Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Generation Lost in Space - Meritocracy and the Baby Boomers

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

When singer-songwriter Don McLean wrote that cryptic lyric in 1971, part of his mega-hit American Pie, some interpreted it as a reference to the moon landing in 1969, others to the popular sci-fi television show Lost in Space (1965-1968).

But neither McLean - born in October, 1945, and therefore  three months older than the oldest Boomer - nor anyone else could have understood back then how prophetically the phrase applies to the Baby Boomer generation at our current historical juncture.

Boomers now seem to be a  Generation "lost" - at least temporarily - in a period of such cultural, political, economic, and philosophical chaos, that their basic moral and psychic moorings, everything they've believed in and stood for, are suddenly being questioned or, in many cases, under virulent attack.

This phenomenon - an entire generation's Ethos under the microscope - is extremely rare, particularly in the United States. The last time it happened was probably in the Depression years of the 1930s, when the morals, ethics, and excesses of the Great Gatsby-Flapper generation were widely castigated as "to blame" for the years of hunger, despair, and desperation that followed Wall Street's Great Crash of 1929.

Don't Hate Us Because There Are So Many of Us

The vast majority of today's Boomers - and others who haven't been brainwashed by narrowly partisan bias or prejudice - would say that making an analogy between the Flappers and the Boomers is decidedly off the mark - although there are some striking similarities between the 1920s and the Boomers' youthful heydays of the 1960s and 1970s.

The 1920s saw a "loosening of morals," in some people's minds, due partly to the staggering loss of life in the World War and consequent manic Nihilism that set in among the surviving young - "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die" - and partly from the success of the women's suffrage movement in both Europe and the U.S., with women embracing such shocking concepts as higher education, careers outside the home, and - oh, No! - birth control and premarital sex.

Prohibition (1920-1933) encouraged many otherwise law-abiding citizens to break the law in a careless and casual sense. And both a lack of effective regulation and the example of a scandal-ridden Washington (Teapot Dome, 1921-1924) contributed to a Wild West climate of rampant speculation, both on Wall Street and in the nation at large.

Come to think of it, that does sound a lot like the 1960s and 1970s. For World War I, substitute Vietnam. For the 16th Amendment, substitute the revived Women's Movement. For Prohibition, substitute the controversies surrounding marijuana and other drugs. And for Teapot Dome, substitute Watergate.

But although the largely contrived and artificial "Always Blame the Boomers" Propaganda we've experienced the past decade might not seem to acknowledge it (see my story, Anti-Boomer Rhetoric: Time to Can (If Not Ban) It, Once and For All) we are now a half century or so past "Flower Power," Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, and the Fall of Saigon.

And there are some very big differences between the post-World War I Gatsbyites and the Baby Boomers, either in our heydey or today.

"Big," in fact, is the operative term. The "Lost Generation" of the 1920's, further ravaged by untimely deaths during the World War, was a "normal-sized" generation - i.e. one-quarter or less of the U.S. population during most of their lifetimes.

In fact, that generation - most Baby Boomers' grandparents - were more of a normal-sized generation than their own parents, Boomers' great-grandparents, were, because that age cohort had been boosted considerably by waves of immigrants from southern, central, and eastern Europe - and to a lesser extent, Asia - during the 1880-1910 period.

Most Boomers' parents - the fortunately-named "Greatest Generation" of people born in the 1920s and early 1930s, was also a generation of a "normal" size, constrained by the numerous deaths of young men (potential fathers) in World War I; a fall-off in immigration in the post-World War years; and a sharply lower birthrate in the 1930s, as economic Depression took hold.

Similarly, the generation born in the later years of the Depression or during World War II itself - a largely unnamed cohort one may think of as "Boomers' Older Siblings" - had its growth curtailed by lower birthrates in the hard times of the 1930s and the absence of many potential fathers during the subsequent War years.

It is against this background - three straight generations which were not particularly large - that the massive population explosion which marked the advent of the Baby Boomers must be viewed.

The birthrate in the United States - and much of the rest of the Developed World - began to perk up almost immediately after the despair and dislocations of first, the Great Depression, and then, World War II, were behind us.

At one previous point, in the late 1960s and early 1970s - which, curiously or not, corresponds with the oldest Boomers' first big impact on both U.S. culture and politics - Baby Boomers alone made up 2 in 5 Americans and a sharply rising percentage of European and Japanese citizens, as those war-torn parts of the world began to recover.

(The Chinese Boomer population is exceptionally large for a different reason, the immense success of the "one child per family" agenda, which took hold immediately after most Chinese Boomers were born.)

Numbers like these could not be denied - especially not by the U.S. media, then far less concentrated and therefore less politically constrained than that of today.

Boomers were big news, so much so that their every move seemed to be commented upon and viewed as influential. America looked on with genuine interest as Boomer children became "polio pioneers" in elementary school, guinea pigs for the (fortunately successful) Salk vaccine. And they empathized as we practiced disaster drills, herded into school basements as the Cold War heated up.

Later, they looked on with pride, disapproval, or puzzlement as we screamed for Elvis and the Beatles; danced up a storm on American Bandstand; matriculated in vast numbers at colleges and professional schools; staged various sit-ins for various causes; experimented with sex and drugs; and either eagerly participated in or actively scorned our generational crucible, Vietnam.

Boomers, Meritorious

As generations go, we were surely a Meritorious one, keen on becoming educated, keen on developing our talents and creativity, and keen on making the world around us a better place.

In terms of every metric dealing with education, Boomers in the United States, Europe, Japan, the rest of the Developed World, and China, became by far the best-educated generation in human history - a record that still holds.

A far larger percentage of Boomers than previous - or subsequent - generations graduated from high school, from college, from law school, from nursing school, from medical school, and from all sorts of professional schools. They earned large numbers of Masters degrees, Doctoral degrees, business degrees, and engineering degrees.

Boomers have eagerly embraced continuing education of all sorts throughout their subsequent lives and careers. And despite the unfortunate - and frankly ridiculous - Propaganda claiming otherwise, pretty much every Boomer has embraced new technology avidly since their childhoods and teen years.

Boomers were not only early foot soldiers, but also lieutenants, colonels, and generals, in the great Computer Revolution, with household names like Microsoft and Apple founded by Boomers, and virtually every other prominent technology company utilizing Boomers in key management and scientific roles.

On the social and political front, Boomers quite simply changed America - and the World - by their activism in the anti-war movement, in civil rights, in the fight for equality for women, in conservation, and in various other efforts seeking opportunity and justice for marginalized constituencies.

That's why the Propaganda campaign waged against Boomers the past several years - a persistent and at times extremely malicious campaign of anti-Boomer rhetoric or out-and-out hate speech - rankles most Boomers to their very cores.

Boomers' parents were arguably far more insular and jingoistic and far less broadly-educated and socially activist than Boomers have been - and yet they get the "Greatest Generation" tag.

The fortunate Gen-Xers - fortunate because there were relatively few of them - are lauded for their creativity and entrepreneurial prowess - although Boomers deserve as much or more praise on both those counts.

And the Millennials - granted, another extraordinarily large generation, who are mostly Boomers' own children - have been lionized by today's media for "re-making our culture" or, in other words, for doing just what the Boomers did before them -  arguably, in much more lasting and important ways.

Boomers - From Anger to Action

If more influential representatives of our current "mainstream media," more cultural arbiters, and more politicians of all stripes started talking with and listening to a broad range of today's Baby Boomers, they might understand just how angry and frustrated this generation is, fed up with over a decade's worth of negative Propaganda, which has been not only spiteful, but which most believe has had an extremely harmful effect on Americans' National Psyche.

The rhetoric has somehow influenced this country to condone widespread actions on the political, cultural, and economic fronts which have been harmful and downright dangerous, not only to Boomers themselves, but to all generations of American citizens.

I believe that many - probably the strong majority - of Boomers now wish to move beyond mere Anger towards a new spate of social and political Activism, which could, in fact, rival or surpass our accomplishments in earlier decades.

(I've started a new blog series centered on this theme, Baby Boomers - From Anger to Action, which readers might want to look at. Here is a link to the first blog in that new series: From Anger to Action )

But in order to help Boomers move from Anger to Action, we need to begin by recognizing why the malicious Propaganda campaign of anti-Boomer rhetoric began; why certain political groups continue to condone it; what it means for Boomers, the United States, and the rest of the Developed World - and how it all ties in with parallel Propaganda attacks on Higher Education, on Political Centrism, and on the core Democratic concept of Meritocracy.

We have already discussed these topics in previous articles, and I would urge new readers to take a look at Alma Merit - Meritocracy and Universities and at Why the Center Must Hold - Meritocracy and Political Centrism .

Blame It On the Club of Rome

Coincidentally or not, the roots of current rhetoric aimed against the Boomers and the entire "Gray Population" of those aged 50 and over were planted in the midst of the first flowering of Baby Boomer activism, in the late 1960s, when "vanguard" Boomers were in high-school, college, or graduate school.

That's when the Club of Rome, a global think tank based in Europe, was founded, in 1968. Both the Club and various similar groups started formulating and agitating for a "One-World" agenda, based - at least initially - on Malthusian fears that the world had too many humans and too few resources, and that it was imperative that Those-Who-Understood made plans to step in and impose guidelines and restrictions on any country, people, or group which they decided was not working for "the good of the Planet."

The Club made headlines and won hearts and minds among both government officials and the intelligentsia with its 1972 report, The Limits to Growth, which is reported to have sold over 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, crowning it as the best-selling environmental book in history.

The "too many humans, not enough resources" worldview was embraced almost from the start by two seemingly-opposed kinds of political cadres - and they're both with us still, dominating our national and international dialogues to what many of us feel is a disturbing extent.

Those two cadres, of course, are the Limousine Liberals, who have clung fiercely to a "One-World" - As Long As We Control It - agenda and the scornfully Nihilistic modern-day Libertarians.

In terms of our discussion of Boomers and Meritocracy, the Limousine Liberals' "One-World" stance is perhaps the most threatening, since it seeks to impose an agenda which may or may not be right for the Developing World - and its youth-oriented population profile - on the Developed World (plus China), where it has already had horrendous consequences.

In today's Developed World, as we've pointed out, Demographics is now our Destiny, because over 2 in 5 Americans - and Europeans and Canadians and Japanese and Australians and Chinese - are already age 50 or over, with that percentage likely to soar to nearly 1 in 2 citizens within the next few years.

The "One-World" agenda's glaring focus on the Millennials, to the detriment of every other population cohort, may, indeed, make sense in the Developing World, where a preponderance of Millennials - and those younger than Millennials - are the driving forces in those countries' economies, cultures, and electorates.

But such an agenda makes no sense at all - and is, in fact, extremely dangerous - in today's Developed World (plus China), where the fate of the "Gray Population," aged 50 or older, will be the major determining factor in Developed countries' ability to thrive in the decades immediately ahead.

In the U.S., the "One-World" agenda of the Limousine Liberals has also become dangerous in a purely political sense. It has somehow gotten mixed up with old-fashioned political Thuggery of the very worst kind, with "One-World" proponents blatantly "anointing" certain political constituencies and "dissing" and dismissing others - like the Boomers - because they think it will help them at the polls and help perpetuate the worldview they hold so dearly.

Equally dangerous, we believe, is the often jokey, sometimes positively anarchic Nihilism of those who now call themselves Libertarians.

It is very unfortunate that our current over-concentrated "mainstream media," especially on the Internet, persists in branding Libertarians as "Conservative," since in fact, they are anything But.

Not only do many who identify with this philosophy not want to "conserve" anything whatsoever, they seem to enjoy tearing things down for the pure joy of doing so - including the "safety net" of essential economic support for every American citizen, built up over decades of hard and thoughtful work since the devastating upheaval of our Great Depression of the 1930s.

Libertarians claim to be doing so, because of their concern for the continued "viability" of the U.S. economy. But, in fact, their worldview is now so extraordinarily pessimistic, it sometimes resembles nothing so much as a Doomsday cult.

How Do We "Value" People, and How Do We Wish Them to Value Themselves?

That both the "One-World" Limousine Liberals, who are Faux Progressives, and the Libertarians, who are neither Progressive nor Conservative, should have focused so much rancor - at times, outright hatred - on the Baby Boomer generation is significant economically, politically, and culturally. And their disdain for - and extreme fear of - Meritocracy is at the core of this rancor.

In previous articles (see, for example, Meritocracy Has Eleven Letters, Not Four ), we demonstrated that Meritocracy is anti-Elitist and, indeed, a potent defense against whatever Elite, whatever "Thug-ocracy," is trying to pervert our modern Democratic governments.

At times, that's an hereditary Aristocracy. At other times, it's a political or military Oligarchy. But over the past few decades, the main threat has come from a "Thug-ocracy" of "Wealth For Wealth's Sake," attempting to insinuate a dangerous Ethos, asserting that the accumulation of great wealth is the highest possible human goal and that those who have done so, by means fair or foul, are worthy of our blind respect, verging on religious worship.

Meritocracy, as a concept and as a core Democratic value, is a primary antidote to "Thug-ocracies" assuming power.

All "Thug-ocracies" want us to judge, reward, or punish people based on various anti-Meritocratic standards: which sex they are; what age they've attained; what their ethnicity is; what religion they follow; what tribe - or order or military cadre or political party - they belong to; what profession they ply; who their Mommy and Daddy were; or how much wealth they've amassed and held onto.

A few of the above qualities, the average citizen is capable of changing. Most, one cannot change.

In stark contrast, everyone can aspire to attain the clearly Meritocratic qualities and values: education, experience, hard work, and the application of one's inherent talents and intelligence.

So the essential political - and economic - and cultural - question becomes: Do we wish to judge and reward or punish people based on the non-Meritocratic criteria of whichever "Thug-ocracy" currently threatens us? Or do we wish to judge and reward citizens based on lasting Meritocratic criteria, to which all can aspire?

In modern Democracies, clearly we want the latter.

And because of where they are in their current life spans, as well as many of the characteristics that have marked their generation from the get-go, Boomers now rank exceptionally high on the scale of Meritocratic qualities:

***** Boomers were and remain the best-educated generation in U.S. history, using any metric one cares to use.

***** Boomers have decades of valuable experience behind - and hopefully, in front of - them.

***** Boomers have worked hard, do work hard, and will work hard to get what they want to achieve.

***** Boomers have been passionate about developing their innate intelligence, talents, and creativity and applying them to make this country and this World a better place.

Health and Longevity Complicate the Mix

If the United States, the rest of the Developed World, and the the World per se do not take steps very quickly, beginning once again to appreciate and make use of the immense intelligence, experience, talent, and skills of the Baby Boomer generation and our burgeoning "Gray Population," we will - not may, but will - face an economic crisis of catastrophic proportions

Note once more that the "Gray Population" - already 2 in 5 Americans and Europeans and Japanese and Canadians and Australians and Chinese - includes not only Boomers - in their 50s and 60s - but also the considerable population of World citizens older than Boomers, i.e. age 70 and above, and now, hot on their heels, the influential Gen-X generation, which has started passing the Economic Maginot Line of age 50, and is "front-loaded" to pass that boundary quickly within the next very few years.

The general situation of a fast-growing "Gray Population" throughout the Developed World, plus China, will be impacted even further - one hopes in a positive sense - by the fact that advances in healthcare and knowledge about the aging process mean that most people in the Developed World - and in the World in general - are living longer and staying healthier, more fit, and more productive decades longer than was previously the case.

Average Baby Boomers - now in their 50s and 60s - may have another 30 to 40 years of healthy, happy, and productive lives ahead of them - or maybe even more, theoretically, if advances in combating the effects of aging continue apace.

This potentially very positive development - humans living longer and staying healthier and more productive longer - is turned on its head and becomes a crisis only if the World - particularly the Developed World - refuses to see it as positive and continues to react in a negative and obstructive fashion.

We are now at an important historical Crossroads.

Do we welcome our "Gray Citizenry" as a wonderful Meritocratic resource for our country and our World, people who can and will continue to contribute strongly and effectively to our political, economic, and cultural life?

Or do we simply throw away our "Grays," isolating them and thwarting their continued contributions to society - in the process, almost certainly precipitating a political, economic, and cultural crisis so frightening, it could dwarf every other catastrophe the United States - and the World - has yet experienced?

Helping to "save" highly-educated Baby Boomers - which, in truth, means allowing well-educated Boomers to save themselves through continued active, useful, and productive work - is one of the central goals of our Bring Back the Meritocracy! Project.

Boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, as well as those older than Boomers - people aged 70 and above - and the "vanguard" of Gen-Xers, beginning to turn 50 in rapid fashion, constitute a large proportion of the estimated 400 million individuals worldwide in the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" cohort.

Let's continue to focus on the "Highly-Educated" part of that equation - and strive to eliminate the "Under-Employed" designation once and for all.

Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad.