another Old Fashioned, Thomas; I’m of a mind to get classily trashed.”
Pardon me if the foregoing parlance is inauthentic; I poor my own drinks. Speaking of the rich, though, it’s worth noting that some of the most provocative Millennial nonsense is a result of unchecked privilege. The ridiculous parts of the Occupy platform come to mind: liberal arts graduates with no practical skills and degrees in cake subjects demanding $60k entry-level jobs, that kind of thing. The tone deafness of it is amazing. In style and substance, these outlandish demands for what amount to sinecures were little different from hippie references to “living off the fat of the land.” In ways, however, the latter was an even worse parlance, evoking as it did the specter of rural banditry.
Gen Xers had no such expectations. They assumed that they’d have to put in some time on the workforce and develop some skills and experience and shit before hitting the big time. Duh. Getting upset about having to hold a shitty job on the way to better things didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to them. This should be a pretty easy and straightforward belief to communicate to one’s children–if one believes such a thing, that is. It has never been a very popular value in the late Silent and early Boomer birth cohorts, especially among their noisiest factions. These people expected great things of themselves, and they expect great things of their children, although by now many of their children are old enough to be confirmed fuckups by some probably spurious standard.
This isn’t to say that Gen Xers can’t be high-hat assholes: I know some who are. It’s just that if they take that filthy path in life, they probably don’t have as many of their age peers giving them approval, explicitly and subconsciously, for being antisocial snobs who like to kick a man in the gut when he’s down and then ask him why he’s taking so long to get back up. Gen Xers were never very fond of the gaslight; this is why they’re so scarce in the generational flame wars. The Boomers, on the other hand, have always loved them some fucking gaslight. Cults, too. The Xers were too skeptical and self-confident to fall for the Boomers’ shit. It wasn’t until a pathologically cocooned rising generation was instilled with pathologically high expectations of success, only to have these expectations dashed by a ruined job market, that the Boomer mind games got their juju back and became transmissible to the young.
As I mentioned above, the most obnoxious and deranged outbursts of this bullshit generally come from the affluent. This was true of the Boomers in the hot summers of love, and it’s true of the Millennials today. A key thing to understand here is that the affluent tend to have children later in life than the middling or the poor. This means that their children have older parents. I know, Wow Very Explain. Being older, these parents are well-established in their careers by the time their children are old enough to understand anything about the world of work. If they’d started their families in their late teens or early twenties, their older kids might grow up with a decent secondhand understanding of how tenuous and difficult it can be to get started in a career and pass some of this understanding down to their younger siblings. Alternatively, they might be able to pass some of this wisdom down to younger siblings as they start their own careers.
These are moot points for the eleventh-hour only children of power couples who didn’t try to conceive until their late thirties. This is a common family arrangement among the affluent. They tend to have small nuclear families headed by older parents, small extended families, and tenuous ties to what extended family they do have because they scatter to the four corners of the earth in pursuit of their power careers. The question isn’t why their children are drugged out and mentally ill; it’s why their children aren’t more drugged out and mentally ill. They go through childhood and adolescence getting distorted information about the world from constricted family and social networks. They’re surrounded by people who have survivor bias. Not having a terminal degree, high-level managerial authority, or academic tenure can look abnormal. Not having a household income well into the six figures can look desultory, even embarrassing.
Of course there was a cheating scandal at Corona Del Mar High School. These kids were trying to compete for college admissions slots with peers whose parents had tutored and bribed their way into selective private kindergartens.
There comes a point at which a deranged fifteen-year-old girl with a totally flat affect talking about gruesome slasher flicks on the OCTA 71 bus while her friend says that “you and I should create our own language” (absolutely not, missy) becomes preferable to the alternatives. At least those two were living in truth, and it wasn’t beneath them to ride the bus. One knows roughly where one stands with overtly fucked up dropouts. The dangerous ones are the hardcore strivers. If you have to choose between Robert Pickton and Dick Cheney, choose Pickton. Go for the guy whose property is enough of a shambling wreck to be put under abatement order by the local government and raided by the Mounties. Go for the chick who’s openly talking about slasher films on the bus.
Seriously. The ones who can’t keep their damn mouths shut are the low-functioning psychopaths. The high-functioning ones? They’ll really make you shudder if you grok their scene.
This whole thing looks like an insoluble nightmare. An entire rising generation is being cruelly mocked and belittled by a retiring generation that is doing its level best to suck all the oxygen out of the room. The Boomers rode a huge housing bubble up to the top starting in their twenties, and now they’re in a lather at the thought that it might finally start deflating, let alone pop. They put away scarily meager savings and can’t countenance the thought of aging, so they’re continuing to hoard jobs well into their sixties, at ages when their fathers were damn well ready to retire. They’re much quicker to draw Social Security benefits than they are to make payroll deductions for people doing what should be payroll work for them. Bear in mind that I have personally witnessed these things. They’re serious problems; what I don’t know is just how serious and how widespread.
What aggravates these antisocial behaviors, and in some cases makes them possible in the first place, is the preternatural sense of entitlement that Boomers have had since at least their young adulthood. They aren’t just mooches running pump-and-dump rackets on those they’ll leave behind; they’re colossal fucking pricks about it. The social sciences suggest that we’re dealing with a Pareto distribution, with roughly eighty percent of the ass coming from twenty percent of the holes, and what I’ve personally witnessed of Boomer assholery is consistent with this model. Unfortunately, this analysis doesn’t really solve anything. The sheer volume of Boomer grievance-whoring and scapegoating is so unbelievable that whether it comes uniformly from a wide swath of the generation or comes mainly from a small minority that is immune to the social pressure of its peers hardly matters. An appalling number of Boomers have gone through their entire adolescent and adult lives without meaningful prosocial peer pressure. In their youth, they had an unusually strong fuck-you-pops outlook; now that pops is gone, or at least getting mighty long in the tooth, their outlook has changed to fuck you, son.
#NotAllBoomers? Sure. Shout it from the rooftops if you wish, because the kids these days aren’t about to believe it just because it’s a factually grounded or true argument. The Boomers, or more accurately, the late Silents and first half of the Baby Boom, are the single generation in the history of Social Security whose belligerent sense of entitlement and moral superiority in their retirement is most likely to provoke the abolition of Social Security or its conversion from a defined-benefit pension plan into an individual-account “investment” scam. The earlier beneficiary generations were mostly grateful for the money, not peevish and shifty, and today’s Gen X and Millennial disability beneficiaries generally keep their mouths shut about their status, regardless of whether it is merited or fraudulent, because it’s no secret that mainstream Americans despise the lazy with a burning passion.
Even if they’re too able-bodied and mentally sound to legitimately qualify for SSI or SSDI, those who discreetly suckle at the bountiful teat of Mama Sugar before their time are less likely to enrage net contributors to Social Security than self-righteous retirees who were significant net contributors the whole time they were of working age but, having retired, now go through life with an in-your-face posture of fuck you I earned it. In the horrific socioeconomic context of the Second Great Depression, there’s no way in hell that retirees preening about how they fucking earned their benefits will not catastrophically piss off large numbers of the young. Sorry, gramps.
It’s not just that these aging belligerents are demanding that we contribute to the Social Security current account. Notwithstanding the go-Galt yahoos and useful idiots, most people roughly my age are naturally inclined to want to contribute to the pension fund because we hope to benefit from it in our own old age and would like to vest what retirement benefits we can. The real problem is that this peevish demand is often made in the same breath with which our elders accuse us of being lazy. Retirees who the actuaries expect to be lifetime net beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare are shitting on us and then pestering us for social insurance money. We have to listen to some version of “when I was your age….” Yeah, asswipe, when you were our age, you weren’t trying to enter a flooded labor market overrun by illegal immigrants during a Fourth Turning secular depression. We’re the lazy ones, and your lot is pestering us to pay for your retirements now that y’all have had half a century to ride a hyperinflated housing market to the top? My God, how gracious.
Then there’s this other obnoxious Boomer meme that OMG we’re letting you kids move back in after college and giving you so much money to help make ends meet and you’re just pissing it away by sitting around the house and not working. In some circles, this is reframed as a White Whine about one’s affluent colleagues and neighbors thus coddling their own grown children, since this is somehow of material concern to third parties who are not fronting any of the money and totally aren’t just nosy pieces of shit. Not long ago, Dennis Miller devoted most of one of his financial advice newsletters to carping about how his kids are financially independent adults, unlike other shameful losers in their age group and their pathetic codependent parents. Miller is part of a sort of high bougie trinity of investor dandies, along with Doug Casey and John Mauldin, whose e-mail lists I somehow joined a few years ago. (I vaguely recall Charles Hugh Smith being the missing link, but I couldn’t say exactly how.) Not coincidentally, Casey has invited readers to fly to his expat bugout spread in Argentina over the Southern Hemisphere fall to help out with the venerable harvest of the venerable wine grape–unsullied, of course, by filthy payroll lucre. This raises interesting questions for the Argentinian government, including, hey, yinz got labor and immigration laws down there? This isn’t a question to ask of Doug Casey as a foreign resident of Argentina or whatever he is; he’s just a bourgeois supremacist with a hardline Galtian agorist worldview who proposes that we all pay for this lifestyle by getting in on the next big mining or drilling investment, not a chap to be overly concerned with the duly enacted labor laws of his host country or his capacity as a representative of Yanqui to piss off the local roustabouts and trade unionists.
So I’m on the e-mail lists for this smug fucker with an Andean-high regard for his own investing savvy who would like to insinuate my moral turpitude for accepting financial help from my parents and his buddy who would like me to come on bougie pilgrimage to Argentina, without a work visa, of course, to serve as unpaid scab labor in his vineyard. I’m an agriculturalist by temperament, not a pastoralist, so the latter proposition holds a certain appeal that Cliven Bundy’s cracker rally does not; also, I’m not into armed sedition against my country’s government over some home-on-the-range corporate welfare king’s royalty dispute with the BLM. Even so, this invitation to WWOOF with dandies down under is really quite disreputable. It’s impossible to get away from these fuckwads who want unpaid help doing heavy agricultural work on their properties because, oh my goodness, viticulture and winemaking are so interesting. Cool story, bro, because legally and ethically, my enjoying the work doesn’t mean that I’m not owed a paycheck for it.
These situations are emblematic of what’s socioeconomically wrong with the United States: here I am, a commercial farm worker specializing in viticulture but currently scouring the internet for job openings, and I’ve got a high-hat who plays the capital markets for a living insinuating that I’m lazy while one of his associates, also an American, invites me and his other countrymen to Argentina for the purposes of vineyard servitude and wage theft. It takes a pair to make such a proposition, one must say. The unpaid field hand thing, if I recall correctly, was part of a package deal that guests had to pay for. In Soviet Argentina, payroll deducts YOU! But don’t cry for me; the truth is, it’s only money, and Doug Casey assumes that none of us truly needs it since, well, we were able to afford round-trip airfare through Buenos Aires.
My, aren’t the poors crass to demand pay.
The Boomers have not enjoyed the last of the blowback for the perception that they’re running a sort of financial domination carny hustle on their descendants. Even if their scapegoats-cum-pension fund contributors have only an inchoate feeling that they’re being hustled in the course of being humiliated by their elders, the wanton ungraciousness of certain men and women of a certain age is very likely to blow up in their faces. One possible reaction by the chronically shit-upon youngster is to encourage dear grandfather to return to the den and resume his afternoon vigil over the nation with Sam Adams, Megyn Kelly, and company. Another, more troubling, reaction is to figure to hell with payroll deductions, since the recipients are such moochy ingrates anyhow, and go underground. This probably explains some of the catastrophic collapse of the aggregate American payroll since 2008. The flip side of this collapse has been a doubling in the size of the underground economy, from one trillion to two trillion dollars. Even in a populous, affluent country like the United States, 7.65% of the payroll portion of a trillion- or two trillion-dollar economy is a whole fucking lot of money. Between management getting as scummy as the market will bear and a vocal segment of pensioners carrying on like totally petulant shitheads over the socioeconomic failings of the rising generation, it isn’t hard at all to see how the national pension system could start losing popular legitimacy.
And think about this: attack dogs representing the most notoriously ungracious and ungrateful generation in American history are accusing us, young people trying to make a go of it in a trashed labor market, of being ingrates angling for handouts. There are a couple of whopping huge problems with this attitude. One is that the kind of people who aggressively articulate it are never honest about the special favors that they’ve received over the years, so that they keep getting caught in circumstances of less-than-total self-reliance that wouldn’t be embarrassing if they didn’t make such a show of being the reincarnation of Davy Crockett. Another problem with this attitude is that Millennials objectively express more gratitude for the favors we’re given than the Boomers ever showed for their own unprecedented privileges. Millennials who don’t show any gratitude to their parents for a place to stay after college or for help making ends meet are vanishingly rare. But we don’t grovel enough to our own parents, and we let mom and dad do our share of the housework and cooking? Well fuck me. It’s not a third party’s problem if the ‘rents don’t ask their precious snowflake to pitch in around the house. Also, kindly notice that we do not go around making bumptious, callow comments about how no one over the age of thirty can be trusted. You know who did, though, right? Hint: rhymes with “bloomers.”
We’re probably more gracious than can be expected of us in the face of foul tirades about our diminished moral character from geezers who sit around the condo all afternoon indulging in psychosexual fantasies about leggy Fox News anchors. There are still a lot of them, since their parents were really into having kids, but not so many of us, since childrearing turned into an epic buzzkill circa 1960 and more or less stayed that way ever since. Gen X is spread even thinner, but that’s a honey badger crowd; they don’t care about our flame war. It’s 2015, so the 1948-53 birth cohorts are eligible to start collecting their pensions, and the rest of us are eligible to keep paying for them, if we’re lucky enough to have jobs. The Baby Boom peaked in 1957, so the leading edge of the bulge isn’t over the hill yet. We have another two or three decades of putting up with the noisiest of their number being total assholes, but really, a quick look around Woodstock and Altamont, and another look around the post-Vietnam Veterans Administration, should have put to rest any comforting notion that these honored citizens would be ones to go gentle into that good night.
We youngsters are supposed to enjoy irony, so here’s some: politically, Social Security may be saved by the inertia of an electorate whose older members vote while the disaffected young stick a thumb up the ass. The Boomers are already flooding onto the beneficiary rolls, and Gen X is close enough to want to hold the system together for another few decades. We youngsters are the only ones who are likely to try to throw Social Security away in a fit of pique or cynicism. Granted, this is probably a long shot, and a serious Galtian youth insurrection would probably bring the young socialists into the marketplace brandishing tire irons, but if any generation has a contingent foul enough to convince its successors to dismantle a very effective social insurance system that was instituted as an eleventh-hour bulwark against communism and majoritarian nationalism during the last major secular depression, it’s the Boomers. To quote CCR, looks like we’re in for nasty weather, though neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail nor gloom of night shall keep these Mid-Peninsula poseurs from selling out to Walgreen’s.
Groovy shit, man. Groovy shit.