Baby Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials

You can find the arguments all over the Internet – baby boomers broke America, millennials are aimless and self-absorbed, etc. Let me try to put the competition to rest.

All of these arguments have one thing in common: They all rest upon the false premises that these imaginary generational constructs are (1) real and (2) monolithic. Sure, history goes on, and the youth vs. age theme is perennial, but calling Obama “Gen X by personal temperament” (as Ben White does in his generation-based commentary in Politico, 2019/10/26) is no better than astrology, which says those born in November have one temperament and those born in August another. Why should people born 1965-80 have a collective “temperament” but not people born 1975-90?

If anything, this habit of reifying and playing generations against each other is even more absurd than our habit of building walls around races and playing them against each other (a favorite theme on the Right during the Civil Rights era that has now become a favorite theme on the Left in the woke era*). Race, at least, is not as imaginary as the generational categories. Except in tightly localized areas, like elevated risk of certain diseases, race is virtually meaningless as a biological concept. But it is not as meaningless as the generational constructs. African-Americans, e.g., have suffered historical conditions as a group that leave them, not universally but in the aggregate, with a set of legitimate shared concerns in today’s body politic. But playing off the races against one another is no way forward. The idea of race as something that can be circumscribed with sharp lines and defended against all penetration by other groups is as imaginary as the generational constructs. Even “African-Americans,” despite the socially produced set of conditions that apply in the aggregate, is a porous term, genetically and culturally. Studies show that “58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5% European ancestry (equivalent of one great-grandparent)” and “about 30% of self-identified White Americans have recent sub-Saharan African ancestry.” Even those without mixed blood have grown up with enormous cultural cross-fertilization, from music to movies to cooking and social life. Let’s celebrate the unique attributes of our different subcultures, but this pitting of one group against another is nonsense, and it has to stop. Things like wealth inequality and declining environmental resources are becoming too serious.

Bottom line: We have enough categories dividing us without inventing imaginary ones. Yes, let’s fight for a more equitable society and a more sustainable environment, but not by building walls around imaginary groups. We need to leave that way of thinking behind, whether it’s coming from Trump conservatives or woke progressives. Let’s rather bust all the walls and windows and open ourselves to the great multicultural carnival, all working together, celebrating each other across our demographic lines – that could be our future if we just turn the dial on how we think. And we can start with throwing out the stupid faux conflict between invented generational tags.

* Won’t get fooled again

* * *

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44 thoughts on “Baby Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials

  1. Identity politics and progressive “woke” sociology are absolutely counter to their stated purpose of “inclusivity and tolerance”. It is the most divisive force in our politics and must be exposed for what they are.

    What is a Trump conservative? I believe that I understand what you mean by the term as expressed in the context above. There has been an image constructed to portray the Trump supporter as southern, inbred, knuckle dragging mouth breathers. One can not deny that those may be found in the ranks of a Trump rally audience, but this in no way constitutes the majority of his support. We all live in the same place and though we may have great differences, none of us (if we are truly honest) can say that this makes up our society. The numbers don’t add up. We know that this is not “who we are” as a country, so how about making an honest appraisal of what Trump’s election really means.?

    Is it about race? One can take a set of statistics which are accurate and juxtapose it upon a social template and say, truthfully, that the majority of his supporters are white. That is no different than stating that the vast majority of people who will die in India this week will be brown skinned. One can not conflate this to a statement that brown skinned people are somehow targeted in some way as to die in disproportionate numbers because of their skin color. It is just a truth because the vast majority of people who live in India are brown skinned. Demographic trends notwithstanding, “whites” still constitute a majority of US population. Statistically ANY candidate who wins the presidency in the current population will have, in fact must have, a majority of white support. This being true it also stands to reason that any other racialized voting blocs do not in fact vote universally for one party.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fair enough. I will grant that most Trump supporters are not racists. I do think that if you filter “Trump conservatives” from the more general pool of conservatives, you will get a higher percentage of racists, though still, I grant, not a majority. Perhaps you and I would agree that the problem of putting race as the keystone of identity can be found among Trump conservatives as well as among progressives (though that doesn’t fully define either group) and, whichever direction it comes from (whether Trump’s comments about Mexicans and shithole countries or the obsessive racial profiling of the wokes), it is reversing some of the positive gains in consciousness we’ve made since the Civil Rights era (though you and I might disagree over percentage of influence in each camp). Also, of course I agree with you that saying most Trump supporters are white means nothing (as most Obama supporters, like me, were also white) — but luckily I don’t see people making much hay of that idea.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would submit that the great majority of Trump supporters are not actually conservatives, as they seem to be defined. It comes back to your point about the very idea of having to be defined, but here we are talking about defining by a set of ideas or beliefs. The meaning of the words liberal or conservative have been bastardized. John Stuart Mill would be incensed at what is today called liberalism. Just as Trump is NOT an idealogue, neither are his supporters. At least that is not what defines them. Every constituency within any political party is the member of a group that is alternately celebrated or shunned, either by their opposing party or quite often their own. These are the fruits of political winds, one of the ugly by products of the democratic process.

        I’ll use a sports analogy, if you’re familiar with the game, of American football. If I am the coach of the San Francisco 49ers, who are currently undefeated, and we have a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are currently winless, the very strong expectation is that we should beat them and beat them handily. Now, what happens after the Bengals whip up on us in a primetime game for all the world to see? The smart coach is not going to obsess over what the Bengals did. The smart coach is going to look at his own team and try to figure out where THEY went wrong, not the other way around.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Fair enough. I don’t see much soul-searching on either side. As Obama said last week, “I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people …
      If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my gosh! I was just thinking this–so tired of labels and classifying. It’s exhausting. I’m with you–let’s tear down the walls. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Far too many are comfortable with the walls and have imagined all sorts of “scary things” that would happen without them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really agree with you with regards to pitting generations against each other. Really, we shouldn’t do it. There’s no reason to do it. There are wonderful people in each generation, and bad people in each generation, but that has to do not with the generation, but with the people themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, I’m sorry, but at the risk of being condemned as a definer, I emphatically believe that many in the newer generations are a cause for great hope. Sure, there are the haters, but there are also vast numbers who are color blind in the manner we wish we all were, who don’t care one whit about a person’s ethnicity ( or lack thereof), or sexuality, and who are defined for the most part because they’re undefinable—they just live and let live.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think you run that risk at all. History does roll on. Cultures and attitudes do change. It’s just lumping people into those artificially defined groups that I object to. I partially share your faith. I find most generations since the 1960s (Civil Rights and hippies) are moving in the right direction. I’m not sure the new generation is any better than the previous in this regard, but I do think there are enough young people with the attitude you speak of to cancel out the damage being done by the wokes (i.e., those obsessed with the boundaries between races, genders, etc.) among them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I must say I share some of the “wokes’” obsession about race. Did you see Charles M. Blow’s Op-Ed in The New York Times: “My Wish for Michelle Obama”? (Nov. 4) If not, I recommend it—and I’d be interested in your views about it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • No, I don’t have a subscription to NYT, so they always boot me out. In general, I defer to my moral and intellectual beacon on this matter, Michelle’s hubby, who said this last week in Chicago:

          “I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people. I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because ‘Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!’”

          “That’s enough,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

          Mr Obama added that “people who do really good stuff have flaws … If we are launching purity tests, we are going to have such a small party and will not be able to win. Governing is not about saying: ‘You don’t agree with me, then you can’t be part of the conversation.’”

          Or, as he said in The Audacity of Hope back in 2006,

          “I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe … I reject politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally … I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect …”

          I infer from these remarks that he is not a woke progressive but a true progressive as regards this topic.

          (If that last remarks seems to cut hard, don’t worry, I have lots of woke friends who are eager to cut back at me just as hard 🙂 )

          Liked by 1 person

          • I am familiar with both the recent Obama quote and The Audacity of Hope. It is conceivable that Michelle is more vulnerable than he, and my heart goes out to her.

            Maybe you’ll be able to read Blow’s column.
            https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/opinion/michelle-obama-chicago.amp.html

            I’m not offended; I’m very comfortable with my views.

            I must say, Gary, that I look for a smidge of Ram Dassism in the fervor you bring to your discussions of the “woke” population…😉

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hi Annie. As you probably know, I favor Michelle Obama’s approach over Blow’s. I think she knows what she is doing, following the path marked out by Gandhi and Mandela. I think the number of whites today who think that “black people … lack the morality and character to exist on the same plane as white people” is rather small, and Blow would do best to look at white people today not through that lens but as Michelle does, as people like all people, flawed, complex, contractory, able to make adjustments when kindness rubs against their biases — almost exactly as Mandela said it when reflecting on his time in Robben Island.

              Liked by 2 people

              • I wish I agreed with you that the number of white people with the thinking Blow sets forth is small. I harken back to what I’ve written and read about my younger friend Doug Glanville, who has everything going for him, dislikes wokeness as much as you do, but has eloquently and painfully described the soul-sapping nature of the accretions of daily slights, both major and minor, that he experiences simply moving through his active daily life. One shouldn’t need a coat of armor to live in 21st century America.

                Liked by 3 people

                • Starting where I know, as I look to my closest 100 white friends over the years, I’d say the number of them who think blacks, as a matter of race, “lack the morality and character to exist on the same plane as white people,” is zero. It might be as high as 1 or 2, but even they wouldn’t say it out loud, so taboo is racism in our culture. Maybe I am particularly lucky in the friendships I have formed. Maybe the white people you (and Blow) have known in your lives are of a different sort. Now if you say that people of all groups develop internal biases about “other” groups as they grow up, that these sometimes come out in subtle ways, and that they are particularly destructive when directed against a group that is already in a tight spot due to historical oppression, I’m with you on that. I just don’t see how Blow’s approach — that Michelle (and by implication others) should write off a much larger percentage of white people as unredeemable racists with a slave-era mentality, fixes very much.

                  Liked by 1 person

          • I loved that talk by Obama. I perceive something similar. But I remember how much I knew when I was 19, and I spouted it like the grand authority I was. The argument he made for perspective and compromise was wisdom in words. But I didn’t have any of that when I was 19. I figured if the grownups had been capable of fixing things, they would have. Luckily I was there and I’d have it all straightened out before I was 21. We were not “woke.” We were “enlightened.”

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with the idea of not pitting one category of folks against another; it’s all a ploy; however, I disagree that generations do not exist. As someone who is a part of a family of generations as far back as my great-grand and as recent as my cousin’s baby, I believe we do belong to generations, who by and large, tend to have similar characteristics and views about how to live in society.

    I do think this is a very thoughtful post though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fair enough, KG. Here’s my take. I think what you say about your family is true for all families. But your family’s generations maybe be roughly 1960-1985, 1985-2005, etc., and the family next door’s generations may be roughly 1968-1992, 1993-2014, etc. So yes, history goes on, attitudes shift in a specificiable direction, but each family has its own generational cutoffs. That’s why the macro categories (GenX, GenY, etc.) are bogus and serviceable only to stand-up comics or those who thrive on divisiveness. Thanks for the added input!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I agree with you, particularly as the media fosters division between the generations. I also resist all (ha ha) generalizations but I think there is something to the idea that a group of people born at a certain time in history will have shared experiences viewed through the lens of their age at the time and the experiences through which their parents have lived. I had my students do a research project on how to get along with the five generations they were likely to find in the work place when they graduated, focusing on what the various generations would expect in terms of communication. I think it was a valid exercise, even more now that I’m not teaching any more and have to communicate with millennials in order to do some of the things I (a boomer) want to do. I might not identify with my generation (I don’t) but, based on my appearance THEY identify me with their assumption of what a Boomer is, does. I’m cautious around them. Gen X, however, is fractious, but independent and likable — and had/has great music. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Martha. I certainly agree that the historical moment you’re born into shapes your world view, and that historical changes in general values and belief structures can be tracked. It’s the artificial cutoffs that I object to. To quote myself 🙂 , your family’s generations maybe be 1960-1985, 1985-2005, etc., and the family next door’s generations may be roughly 1968-1992, 1993-2014, etc. That’s why the macro categories (GenX, GenY, etc.) are bogus. “Shut up, old man” makes perfect sense (history moves on). But “shut up, boomer” makes no sense. Boomers gave us Geo W Bush and gave us Obama, gave us the environmental movement and failed to stem environmental damage, gave us modern Civil-gay-women’s movements and gave us the resistance to that, fought against the Vietnam War and fought for it, gave us Jimmy Hendrix and gave us Barry Manilow. You get the idea. It’s worth tracking changes over history but not assigning arbitrary cutoffs that encourage people to oversimplify and cheer for their imaginary team 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I completely agree. Plus there’s no way to predict how a historical even shared by a generation will affect all the people in that generation. It’s absurd to think that’s even possible. These huge generalizations and over-simplifications are just a way (lazy? uncritical? scared?) people have for dealing with life’s complexity, maybe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, I know. We love grouping people arbitrarily and then oversimplifying the groups. It’s one of our stupidest traits (yes, I said “stupidest”). Sure, sometimes we need generalizations to make sense of historical processes at the macro level, but when the generalization does nothing more than encourage people to evade complexities and oversimplify and antagonize, it’s time to put it to bed. Consider my blog entry a lullaby.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. An excellent article. The pity of it is, that back here in the UK the issue of Brexit is setting families and friends against each other. So you’re spot on – we don’t need artificial echo-chamber type barriers, given we are already sufficiently riven in a way I don’t us healing for at least another generation, given where we’re headed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I share your pessimism (and your hope that it’s temporary). I imagine Brexit there has had the same impact as Trump’s election here. Over here, as recently as Obama, I could say there was at least one side (Obama as exemplar) honestly trying to pull us together across racial and other demographic lines with a sense of shared humanness. Now both Left and Right thrive on racial (and gender and etc.) divisiveness as red meat for their respective bases. I hope with you that the next generation will get fed up with both and shatter the whole current Left-Right spectrum, throwing both old-school conservatives and new “woke” progressives onto the ash heap of history. That may seem a pipe dream, but honestly, so many people are fed up with the malignancy of both sides that I think the next generation may actually break through 🙂

      Like

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