As the Baby Boomer generation heads into retirement, and hopefully irrelevance, the time comes to reflect on their legacy. What did those born between 1946 and 1960 do with their time here on this earth and what did it all mean? If the generation scarred by World War I was the Lost Generation, and the generation that rose to the occasion to defend freedom in World War II was the Greatest Generation, then what buzz-phrase can we honestly apply to the ladies and gentlemen born in the triumphant post-war birth explosion as the United States captured the whole planet’s imagination as the newly crowned Leader of the Free World? The answer is simple and more than a little disappointing: the Worst Generation. The phrase “Baby Boomer” won’t stick because it only describes their births, not their legacy. Those of us heading into retirement today are without question the Worst Generation and the first generation to leave an America and a world for their children worse off than when they found it.
I use "X" as the tile of this post because it is the label given to my generation born during the 1970's. I am a member of Generation X. I am sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I have tasted some of the prosperity of those Boomers, and I now taste the misery of the Millennials. It puts me in a weird position. I remember going to college and paying for it with part time work and my folks letting me live at home. Now, you can't even pay for college with a full time job and living at home. Being a Gen Xer has given me the viewpoint of someone who has witnessed things going from good to bad. Boomers are out of touch while Millennials are either angry or clueless.
This exchange in a combox captures the anger:
MILLENNIAL: I cannot wait for baby boomers to start dying off in large bulk, so that the world can move on and be a better place. Sadly by the time that happens, I will be in my 50s. They are, hands down, easily the worst generation since the dawn of man.
BOOMER: WE older folks think you are just a bunch of spoiled little worthless brats - who don't wanna work either.That is one vicious exchange. I can agree that Boomers are the Worst Generation. Basically, they spit in the face of their parents, and now, they filch the prosperity of their children. This is something I have said before on the C-blog. The animosity between these generations will become more acute as these Boomers max out Medicare and Social Security. For Millennials, if they have Social Security, it will be garnished to pay off the remainder of their student loans. That is one miserable future.
The most galling part of this generational conflict is when a Boomer wants to lecture a Millennial about being "spoiled worthless little brats." Now, this invective properly fits the Boomers but not the Millennials who have come of age in the worst economy since the Great Depression. The Boomers have essentially pulled off an economic rape of the younger generation, and now wish to absolve themselves of the crime by blaming the victim. Self-awareness requires virtue, and the Boomers do not have this virtue.
Now, I had hope that the Millennials would learn from the excesses and vices of their parents, but I realize that this is foolish optimism on my part. I believed that hard economic times would produce a generation like the Greatest Generation, but it hasn't. The Boomers were a spoiled brat generation with prosperity. The Millennials are simply a brat generation without prosperity. Where Boomers were lazy lottery winners, Millennials are lazy welfare check recipients.
Where does Generation X fit into all of this? The answer is clear when you contemplate the nihilistic nineties. This was the age of Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and Pulp Fiction. It was a time of material prosperity but spiritual emptiness. Nothing embodied the spirit of the time better than the tragic life of Kurt Cobain, a person blessed with fame and fortune but so empty inside that he ended his life with a shotgun blast to the brain.
Where the boomers had marijuana and LSD, Generation X went straight for heroin. When the history of my generation gets written, I suspect the "Empty Generation" will be our moniker. Xers are the older brothers and sisters of the Millennials. I remember my twenties being a time of opportunity and promise but also darkness. Millennials don't know this darkness. Where did this darkness come from? Why did it exist?
Cobain's suicide note contains this cryptic but telling passage:
I have it good, very good, and I'm grateful, but since the age of seven, I've become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess.These are not the words of a spoiled brat. Cobain mocks himself as an "erratic, moody baby." He expresses remorse for the misery he has caused and also for the sadness his death will bring. But he also believes that people and the world would be better off without him. He is filled with self-loathing and emptiness. His heroin kit is at the scene, and he could have easily gone out with a painless hot shot of smack. But he chooses the shotgun. He chooses the violent way out like Hemingway.
There's nothing to admire about Cobain. But you can feel sympathy for a man with a profound emptiness in his soul. Boomers like Morrison, Hendrix, and Joplin went out on excess. Their hedonism destroyed them. Cobain was killed by his own sadness.
We can argue that Cobain was the exception, but we saw the same emptiness in the grunge music of other artists of that time. Cobain was not alone. Others would destroy themselves with heroin. Economically, the nineties were a good time to be alive. Spiritually, it was living death.
The survivors of the nineties are now in middle age. What can we make of Generation X today? The simple fact is the X-People lack the particular vices of the Boomers and the Millennials. Xers are not ungrateful, but they are also not foolishly optimistic either. This comes from the knowledge that they are worse off than their parents but have it better than their younger siblings. When I talk with people in my age bracket, we shake our heads at how bad Boomers and Millennials are. I feel bad for those going through this recession, but I also acknowledge that prosperity has a corrosive effect on the soul.
The Boomers enjoyed great prosperity and indulged themselves. Millennials were given the shaft economically, but they have a steady stream of mindless distraction courtesy of the internet. This is why they can be so optimistic even though there is no reason whatsoever for this optimism. Millennials are simply stupid. They possess the attention span of a gnat. Boomers were about indulgence. Millennials are about distraction. Xers were about reflection. They came of age before Facebook and smartphones.
I don't wish for Generation X to sound superior. As most people see it, they were an aberration. The generation that most resembles Xers were the Lost Generation. This was the generation of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. They were called the Lost because of their lack of direction and sense of emptiness post-WWI. They lived through the Roaring Twenties, but they were able to reflect upon the emptiness of it all. Remember, The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 before the Crash of '29, and you can see how Fitzgerald diagnosed the emptiness and vanity of the Roaring Twenties. The decade of the 1920s corrsponds roughly with the decade of the 1990s. For them, it ended with the Crash. For the Xers, it ended with 9/11.
The Greatest Generation came after the Lost Generation which is why I expected the Millennials would be another Greatest Generation. But I don't see that anymore. These things don't move in a cyclical pattern. The tough times made the Greatest Generation, but the tough times today are making nothing better. I have no hope for the future of this country. It saddens me that the Millennials will take over one day, and they will finish off what is left of this once great nation. They are going to drive us into the grave while tapping away at their smartphones.