Baby boomers, angels or devils?

Beltane                                           Waxing Planting Moon

Baby boomers, angels or devils?  As part of the bleeding edge of the boomer generation, born in 1947, and step-parent to a Gen-Xer who often articulated his frustration with us all, I have had the full boomer experience plus listened to and read many critiques:  self-involved, cowards, greedy, idealistic (in a pejorative sense), hypocritical.  You might summarize it by this phrase:  Not the Greatest Generation.

Were there the yuppies who only provided the then current manifestation of suburban oxford cloth striving?  Of course.  Were their Vietnam War era protesters who were cowards?  Sure.  Did many who critiqued Emerson’s notion of the establishment end up part of it and indistinguishable from those there before them? Had to be.  I’m sure if we did a generational breakdown of the folks involved in the latest banking scandals we would find many boomers among them.  Greedy?  Hell, yeah. Clinton and Bush were our Boomer presidents.  Uh oh.  Did many boomers have dreams of a back to the land paradise that devolved into something much less?  Oh, yes.  I had the Peaceable Kingdom, for example.

All these critiques are valid.  And they would be valid for any generation.  They only express the ongoing critique of American culture as materialist.  It is a critique based in fact.

History will be kinder to the Baby Boomers than the keyhole history used to validate sweeping criticisms.  Why?  Because as a generation we sacrificed ourselves and our lives over and over again.  We provided allies to and were a direct part of the Civil Rights struggle.  When our country interfered in a millennia old civil war in Southeast Asia, using as a rationale a bankrupt understanding of communism, we stood against it.  When women began to push back against the leftists of the day and the whole patriarchal culture, we again provided allies and were a direct part of the struggle.  While many of us blended back into the cultural establishment we had critiqued, which is no surprise, many of us stayed out.  We joined the Peace Corps.  We worked in community organizing, community based economic development, community health clinics.  We stood in solidarity with working people and were working people.  We supported the poor and were poor.

We put our own beliefs and our own received values again and again into the alembic of radical critique.  We changed our hearts, transvaluated our values and moved on to the next struggle.  Yes, we were then and are now guilty of idealism, of believing we need a more just, verdant and peaceful world, as the NPR sponsor says.  Our lives have not been easy, they have often been painful estranged lives, wandering from one inner journey to another, searching always searching, traveling this ancientrail, then another.  This is the stuff of epochal change, of shifting the zeitgeist.

Has that change always gone in the direction we intended or hoped?  Never does.  Has much of the change we sought produced the conservation reaction we saw in Reagan, the Moral Majority, the Christian Right?  Yes, but always remember Alinsky, the action is in the reaction.  The view of history is long.  Once the reactions have settled down, as they may be beginning to now, it will become more obvious that baby boomers paid with the coin of their own lives to gain both victories and defeats.

We rode and shaped a shift from a manufacturing based economy to a knowledge based economy, from a white majoritarian male world to a world with an appreciation for difference, a world in which women have surged ahead, a world in which war no longer stands for glory and is questioned at every turn,  a world in which the world matters.  These are not bad things.  They are good things.  Very good things.

Were we responsible for them?  No.  Did we act as the agents of the change? Yes, we did.  We shaped and were shaped by the chaotic, violent, bigoted world into which we were born.  When the last boomer is dead, our legacy will be a different set of problems from the ones we inherited.  That’s the way culture and history works.

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