The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Does Generational Character Exist?

The answer is yes, unless you believe that the experiences people have don’t shape them.

At a given time and place, we experience similar things. In the US of the 30s, we experience poverty, desperation, and the hope of FDR. In the 50s, we have prosperity, but also stifling expectations of behaviour and a closing of possibilities for women. In the 60s, we experience the flowering of youth culture, traumatic assassinations, and civil rights victories. In the 70s, we grow up during inflation, terrorism, and the end of “the good times.” In the 90s, we grow up in helicopter households under stifling levels of supervision unknown to previous generations.

Character is formed by genetics and environment in concert. A generation which has one set of experiences is different from a generation which has another set of experiences. The average Boomer personality is different from the GI Generation, the Silents, Xers or the Lost Generation. They grew up in affluence, expected smooth sailing, grew up in a world which worked and in which their youthful experience was a bend toward justice. This is very different than the Xer or Millennial experience of growing up in an economy which was growing worse than that in which their parents had lived, and of the Millennial experience of a world where civil liberties beyond identity rights were actually constricting as they grew up.

To argue that generational differences don’t exist is to argue that nurture doesn’t matter, or to argue that there are no significant differences in the experiences of different generations in the 20th and 21st centuries. I will be frank: Anyone who believes either of those things is wrong.

Likewise, generations make different decisions at different points in their life cycles. The choice the GIs, Silents, and Boomers made in 1980 to abandon the  Democratic Party, either because they were racist southerners responding to the southern strategy (and yes, that was a racist strategy, and the people who created it have said so), or whether they voted for Reagan in  northern suburbs because they wanted those suburbs to stay white, and fuck the black people, made choices. White flight was a very real phenomenon; it is what those Boomers, GIs, and Silents did.

This does not mean all Boomers/Silents/GI Generation types made those choices, but enough did to  make the Reagan revolution possible. Being racist or keeping their suburban housing prices up was more important to them than anything else, and they voted those values. They voted repeatedly for tax cuts–again and again. You could not run except on tax cuts and expect to win. That was what they wanted, that was what they voted for, that was their character.

The massive deregulation of securites which took off in the 80s could not have happened while the Lost Generation were still the majority of decision makers and one of the largest voting blocks. They would not have allowed it, and in the early 70s when an attempt was made to get rid of the uptick rule (that you can only short sell on an uptick of a stock) was quickly abandoned because they came out ferociously against it.

Certainly they had their flaws. But that generation, having lived as adults not just through the Depression, but through the Roaring Twenties, understood that you don’t allow securities markets to get out of control.

There is far too much special pleading today, mostly from Boomers, that America just went to hell when they were the largest voting bloc and later, had the majority of politicians, “because of a few bad people.”

No, that doesn’t happen. They were complicit, they chose to vote racism and fear, they chose to vote, again and again, for tax cuts which hurt the weakest amongst us. They backed three strikes laws, they ate up Reagan’s bullshit about Welfare Queens. If they lost control of their political parties (a questionable claim in 1980), well that too was a choice: a choice not to participate actively in internal party politics.

Generations have character, tendencies in common, and they make decisions based on priorities shaped by their characters and tendencies. That some of them disagree with their peers does not change this, any more than the fact that many people in Democratic elections vote for the losing parties. A decision was still made and that decision reflects their collective values.

This does not mean there are not other causal factors: the failure of liberalism, the oil shocks, the strategies of the rich to fund an ideological apparatus outside the universities, the concentration of capital, the idiotic war in Vietnam, and so on. There are always plenty of factors, but generational character, and generational choice played a part, and until the Boomers have shuffled off the stage, and the Millennials move to the fore, our problems stand no real chance of being fixed.  (I leave GenX out, because while, on the balance, our generational character is abysmal, and our most prominent politicians are people like Rand Paul, we are too few in number to really matter: The Millennials will take over from the Boomers, in the same way that the poor Silents were essentially skipped over in favor of the Boomers.)

Character is destiny, for nations, individuals and generations. And character is formed by the experiences we have.

Originally published Jan 7, 2014.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 14, 2020


A Small Insight About Power, Markets, and Post-capitalism


  1. altoii

    Thanks for this. A boomer myself, I’ve been arguing for some time that my generation has been largely responsible for mass incarceration, global warming, endless war, and the end of effective governance. Most of those to whom I make this argument refute the idea that a generation can be held responsible. I think it’s indisputable that my generation, enormous in size, has had since the sixties the ability to create the world we wanted, and we did, much to our shame.

  2. While it is obviously the case that people sharing similar life experiences will tend to form similar perspectives and even characters, it doesn’t seem right to me to rip a particular generation out of historical context and hold it fully accountable for long-term historical trends which happened to come to fruition during their lifetimes.

    The “every man for himself”/”he who dies with the most toys wins” mentality that the boomer generation is accused of epitomizing, is simply the logical end of neo-classical economic theorizing that began long before the Boomers were on the scene. Hayek was born in 1899, Friedman in 1912.

    If the Boomers are guilty of something, istm, it is only of believing what their economists had taught them. If the Boomers have been corrupted, it’s the economics profession that is accountable, imho.

  3. Jeff Wegerson

    I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. And when I cannot afford a candle I practice living the night with the moon and stars.

    As a boomer I am a part of a long proud tradition of enlightened failure going back to the beginning of history.

  4. someofparts

    I’ve learned to accept this sort of thing from being Southern. No matter what my actual views, practice or personal history, I am always the designated Racist and Sub-literate in any gathering of mainstream American middle class people. Same with being a boomer.

  5. S Brennan

    “they ate up Reagan’s bullshit about”


    “they ate up Milton Friedman’s bullshit on “greed always self corrects and businessmen will do the right thing or the market will punish them*” in 10 part series, of one hour apiece shown repeatedly [something like 10-15 times] on PUBLIC TV for FREE**.

    Q: Who gets that kind of airtime for a singular political view?
    A: Nobody.

    Apparently, free lunches ARE available to Ayd Rand adherents.


    Rana Plaza factory building killed more than 1,100 workers,
    Apple workers conditions in China
    Amazon’s Warehouses Threaten Image…workers who fainted from the heat were fired.
    Most Walt-Mart workers receive taxpayer welfare

    **Who funded “Milton Friedman” “Free to Choose” series can not be Googled…hmmm, does that sound like we choose freedom?

  6. Auntienene

    I never voted for any of those things, not Reagan, not tax cuts. I did notice that the news media changed around the time of Reagan’s campaign, becoming complicit in the disinformation campaign as well. It was such a stark change that I remarked about it at the time. Talking heads chortling about Ma and Pa Kettle in the White House to be replaced by the supposedly more sophisticated Reagans. It was as if we had turned into an electorate of stupid wise-asses cheering on the class clown. Was it so important to be led back into a macho “We’re No. 1” attitude? I knew people who thought so.

  7. nihil obstet

    Generalizations can lead to many different conclusions. “[Boomers] grew up in affluence, expected smooth sailing, grew up in a world which worked and in which their youthful experience was a bend toward justice.” So I don’t conclude from that statement that Boomers then decided to vote for decreased affluence, stormy seas, a world that doesn’t work, and a bend away from justice. Despite the whole “never trust anyone over 30” meme, the very oxygen of the time was that progress would continue because of our technical advances. So when the leading academic economists shilled shamelessly for neoliberalism, it was hardly surprising that people who don’t spend all their time reading the opposition didn’t recognize them for the mediocre hacks they were. After 40 years of failure, they’re still lauded as maestros and masters of the arcane formula that proves that the confidence fairy is our only hope of salvation!

    In short, I can agree that there’s some generational character. I have great difficulty with the notion that the character translates very simply into immorality and stupidity.

  8. DupinTM

    I love these conversations most of all, and I know you’ve discussed this multiple times, but for the life of me I can’t remember any good books on this subject past Strauss & Howe’s The Fourth Turning.

    I know I learned about it from you, Ian, but are there any others that go into his kind of detail, showing how there is still plenty of hope in re: millenials, given how their growing experiences make them into GI Generation-style optimists + go-getters? Or is it just 1 big community revolving around that 1 book and its terms?

  9. Pitting generations against one another is currently extraordinarily comforting to those in power. It’s also a driving theme and narrative in the contemporary corporate media.

    Back in the day, pitting the generations against one another was considered deeply, fundamentally anti-social and uncivilized. As in fact the rebel factions among every previous generation including the Boomers were considered anti-social and uncivilized by their elders and by the majority of their own generations.

    Something changed, between the mid-Sixties and the early-Eighties of the previous century, however, to make antagonism and antipathy between generations seem both longstanding and appropriate. What could it be? And why is antipathy between generations being marketed so strenuously today?

  10. Everythings Jake

    Any analysis will require some categorization (subjective “fact”). To say that different generations have different interests doesn’t itself pit them against one another, and to deny that interests may be misaligned within a society’s standard M.O. seems to delude rather than enlighten – e.g., Dick Cheney sent the young to die and lied to them as to why, as evil old men have always done, or that I need the tail end of the boomers to take retirement so I can advance, the old who have had their turn need to die to make way for the young (Ray Kurzweil notwithstanding (I recommend the documentary on Joseph Weizenbaum “Plug & Play” which addresses that among other themes).

    My father, an early boomer, who both owned his own business and then worked for large corporations, cannot understand that there is far less opportunity where hard work can pay off than in prior years and seems unsympathetic to the plight of those who borrowed to sustain themselves because he does not recognize that the relationship between the citizenry and the government is so substantially changed. My grandfather retired with a good pension and health care, I will have only whatever is left of social security and medicare, and when I am old, I will have to keep working and hold a job that should go to a young person.

    All that said, it is certainly worth evaluating whether a society’s standard M.O. should be transgressed or rethought or changed so that interests are less misaligned. But change like that has always come at a high cost (Egypt, in a current state of counter-reactionary terror, the latest lamentable example).

  11. I think we can discuss the generational differences – it is perfect reasonable to observe that those who absorbed the shockwaves of the JFK assassination, or the Challenger disaster at a particular age of impression will approach the world with an eerily common attitude.

    The thing is, it need not be interpreted as “judgment” or finger-pointing. We’re simply exploring ourselves to better understand ourselves. While it’s true that there are good and bad actors within each cohort, there still remains a certain theme as to how these good and bad things emerge.

  12. Dan Lynch

    Choices? As my dad once told me, “The last politician I voted *for* was Ike. The rest of the time, I was voting *against* somebody.”

    There is a grain of truth to your essay’s original theme that the Depression generation understood that government had an important role to play, and by 80’s that lesson had been forgotten.

    But it is also true that, as Noam Chomsky puts it, there is only one party in the U.S., the business party. No matter which business party we vote for, the business class wins. It’s not even clear that one business party is a lesser evil compared to the other business party.

    My view is similar to Howard Zinn’s, that America has always been ruled by the 1%, for the 1%. The New Deal was an anomaly and FDR was a “traitor to his class.”

    Then the cold war put pressure on even conservatives to treat the working class decently for fear they might turn against capitalism. After the Soviet Union collapsed, that fear evaporated, and the ruling elites were free to resume treating the working class like dirt. And that’s where we are today.

  13. David Kowalski

    Back in college I read the biographies of famous people and came to a similar conclusion to Ian’s. My “theory” was that the key points in personal decision-making were the first ten year of adulthood and the last ten years. That’s a gross over simplification. For many people the effects of childhood or strong experiences in another part of life (say 10 to 20 years ago as an example) affect decision-making, too.

    I was really disappointed to learn that Erik Erikson, the psychologist (not the Red State guy) had beaten me to the punch with a more rounded theory. Erikson believed that individuals went through similar stages of development but that the environment and events could impact that development as well.

    Boomers like myself, for example, went through a terribly disillusioning era. Between 1969 and 1979 (ages 18 through 28, personally), we encountered the out of control Vietnam War with “the government” blatantly lying, the energy crisis, Watergate, a slow up in the formerly awesome economic growth machine and a few years of hyper inflation. At the least, it made us cynical. Too many just bought the new line, as Ian suggested.

    Personally, I didn’t sell out on civil rights or civil justice but enough in my generation (Boomers) did to spoil things for the society. And they were convinced so they kept selling out. Until they had little of value worth selling out about. As Paul Simon wrote about a similar disillusionment, “All lies and gests/Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

  14. paintedjaguar

    I could be mistaken, but it’s my recollection that Reagan got more voter support from both the WW2 generation and from GenX’ers than he did from Boomers. As for generational “common attitudes”, my very Southern, right-wing Christian, Fox-watching sister and I have absolutely nothing in common, despite being only three years apart (we are both squarely in the middle of the Boomer cohort). During my lifetime at least, I think public opinion has been much more shaped by massive public relations and marketing campaigns than by real shared experience.

    This wasn’t even always a bad thing — propaganda in itself is just a tool after all. For instance, contrary to the current “shiftless & clueless hippie” narrative, what really happened back in the Sixties was that a lot of Boomers actually bought into all that 1950’s “Truth, Justice and the American Way” mythology. That caused some major headaches for the ruling class — go google “Powell Memo” for their response. To put it simply, they deliberately and consciously changed the messaging. If you’ve been around for several decades and are paying attention at all, it’s hard not to notice this stuff, but the manipulations are so blatant that it’s actually hard to credit that it could be largely intentional. One shouldn’t underestimate what barrels of cash can accomplish, though, especially in a country that has always worshipped money.

    In the mid-Seventies there was a very noticeable media-led wave of stranger-danger paranoia and post-Vietnam jingoism, both of which mind rapes continue to this day, with all sorts of negative ramifications. Then in the early Eighties, suddenly every other magazine on the newsracks was named “Money” or “Entrepreneur” and everyone was going to get rich by “Investing” just so long as they maintained a Positive Attitude (just like in the 1920’s, by the way — some scams never get old). This campaign is also still ongoing, and was overlaid in the Nineties with a layer of “New Economy” and “Third Way” bullshit. That was also about when I started to notice a lot of generational warfare themes being pushed, and all along the way what passes for the Left has also been kept distracted by various identitarian concerns. The fact that real issues were involved didn’t make them any less useful as divide-and-conquer distractions, but that’s a rant for another day.

    Despite what I said earlier, there is something that rings true about the notion of generational attitudes. If you are too young to remember what life was like pre-Reagan, I can tell you that it really was a different world. Even those of us who were getting the dirty end of the stick could believe that progress was coming, and that makes a big difference.

  15. Celsius 233

    Jeff Wegerson
    January 7, 2014
    I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. And when I cannot afford a candle I practice living the night with the moon and stars.
    As a boomer I am a part of a long proud tradition of enlightened failure going back to the beginning of history.
    Thanks for that; I’ve been racking my brain for a way to post my view of 68.6 years of experience.
    If I may; I’ll ride the tail feathers of your wonderful post.

  16. sanctimonious purist

    Born at the tail end of the baby boom, I never felt of that generation. Always wanted to have come of age at the time of Emma Goldman, the suffragists, the labor movement’s rise, John Dewey and progressive education, etc.

    I work with lots of millenials and they seem to have bought in to the neoliberal line. I tell my children, born 99 and 01, it will be up to them to set things right after what my generation has wrought.

  17. jonst

    alternative view–for the most part–on the how Reagan et al came to power:

  18. Pelham

    You’re focusing on generational experiences rather than the system that causes the conditions that lead to those experiences and generate the zeitgeist. And, across generations under capitalism, it’s basically the same old gang of thugs over and over again — serving up what C. Wright Mills called “the main drift.” Of course people are influenced by their environment, but this is trivial in the power scheme. What matters is the system that endures.

    You’re also a bit selective about what the Silents and Boomers did and didn’t do. Silents and Boomers, for instance, were part of the civil rights struggle, opposed the Vietnam War and imperialism and served for a while as rather drug-blurred opponents of what came to be known as “the establishment. ”

    But that still doesn’t amount to much. Giovanni Arrighi’s “The Long Twentieth Century” tells a pretty good story of capitalism dating back to the fabulous city states of northern Italy. The pattern repeats over centuries, moving from Italy to the Dutch United Provinces, thence to England, the U.S. and now, maybe, China. Generations in this context just don’t matter . Capitalism extracts from each what it wants and moves on.

  19. Ian Welsh

    Do you have any sense that the population has any agency at all?

  20. markfromireland


    You’re right about the existence of a generational character. There’s also a national one.


  21. If there is an error the assertion of ‘generational character’ it is the error of conflation, specifically the conflation of ‘eras’ and ‘generations.’

    Eras overlap generations. Eras are far more important to understanding than generations are, in large part due to that overlap. Social eras may indeed demonstrate distinctive character whereas generations may only partake of the character of the eras in which they are embedded, while expressing themselves through somewhat different interests or fashions.

    Several generations, for example, have occurred since the advent of Reaganism, a political, economic and social paradigm that I trace back to Ronald Reagan’s first election as governor of California (an episode which is largely ignored in President Reagan’s hagiography.)

    Reagan’s first Gubernatorial election was in 1966. He took office on January 1, 1967. His election was premised on these things: ending the student rebellion and making anything like it impossible in the future; bringing “law and order” to ghettos and barrios, halting and preventing uprisings therein by main force; and “liberating” California’s good citizens from the burdens of onerous taxation, regulation, and civic/social duties. Those premises still form a large part the paradigm of the era in which we live today, several generations beyond Reagan’s election as Governor of California nearly fifty years ago.

    Several generations elected Reagan, not just one; several generations continue to accept the Reaganite paradigm today. Whether Reaganism (or Reagan/Thatcherism) will ultimately be definitive of the era remains to be seen, but by comparison, generational interests and differences within this era are essentially matters of fad, fashion, and marketing, not fundamentals of character.

  22. Celsius 233

    January 8, 2014
    You’re right about the existence of a generational character. There’s also a national one.
    The national one is most dangerous/deadly…

  23. millicent

    > Something changed, between the mid-Sixties and the early-Eighties of the previous century, however, to make antagonism and antipathy between generations seem both longstanding and appropriate. What could it be? And why is antipathy between generations being marketed so strenuously today?

    So that when the revolution comes, us Millies will tear our parents apart, instead of the 1%.

  24. Ian Welsh

    No, I think that was a choice the Boomers themselves made. They dissed their elders and said “never trust anyone over 30.”

  25. @millicent



    Most Boomers never bought the rhetoric and slogans of the rebels. Never.

  26. Podargus

    I’m getting rather weary of generational generalisations.

    There are cultural, religious and national characteristics but they usually vary widely among individuals. I was born in 1947 and that puts me in that dreaded “boomer” class. But I don’t fit the stereotype and I have no doubt that many others of that generation (with its artificial borders) are the same in their own way.

    There is only one significant fact in all this bullshit about generations – it is playing the blame game and that is productive of nothing positive. If we are going to solve the problems we have then we need a positive outlook. Nothing else will pass muster.

    If you want to sit in corner and cry poor fella me then go for it. Just keep the noise down to a dull roar.

  27. Dan H


    If you want to solve a problem you need a realistic perspective, incorporating both positive and negative aspects. Keep your brightsiding to the office…

  28. bruce wilder

    The Silents were not skipped over; they were hugely influential for their idealistic convictions. The revolutions in culture during the 1960s were their doing mostly. The Boomers did not have ideals or convictions. That was a bad sequence.

  29. Zachary Smith

    The answer is yes, unless you believe that the experiences people have don’t shape them.

    This seems too cut-and-dried for my tastes. From what I can determine, the “generation” business is a relatively recent invention.

    < A Brief History of Naming Generations

    Historians generally agree that generational naming began in the 20th century. It was deceased American writer Gertrude Stein who coined the term "Lost Generation" in her work. She bestowed this title on those born around the turn of the 20th century who devoted their lives to service during World War I. In the epigram to Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," published in 1926, Stein famously wrote, "You are all a lost generation."

    1900 to 1924: the G.I. Generation
    1925 to 1945: the Silent Generation
    1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
    1965 to 1979: Thirteeners or Generation X
    1980 to 2000: Millennials or Generation Y
    2000–: New Silent Generation or Generation Z

    Just because we’ve put a name on something makes it somehow “important”? An ancestor of mine was born in 1884. As a child he would have known of telegraphs, photographs, and railroads. The electric light and the telephone had been invented, but he wouldn’t have seen the former unless he went to the big city, for his part of the state didn’t get electricity until after 1940. Rural telephones were considerably later than that. Eventually he would be quite familiar with those two inventions, and would see automobiles, airplanes, moving pictures, radio, and television, and antibiotics. He’d have heard of the Atom Bomb, and lived to learn of the first moon landing. He lived through the Spanish American War, Two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam. He survived a pandemic worse than the current one.

    Why doesn’t his “generation” get a name? Why didn’t his father’s, an immigrant who arrived in the US at the age of 2 get a name?

    There are certainly differences experienced by the assorted age groups because the US of A has been changing – for the worse. The “American Dream” is dead as a door-nail, and the younger “groups” surely notice their opportunities are shrinking like an ice cub tossed into a pan of hot water. At their High School Graduation ceremonies the Boomers were given uplifting speeches – just like all the rest have seen in their turn. And coming off WW2 when the rest of the world was either undeveloped or shattered by war, their (Boomer) prospects were unusually good. As they’ve aged, they’ve tended to become jealous of the young and embittered by the things they no longer quite understand – just like all aging folks do. At the present time the Boomers are about the only ones with any Middling Class resources remaining, and the Elites are working hard to encourage resentment by the younger citizens. Divide and Conquer.

    The Boomers weren’t responsible for the many wars of aggression before their time – the 2X efforts to grab Canada, the highly successful Indian genocides, or the Mexican American War Land Grab. In the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary, I doubt they’re unusually guilty of more recent stuff since they reached voting age in the Sixties. They were against Vietnam because the Army hadn’t yet been stocked with the poor folks in the “volunteer”/”privatization” scheme. Didn’t George “codpiece commander” Bush’s popularity spike in the 90% range? The Bipartisan work of both parties used the temporary insanity of the US population to gift us with the Patriot Act and a host of other horrors.

    It is a Big Business in the US to shape the opinion of citizens, and the people who do that for a living have gotten to be VERY good at it. Those “shapers” can work directly on the individuals with targeted articles, books, and advertisements. Regarding the latter item, how many here have any idea of the effectiveness of the so-called “Subliminal” advertisements? Clever advertising continues to keep the market for Tobacco thriving. “They” now control almost all sources of information available to the public. “They” turned a 2001 attack by Saudi Arabian terrorists into an endless war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Libya. I’d need to see plenty of evidence that any particular “Generation” was especially gullible in the 2001+ drive to war. Since those citizens now have lots of (enforced) time on their hands with the Pandemic, the Powers That Be are beginning to directly suppress sites which contradict their efforts. (much like the earlier work by the Warmongering Post’s PropOrNot list) Google and Reuters News now volunteer to do a “Fact Check” of stories. Lots of sites have been recently kicked off Twitter and/or Facebook. PayPal now refuses to allow transactions if certain key words are noted. “Iran” is one, and I doubt if I could donate any money to a food bank in Venezuela or a orphan’s home in Syria. It’s illegal in Indiana to make any waves about BDS which might be noticed in Indianapolis.

    My point is that we’re all being treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed horse****. As of now I don’t think the Generation stuff is a major player in the way the US is being run – except perhaps all of them/us being victims.

  30. Joan

    As a Millennial I wish I could sit down and chat with someone of the Lost Generation and hear their wisdom. The only legacy I have is stories from my WW2 grandparents, stories that always contrasted sharply from what I saw around me growing up.

    I hope there is a political shift once my generation gets into power. For example, not shipping jobs abroad and condemning the working class to poverty shouldn’t be a right-wing issue. It’s just common sense.

  31. Stirling S Newberry

    Punishment by Pandemic

    Incarceration penitentiary unit
    prestigious mansion labor
    murderers employees
    unpaid clemency
    violated thwarted
    confrontation verdict assimilate
    Think Tank
    ambitions chattel language
    circulate retaliation portions
    nonessential functions
    infected barracks hierarchy skeletons recovery.

  32. Lex

    Speaking about generations is always generalizing and is not (except in cases of manipulative propaganda) a means to indict every individual of a generation. But it does seem that the generation most against being generalized is the Boomers. This also happens to be the generation that likes to pay itself on the back for civil rights … even though almost none of them were old enough to do anything about civil rights except have an opinion. And the generation’s track record on economic justice related to civil rights is abysmal.

    The bigger problem with the boomers is not that they’re an awful generation, because they’re not. It’s that fault lines within their generation developed in the late 60’s and 70’s. And the rest of us have had to live through everything being approached through the lens of their intra-generational culture wars. And then they applied the rules of engagement from that onto their children (most millennials are the children of boomers). The same people complaining about “participation trophies” are the ones who demanded their children get participation trophies.

    There’s a certain psychology common in Boomers and much of it isn’t their fault. Some years ago I started using “the duck and cover” generation as interchangeable with Boomer. They were raised on fear of the Communists, DoD propaganda in the form of war movies and bad history about how Nazi Germany was defeated, etc etc. And the training they were subjected to can still be manipulated for political purposes. For example, the war on terror or abject fear of the evil Russians. They were raised to believe that others were always trying to take the milk and honey, so it was relatively easy to convince them that once they got their little slice of the Dream that they had to selfishly keep it even if that meant they kicked the ladder away. In many cases they’ve comforted themselves with the idea that people get more conservative as they age, but in reality they’re (individually) unconsciously expressing the reactionary psychology they were trained with. Trump won on the backs of Boomer voters and the modern GOP is built on that reactionary psychology that a large chunk of Boomers are susceptible too. It’s why there’s an all out push to establish permanent minority rule: the political power of the generation is ebbing and that will quicken over the next couple of election cycles.

  33. Ché Pasa

    Narratives are constructed, they aren’t inherent. So a generational narrative has certain constructed characteristics that may be based in truth about some aspect of the generation, for example that Boomers were selfish rebels, Edwardians were decadent and conformists and so forth, but ultimately, the narratives fail. Every generation is a varied mish-mash, and what we mostly remember of past generations (and our own) is what was featured in media narratives — narratives which primarily serve class and commercial purposes. In other words, they’re selling us images of what and who we and those who went before us were.

    We can believe those narratives or not, but the reality is always more complicated than the image.

    And likely in 20 years the survivors of the current crises will have a different view of the current and previous generations because somebody will become a minor celebrity by finding out that the past wasn’t really the way we were taught and believed it to be.

  34. bruce wilder

    Historical reality is lost to us. It was vastly more complex than what we can remember or reconstruct from the detritus. We need narratives to remember, but remember in highly compressed form. And, that creates a strategic opportunity to manipulate. The character, if that is the right word, of a generation, is what they experienced in common, but also what they did not experience, but were simply told stories about. Those stories, distilled from but also stripped from experience shape a generation as much or more than that generation’s lived experience, which may be too overwhelming and varied in its immediacy to make any common sense.

    The Boomers believed the neoliberal stories, stories that were utterly unbelievable to their parents. They believed in their youth the accusations of hypocrisy leveled against their parents by the Silents. In our own moment, people are being bullied into subscribing to a view of racism that conveniently covers for authoritarian excess and economic catastrophy. It may not last long, this moment, but the stories of elite incompetence lying just below the surface are all too credible and make boomer’s goto cliches of hypocrisy seem tame.

  35. krake

    The AIM, Catholic Worker, Socialist Worker, Uhuru and anti-WTO people I knew or worked with during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton years were all boomers.

    The people who opposed us, who seized the commons, or who retreated into antipolitics, or just showed up to work in fits of inertia were mostly boomers.

    The only thing I can see that characterizes that entire era is a generalized cornucopia thinking, which is explained by the economic and population boom after which they are named.

  36. anon

    I am a Millennial and am often disgusted with the selfishness of Boomers. Most of the Boomers I’ve encountered are neoliberals or conservatives. Quite a few are racist and homophobic. Even the liberal ones don’t want to take risks which is why so many flocked to Biden over Sanders. Many Boomers love to pile on Millennials but I am proud of my generation and the leaders we are producing who are far more progressive than Gen Xers and Boomers. While Boomers’ activism is more performative (kneeling for 8 minutes wearing kente cloth scarves), Millennials walk the walk. We are willing to put more on the line because our lives and those of our children depend on solving the problems created by Boomers. Student loan debt forgiveness, health care for all, climate change. Far more Millennials than Boomers will consider these issues to be priority to solve.

  37. bruce wilder

    Like most of the music of “the Sixties” (appeared on an album in 1970 according to Wikipedia) a product of late Silents, not boomers — the Boomers supplied the consumer market at a moment of weakened corporate control of commercial music. Makes me nostalgic.

    You who are on the road
    Must have a code that you can live by
    And so become yourself
    Because the past is just a good-bye.
    Teach your children well,
    Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
    And feed them on your dreams
    The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
    Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
    So just look at them and sigh
    And know they love you.

    And you, of tender years,
    Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
    And so please help them with your youth,
    They seek the truth before they can die.

    Teach your parents well,
    Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
    And feed them on your dreams
    The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.

    Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
    So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

  38. Mark Pontin

    Bruce, you’re getting nostalgic and sentimental about old, sappy rock-pop music?!?

    Get a grip, man. You’re better that this.

    One could more profitably get nostalgic for the jazz of the late 1950s and early-mid 1960s. It’s much better music and it doesn’t have words.

  39. S Brennan

    Hopefully, this table will come out right.

    Over the years I’ve tried, in vain, to say the generational generalizations that are propagandized by the media and eagerly lapped by the guileless as their own perception are wildly off. That propaganda was purposely fed to the media in CIA efforts akin to Operation Mockingbird. Contrary to assertions, those born AFTER 1950 were distinctly anti-Reagan 55.5% to 44% but those born before 1950 were pro-Reagan 45%-55%.

    1980 Group % Carter Reagan Anderson
    AGE 18-21 6 45 44 11
    22-29 17 44 44 11
    30-44 31 38 55 7
    45-59 23 39 55 6
    60 & over 18 41 55 4

  40. S Brennan

    Tying that again:

    _______60 & over_____18_____41________55________4

  41. Synoia

    I believe your timeline is off. It was not the Boomers. I’m and early Boomer, and was 32 when Regan came to power (and not a US Citizen).

    The rot was imposed after the 70’s oil shock and the end US Spending got the Vietnam war.

    It was Regan and Thatcher who eviscerated the Unions.

    Regan, Thatcher and Volker were instrumental. The Boomers only came to power with Clinton, in the ’90s, and the rot was progressing well when a Southern Democrat (That is: An Illiberal) was elected.

  42. Willy

    An aside, but whenever I go to my DMV, where most everybody who drives has to go, I see everybody coming from clearly this, or less obviously that, with all kinds of tweeners and half breeds. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t categorize people into groups. Doing so provides for a common vocabulary from which basic human truths can be divined.

    Boomers were probably the generation most easily influenced by corporate propaganda, for a variety of reasons.

  43. Dan

    The nets we cast over the undifferentiated whole, trying in vain to understand.

    It was a pretty day today. I’m glad I was able to get the front lawn done. I cut some branches too.

    I wanted to do more, but I tire rather easily of late.

    Tomorrow is another day.

    But then, tomorrow never comes.

  44. Dan

    I’ll see my father this Sunday. He’s 75.

    I’d like to mend our relationship, as best we can.

    I don’t know if it’s possible.

    Nice words are spoken; behaviors rarely change.

    Hurtful words are spoken; nice words once again.

    I’ve always loved that CSN song. Thank you Bruce.

  45. Seattle Resident

    @S Brennan

    Looking at the 18-21 numbers, I’m still disappointed and flabbergasted that so many of us (I was in that age range at the time) voted for Reagan. I wouldn’t have voted for Reagan if you put a gun to my head. But I was probably more rebellious than the average youth – liked (and still like to a certain extent) punk rock music. I did vote Anderson (my Nader moment), sensing that he did not appear to be some typical right wing fascist republican (and would probably be to the left of most of today’s democrats) and Carter, while nowhere near as noxious as Reagan, appeared to be to incompetent to pull the country out of economic despair.

    If one removes the black vote from the Carter totals, you can see that Reagan had an overwhelming White Majority vote that, I suspect, wanted to go back to some sort of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver” fantasy nirvana, and totally put to rest the disorder of the 60’s and 70’s and put the uppity POC in their place.

  46. GlassHammer

    I don’t know if what separates a person from the best or worst characteristics of their generation is anything more than luck.

    It’s so Damn hard not to be the product of your surroundings, to have the will to be separate.

    We are just such magnificent adapters, we can swim in poison, watch nightmares, and taste anguish without minding it at all.

    What worse is that I don’t think we can stop our hyper adaptive ways without developing something of a God complex, becoming something akin to a world creator.

  47. S Brennan

    Seattle Resident;

    In 1980 did you know who Paul Volcker was; who hired him; did you work in the trades [blue collar]; do you understand what a prime rate of 15.26% meant for blue collar workers? I bet my bottom dollar that your loyalty to Carter was based on the fact you were not getting chewed up by his return to Wilsonian/Gilded-Age-Economics. And yeah, I voted for Carter back then but, he was/is an asshole.

    Reagan didn’t win by magic, he won because Jimmy Carter renounced FDR’s New Deal.

  48. Seattle Resident

    S Brennan

    Yes I know about Volker and the crippling interest rates. I said I voted for Anderson precisely because Carter came off as incompetent on the economy.

    While Carter renounced the New Deal, Reagan certainly wasn’t going to bring anything like that back, or at least I and a few other people knew that. We got the smoke and mirrors of trickle down economics and enterprise zones for the ghettos. A lot a people voted for Reagan because they wanted to believe. He painted the Norman Rockwell picture of America and they wanted to live it and were under the delusion he could bring it to them.

  49. S Brennan

    Until the [Wilsonian]-Democratic-Party is utterly crushed, there can be no 3rd party in the USA and certainly no return to the decency of [FDR]-Democratic-Party [Born 1932 – Died 1978].

    Anything you do to sustain the current Wilsonian-Party comes at the expense of a potential 3rd party or, the restoration of the FDR-Party.

    And ironically, Joe Biden, not Donald Trump is arguably the person most responsible for the current state of race* relations and yet he’ll get a pass from Seattle’s “liberals” because, well, TDS. The overt racism of W. Wilson is clearly mirrored in Biden and yet, because of TDS liberals will vote for him. Yeah they will, they’ll find some excuse and vote to keep the shit flowing.

    And yeah, allegations of Biden’s groping of women/children and other sexual abuses are not new, they have been around since the early 80’s, still, with TDS, it’s all good.

    Until the [Wilsonian]-Democratic-Party is utterly crushed, there can be no 3rd party in the USA and certainly no return to the decency of [FDR]-Democratic-Party


  50. Ché Pasa


    You could say the same thing about the Republican Party — whether in Trumpist drag or any other. “Unless the Republican Party is utterly crushed and extirpated, there cannot be, will not be — ever — a New New Dealish restoration party.”

    The thing is, in a two party system, the parties will always tend to converge. They have to. Getting rid of one, whether it’s the Dems you hate, or the Rs who are a criminal cabal, leaves a vacuum, which will be filled by the remaining party, not some mythical Third Party, and the surviving party will then bifurcate, and you’re right back where you started from.

    If your goal is even worse rightist rule than we’ve got, then by all means get rid of the Democratic Party. If your goal is somewhat less worse rightist rule, then get rid of the Rs. If your goal is something else — whether a return to New Dealish policies or something better and not rightist at all — then change the system.

    It’s really the only way.

  51. S Brennan


    “You could say the same thing about the Republican Party” you’d be wrong but, when you make a facetious argument you really don’t care do you?

    If you crushed the Republican party, you’d be exactly where you are now. How do we know Ché?

    Well, a long long time ago, or, least before you started paying attention, [assuming you’re honest and not a lying sack of shit] there was 2006. You can’t remember that far back but, way back then, the D’s crushed the Republican party and then did nothing; per Pelosi’s orders. Pelosi’s thinking was, as she publicly announced, the worse things get, the easier 2008 will be.

    And then 2008 rolled around the D’s once again crushed the R’s and then what? Then the DNCers with Obama as their bamboozler in chief offered SSI cuts, bailouts for the 0.1% on Wall Street, for Health Insurance, for big Pharma, wars out the ying-yang…yes that’s right, after today’s DNCers crushed the R’s, they immediately implemented the worst the R’s could.

    So when you say “You could say the same thing about the Republican Party” you’d be wrong, effing wrong…and you know it.

  52. Ché Pasa

    I’m so old, I remember the election of 1964 and the aftermath. Lyndon Johnson was determined to use the opportunity provided by the extraordinary election circumstances to enact FDR’s Second Bill of Rights and whatever else he could of the FDR New Deal program, and that’s pretty much what happened with an overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress. The Republicans were “crushed” — not really, but it seemed that way. And what happened? The Democrats split with most of the Southern Democrats becoming Republicans over civil rights provisions among other things. The injection of white rightists from the Dems revived the Rs. LBJ fell into the quagmire of Vietnam, the streets and campuses erupted into uprisings and riots, political assassinations were all too commonplace, Rs — even as a rump party — fought tooth and nail against the Great Society,
    and in 1968 we got Nixon. And after Nixon was driven out came unelected Ford, who lost to Carter who lost to Reagan, and the Reagan vision, such as it was, has ruled ever since, as more and more Dems became Reaganists.

    That’s pretty much how a two party system works. The parties will always tend to converge, to swap members, to carry out similar policies most of the time. You want something different, so do I, but we’re not going to get it in our current creaky political system.

  53. S Brennan

    Ché, your memory is an ideological writ of misreprentation.

    For example, the 1964 civil rights act passed the senate because Republicans* DURING AN ELECTION YEAR handed LBJ a legislative victory by voting for closure.

    And had you have been following the RECENT news without ideological blinders on you’d know that the Supremes, led by Republicans Gorsech & Roberts just enshrined into law…civil rights for all, including transgender people.

    I note including transgender people with special emphasis because Democrats led by Barney Frank[D] SPECIFICALLY left out transgender people in their civil rights legislation. Barney Frank[D] was acerbic when asked why he had stripped out transgender rights from the bill, “let them get their own bill through congress” he said with a laugh. Nice guy that Barny Frank[D], a real “liberal” huh?

    And as far as gays & lesbians serving openly in the military services, it was again R’s NOT D’s who led the fight. Only when the Log Cabin Republicans had prevailed in the courts on the issue AGAINST OMAMA’S STRIDENT OPPOSITION did D’s reverse themselves.

    I’d go on and refute on more points but, as you well know, your careless, constant misrepresentations take no effort and need no support, whereas my rebuttals take effort and time.

    * ================================================
    Vote totals

    Democratic Party: 152–96 (61–39%)
    Republican Party: 138–34 (80–20%)

    Cloture in the Senate:[26]

    Democratic Party: 44–23 (66–34%)
    Republican Party: 27–6 (82–18%)

    ** ===============================================

    “In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. The ruling was 6-3, with Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first appointee to the court, writing the majority opinion. The opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices. Today,” Gorsuch said, “we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.” He found such discrimination is barred by the language in the 1964 law that bans discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex. The decision is a huge victory for the LGBTQ community”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén