Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Generation (Yet Again)

My personal history is inextricably linked to the history of my generation, the Baby Boom. Which means that I am in part responsible for my generation's accomplishments, a dubious distinction to say the least. It was probably an illusion in the 1960's when we thought we would be a different, a transforming force in America. That illusion was short-lived as my generation made its way into the world and quickly bought into all the institutions we reviled in previous years. I'll let Chris Hedges chronicle the results.
The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from an “empire of production” to an “empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.

Boomers didn't start the decline but we kept it going as we assumed and exercised power in America. About the only remaining vestige of our youthful ideals are the ones we held on to individually. I see them in activists who continue the pursuit of social and economic justice. I still believe in and act on those ideals which is all well and good for my own peace of mind but my efforts have not made a difference. Much of what Hedges describes happened on my watch, as the result of decisions my generation's leaders made.

Collectively my generation failed to maintain and extend the economic and social gains we inherited from earlier generations. And we sure as held did not live up to our hype and hopes. Saint Ronald Reagan once famously asked, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" These days I ask, "Are young adults as well off as I was at their age?" My answer is "Sadly, no."

My generation, indeed.

(h/t to Alternate Brain

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