In the last several years there has been much examination of the role that Baby Boomers played in shaping the dysfunctional America of the 21st Century. I think at long last I have finally wrapped my head around an aspect of the mindset of the Baby Boomer generation that led to the creation of the screwed-up world we are living in today. I actually owe this to comic book writer Alan Moore. The blog Dork Forty is examining Moore’s proposal to DC Comics in 1987 for a dystopian saga, Twilight of the Superheroes.
In his proposal, Moore wrote…
“What I want to show is a world which, having lived through the terrors of the Fifties through the early Nineties with overhanging terror of a nuclear Armageddon that seemed inevitable at the time, has found itself faced with the equally inconceivable and terrifying notion that there might not be an apocalypse. That mankind might actually have a future, and might thus be faced with the terrifying prospect of having to deal with it rather than allowing himself the indulgence of getting rid of that responsibility with a convenient mushroom cloud or nine hundred.”
Previously I have had a great deal of trouble understanding how the Baby Boomers could go so wrong. How could a generation that grew up in one of the most economically prosperous, technologically advanced eras to ever exist go on to tank the economy, become violently anti-science, ignore inconvenient facts like climate change and elect politicians who severely destabilized the institutions of this country, threatening the prospects of numerous future generations, all for short-term economic gains?
I have heard it suggested that because Baby Boomers grew up in a time of prosperity and growth, with no financial hardship, no Great Depression or mass-unemployment, they developed the assumption that things would always be that way. I think that definitely played a role.
However, the Cold War also undoubtedly also played a major part in shaping the self-centered, sort-sighted psyche of the Baby Boomers. As Moore observes, for a period of several decades, between the 1950 and the 1980s, the possibility of nuclear war was very real.
So on one hand you have a generation that were basically handed everything on a silver platter, benefitting from previously-unseen levels of economic growth and technological advancement, living lives of comfort and affluence previously unknown to most of people in the world. On the other hand, that same generation grew up being reminded on a daily basis that any minute those dirty Commies might drop the Bomb on us, kicking off a nuclear war and wiping out all life on Earth.
In a way, it is not too surprising that so many Baby Boomers went on to live selfish, self-centered, me-first existences, making no allowances for others, or for the long-term future of the country and the planet, because on some level they probably did not expect there to be a future. This is a generation that lived each day as if it was their last because they genuinely believed it could be the last, that any minute civilization could end. Now all these years later they are unable to escape that fatalistic mindset, to wrap their collective heads around the possibility that humanity could conceivably have a future.
I wonder if that is why so many older voters who voted for Donald Trump are perfectly fine with him playing chicken with North Korea. Maybe the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse is something they lived with for so long during their formative years that it actually now seems much more palatable than facing the difficult work of actually having to deal with complex, long-term crises such as climate change, rapidly-changing job markets, and wealth inequality.
I do realize that there is more to this issue than just Cold War psychology. I am also leaving out the existence of racism in America, which has warped the thinking of a great deal of the populace for many decades. As well, there are the issues of an increasingly multicultural society and the fight for women and the LGBT community to gain equal rights. Certainly, we cannot overlook the tendency of many people to want to find simple answers to complex solutions, and to look for scapegoats for society’s problems.
For all I know I could be completely wrong on this issue. I just thought it was worth pondering. Feel free to let me know what you think.