The Baby Boomers: programmed for selfishness

It’s ugly to talk in generalizations about generations, so let me say right up front that every generation contains the same variety of human beings. You can’t even argue that they have shared experience, because your experience of a world event or a place or a time varies according to your assets, your “place” in that society, etc.

But it is fair to say that the dominant culture – in the US, white men of means and to a lesser extent the women bred to be their supporters – is fed to us in generational flavors. The stereotype-to-which-there-is-some-truth tells us Boomers are selfish, Gen X are the ones paying for it, and Gen Y are the doted-upon grandchildren of the whole mess. Each generation contains tons of people defying the stereotype, but the stereotypes themselves reveal something about cultural objectives. In the case of the Boomers, it reveals that the so-called Silent Generation bred themselves a collective of narcissists.

The parents of the Boomers had just suffered through a depression and a World War. Many of them were old enough to remember better times (the 1920s) suddenly snatched away. Once financial security was achieved – once it seemed necessities would never be lacking again and they could instead start worrying about who had the most luxuries – white boys, at least, were raised to believe they were entitled not only to everything they needed, but to anything they wanted badly enough to get. These were the people to whom the message “You can achieve anything in this country, if you just try hard enough” was intended. Women, people of color and other groups were still being raised to stay in the shadows and provide support. But now attractive white women, at least, could expect to be cared for in style by the men they supported.

Then came the 1960s, a period we’ve been taught to define as the Boomers rejecting all that materialism and nobly searching for something more real. But is this a distortion, a view warped by the white male cultural lens?

Consider this possibility: in the 1960s, all the Boomers who weren’t white and male saw white men being promised even more than usual. They decided enough was enough, and started campaigning for their fair share. The pie had gotten even bigger; surely now there was room for them. Then, as happens with every great movement (see Spice Girls Feminism), a bunch of entitled kids re-branded something every generation plays with – screwing and playing with chemicals – as some strange cousin to that movement. This would explain why in the 80s it seemed like the Boomers abandoned their principles wholesale to become upwardly mobile greed sharks; in reality, as with every generation, most of them never had any principles. They had engaged in the great social movements strictly to get laid, piss off parents, delay the responsibilities of career and marriage, etc. They probably didn’t even fully comprehend how much those movements meant to those who really needed them.

So you ended up with white women of means claiming feminism without grasping how little some of their goals would help women in other demographic groups. You got former draft dodgers and protesters spitting on homeless Vietnam vets who littered the streets with their stink. You got a generation for whom materialism was an end rather than the means to an end because this is what they’d been taught ito expect n earliest childhood by a generation undergoing the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome en masse: “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again.” No matter who I have to eat to stay full.

The Boomers didn’t exercise any worse moral judgment than any other generation in the history of time. Every generation is defined by its most culturally valued members doing pretty much what they were taught to do in early childhood. The Boomers’ valued members – white men of means – were taught that if the world wasn’t delivered to them in a pretty bow, they had a right to go and seize it piece by piece from whomever held a chunk of it. If Generation X behaves more nobly, it will only be because we were programmed to believe it wasn’t our turn.


  1. Lili says

    I really enjoy your writing. I don’t agree with all (though I do agree with much of what you’ve written) you say, but you have a great style. I hope you continue and that a larger audience finds your material.

  2. says

    Excellent post! I just stumbled across your blog via Uppity Brown Woman and its great!

    I really like this post for numerous reasons but it validates how I see the selfishness in baby boomers. I am in agreement with the person who commented above that I hope your writing is heard by a larger audience.

    Recently how I have seen and viewed baby boomers is that the life they currently live is a life of excess. They are the first generation to own and have as many material items and to to have more monetary wealth than generations prior. It was a part of many of the baby boomers American Dream to have a house, car, a second house and them some. Now with job loss and foreclosure they are learning some lessons that monetary wealth and material cultivation is not life. I am glad that you did not lump this group into one group so to speak as a group is made of individuals an you can’t generalize everything. I do know a plethora of baby boomers that hang out to valuing simplicity, land, family, friends and not monetary wealth or materialism.

    Anyway, this post has me thinking more about this now…

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