If you were born between 1945 and 1960 you are entitled to describe yourself as one of the baby boomer generation. Each generation develops its own sense of self along with assessments of the characteristics of those that have gone before them. Here, for example, is an assessment by a Mr Paul Begala, one clearly disgruntled commentator, from Esquire Magazine in 2000:
I hate the Baby Boomers. They're the most self-centred, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history. As they enter late middle age, the Boomers still can't grow up. Guys who once dropped acid are now downing Viagra; women who once eschewed lipstick are now getting liposuction,
I do not think it would be all that difficult for even the casual observer to find evidence to support Begala’s somewhat vitriolic appraisal of the baby boomer generation whether they be American or not. There is also evidence to suggest that it is the self-indulgence and self-interest, and the legacy of those characteristics, that will plague the baby boomers through old age and into death. Life style diseases rooted in self-indulgence, coupled with the global financial crisis, another symptom of self-interest, will see to that.
The baby boomer generation has been in charge, so to speak, of much of what has transpired over the past 40 or so years. They were at the vanguard of many of the revolutionary and protest movements of the 60s and 70s, and later took charge of many of the institutions, both private and public, that exist today. After the wild days of protesting in the late 60s, most of them, to quote George Thorogood, front man for the rock band the Destroyers, did “get a hair cut and got a real job”.
Social demographers and most members of the commentariat will report that baby boomers were witnesses to not only immense social change, but also initiated substantial changes themselves. But they would say that wouldn’t they? Many of the prominent opinion writers of today are in fact baby boomers themselves. Again, that is somewhat characteristic of the baby boomers who do seem to see themselves as rather unique.
But are they really as unique as some might claim? Other generations also saw in enormous social change: somehow the baby boomers seem to have crowded that fact out from their consciousness. Many of the changes brought about by earlier generations were far more profound than those of the baby boomer cohort - like turning sex into a relatively unproductive recreational pastime or changing music styles, fashion, or debt.
The advantage the baby boomers had, of course, was that the changes that occurred while they were leading the pack were being broadcast around the world pretty much in a heartbeat. Ideas became movements, movements became policies, and social-reform and revolution of sorts were words on everybody’s lips.
Social reform and revolution has happened before of course, time and time again in fact. Others have been equally instrumental in social change so we should not let the hubris of the dominant cohort right now drown out the true voices of history. Every generation makes it mark in some way. There have been other generations; especially those of the enlightenment, the reformation and the puritans. Each of these, and others, brought about substantial social change within their own sphere of influence.
Communication was the real agent of changes, not the boomers. But in a post world war world where the victors write the history, baby boomers have been very flattering about themselves and their role in history. Yes they have changed fashion, yes they have changed music, and yes they have changed even debt. But with the exception of debt the other arenas of change are simply aesthetic adjustments: interesting but unremarkable.
It is when you combine the more substantive changes the baby boomers have instigated, those linked to debt and health that their real legacy is revealed.
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