There’s little question that the Baby Boomer cohort has been subjected to scathing criticism: the term is frequently hurled as an insult or form of mockery across social media, an ad homeniem that seems to allege one as ineffectual or outdated. Recent publications characterize Boomers as “A Generation of Sociopaths” or as “the Generation that Promised Freedom and brought Disaster.” In the context of this sort of invective, seeking to criticize “the ideas rather than the people” may be well warranted. I want to claim while the term “Boomer” may have a justifiably negative affective charge, this seemingly quaint term masks some extremely dangerous patterns of thought. And rather than being obsolete, what it represents simply couldn’t be any more current.
While the Baby Boomer generation is obviously named for the post-World War II birthrate explosion, there’s a much more sinister association: that the conditions of this generation’s world entry were also punctuated by the birth of thermonuclear warfare. Indeed, it was the militarized domination of most of the world that facilitated just that birthrate—and this connection between violence, economics, and the Boomer cohort is perhaps inseparable from gaining a true understanding of their influence. And lurking even deeper is the question of dialectical or historical materialism versus the development of an ideology that threatens to destroy all material conditions.
On view of realpolitik, the Corvettes and cultural laissez faire were spoils of war, largely connected with a world historical shift where the surplus value of most of the world was rerouted to the US. While neoliberalism may be the ascendant form of contemporary political understanding, The Boomer Ideology is an appropriately contexualized and historicized understanding of neoliberalism consistent with the ostensible move towards a heightened sense of intergenerational consciousness.
Of course, the popular social movements of the 1960’s and 70’s may be offered as proof of the contrary, this in that these movements were largely anti-war, a repudiation of the Greatest Generation’s fighting ethos. To be sure, many young Boomers followed Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno in attacking the instrumental and technical rationality at the heart of the One Dimensional Man—the corporate squares leading the burgeoning system of narcissistic consumer capitalism. Yet if economic warfare is credited with leading to the demise of the USSR—or as representing a new geopolitical battlefield—it thus raises questions concerning any putative Boomer claims on the virtue of “Peace.”
As some of the 70’s radicals went on to lucrative careers in investment banking, Boomers facilitated some of the most damaging “advances” in human history, driving new modes of social, economic and ecological devastation. Technological advancement, financialization, and the overall globalizing project have led to new outlets for aggression: outsourcing facilitated the development of the sweatshop industrial complex, financial deregulation brought us the Great Recession, and the drive towards multinational corporate profits has led to rising inequalities, social fragmentation and unprecedented anthropogenic catastrophe. For a generation that may celebrate its own supposed “non-violence,” the Boomer cohort has done irreparable harm through distinctive modes of social, financial and cultural domination, including nearly perfecting the use of economic violence. Boomers have been instrumental in the rise of the total neoliberal state, just all-the-while rarely ever taking out their guns.
The Boomer Ideology is what I call the highly distinctive cultural inheritance transmitted by its namesake generation. And though such a heritage is bound up with nearly all Post-Enlightenment Western culture, I think that this varietal reflects especially undesirable features that cut against the common good, human dignity, social solidarity and so on. A key feature of The Boomer Ideology is that it comprises a radically centrist position including both neoliberal and neoconservative stances as found in North American politics. This centrist, supposedly pluralistic ideological political block has come to dominate the corporate state apparatus, NGO’s, academia, the entire technical intelligentsia and has imbued them all with a hollow corporate ethos tantamount to pure nihilism. This is the doctrine of the Last Man, likely to bring the much-discussed End of History, the death of thinking, and perhaps even the end of the species.
The Boomer Ideology is threefold, consisting of: 1). technoeconomic optimism, 2). acquisitive individualism, and, 3). culture industry credulity.
In brief, this is to say that Boomers have been conditioned to view technology, development, and industry as being preconditions for, and pathways to, the putative good life; that Boomers display a predisposition towards narcissistic consumerism and adopting consumer identities as part of their narrative self-understanding; and, through what Lippman called “rational ignorance,” that the Boomer cohort is largely comprised of low-information consumers of mass-marketed public opinion—including Boomers otherwise considered educated based on completing college-level vocational training.
Installments to follow will attempt to trace the contours of The Boomer Ideology across these main themes. And while I may be accused of simply burdening and scapegoating Boomers with the entire weight of history, this is in no way my primary goal—instead trying to highlight these drawbacks as an object lesson for future generations. In any case, if it’s possible for them to save themselves (or us all), it just won’t be through the distinctive patterns of thought that are now dominant.