Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why do they hate us?

No peeking. Guess where I found this.
The baby boomers have done such a fantastic job with the global economy and have always thought about the broad population rather than enriching themselves. They're always so right when they blast those good-for-nothing youngsters in their 20s who only think of themselves. They're selfish little punks and we all know it. Can't they grow up and be more like the boomers who ushered in the Gordon Gekko era that has served us so well? The boomers have delivered so many greats including George Bush and Bill Clinton who never hesitated to think of others.

No, it's not a rant left in the comment thread by a troll. No, it's not the same old crap from a rightwing site like Michelle Malkin or World Nut Daily. It's not an obscure diarist in the back of community site. This is Chris in Paris, one of the main writers at Americablog, one of the biggest liberal news blogs.

What's odd about this outburst, besides its virulence, is the fact it's totally gratuitous. He uses it as the introduction to link to an editorial pointing out that the "class war" charge is only leveled when the working class want a fair shake but never when the rich are fleecing the whole country. He seems to imagine that the mass of the sixties and seventies generations will rise up to defend the privileges of the rich and demand the head of this poor reporter who dared to point out a double standard (one of many) of the pundit class.

This is not just a straw man argument, it's a particularly stupid straw man argument to assume that all baby boomers are the same. For crap's sake, there are more of us than there are in his adopted country of France, including its remaining colonial dependencies. Does my generation have its share of jerks and greed-heads? Of course we do. So does yours, Chris. And yet, I don't see anyone defining your generation by zit-heads ‪like Jonah Goldberg, Dennis Miller, Michelle Malkin, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

Chris isn't the only liberal blogger, or not insanely right-wing, to express his disdain for the older generation by tilting at straw men. In 2005 Markos Moulitsas, the Kos of Daily Kos, was hoping the Democrat could mount a serious opposition to the Iraq war without "sound[ing] like hippy[sic]* retreads." A few months later he started a minor kerfluffle by sneering at "these touchy-feely hippy[sic] types that thinks[sic] war is inherently bad." However, when he was filming an ad to push his first book, he had no problem putting out a casting call for hippies. Mark Hoofnagle, one of two Hoofnagles at, a site ironically devoted to fighting stupid ideas, never misses an opportunity to sneer at "crystal-clutching hippies" by declaring that "" and "I don't like hippies either."

The first few times I heard members of the younger generation (a phrase I never thought I hear myself utter) use "hippie" as an insult, I was pretty baffled. There was much more to it than simply mocking the clothes and music of an older generation. Teenage clothing fashions always deserve a good mocking and pop music is very time specific. What puzzled me was the bile packed into the way people spat the word at people and ideas they loathed. I thought about it for a few years and came up with a few tentative conclusions.

Chris's angry sarcasm directed at the perceived hypocrisy and moral collapse of my generation is the best illustration of my thoughts. We had ideals and we failed to live up to them. Americans are completely unforgiving of failure (don't believe me? On the scale of insult, where does "loser" fall?). The pop psychology observation is that we are an ugly reminder that youthful energy and idealism fade and sometimes are replaced with more mundane practical concerns. They hate us because they fear that they will become us.

They're also ignorant of history. All three of them are too young to have actually seen a hippie in its natural habitat. They rant at straw men and stereotypes because they have no idea of the diversity of historical processes that have worked themselves out over the last thirty years. Members of the late sixties and early seventies counter culture were a small minority of the baby boom generations. Some of my generation were rich jerks from day one and never changed. Some were working poor who never had time for politics or cultural flamboyance. Most of us were middle class kids who watched the great cultural and political battles from afar and participated in some small way on our chosen side when the battle came close enough.

The counter culture came to a screeching halt in the winter of 1974-5. Nixon resigned, Patty Hearst was kidnapped, and the Viet Nam war ended and with it the cement that was holding the various movements vanished. A different clique moved into the limelight with disco and cocaine. Those of us who had rooted for the hippies loudly condemned the sell out of our generation. We lacked perspective because we were in the middle of it and we made the same mistake that Chris, Kos, and Mark make lacking perspective because they are too far away. I can't repeat it enough times: a generation is not a monolithic block. The disco divas were not the same people as the counter culture. Most of the movement liberals did not go away or become Gordon Gekkos, they simply became invisible when the counter culture broke apart and they had to pursue their causes in isolation.

The same people who use hippie an insult often sneer that "no one ever ended a war by singing folk songs." Do they really think that the only thing the anti-war movement did was strum guitars and sing? They exposed the lies of the official government body counts and casualty reports. They encouraged non-cooperation with the draft and helped draft resisters get out of the country. They brought tens of thousands of people into the political process who might have lived their lives in apathy. Pop music played a part. One generation's protest songs might seem lame to the next (I never could get very fired up over the Internationale), but music is the language of a generation. Those protest songs made the war uncool.

Chris says we elected Bush, but fails to mention that we elected Obama too. My generation has plenty of failures to answer for. But we have our share of successes to point to. We created the environmental movement. We created feminism. We took the torch of liberalism from Women’s' Suffrage and the New Deal and we kept it burning to turn over to your generation. If you can do a better job than we did, go to it. I'm rooting for you.

I'm probably wasting way too much energy on this, but Chris' scorn and vulgar stereotyping pissed me off royally. I didn't become rich stockbroker and I have never voted for a Republican. Maybe the reason I didn't sell out is that no one offered to buy me, but the fact remains that, for thirty years, I've tried to maintain some integrity. I have been one of the working intellectual poor most of my adult life. I was downwardly mobile compared to my parents, as were millions of us baby boomers. After decades of crappy minimum wage jobs, noisy apartments, and riding the bus, Clever Wife and I finally had a few good years and were able to get back a little chunk of middle class life. Now might lose it. We're both unemployed. Our COBRAed insurance costs almost a thousand dollars a month and probably won't cover the seven prescriptions we need through the year. We're finally old enough to understand what age discrimination means, at this age it's a more threatening than being dismissed as dumb kids, like we were at the other end of our working lives.

When I get up in the morning and hear Chris, who lives in a country with great health care and humane pensions; Kos, who has managed to parlay a passion for politics into national recognition and a career that provides a comfortable life for his family; or Mark, a doctor and well read writer, tell me that everyone like me sucks it makes my pressure valve pop. I don't begrudge anyone their success if they earned it, but I despise anyone who, in their success, loses their compassion a uses their lofty perch to exalt ignorance and spit down on others. I don't need their insults. No one does.

* Just for the record, hippy is an adjective meaning well endowed in the hip region. Hippie is a noun, first coined by beatniks to describe suburban hipster wannabes. It is a diminutive of hip, which, as those out in squaresville might not know, is a synonym for cool. Dig? In the sixties, the term was proudly adopted by a counter culture that included both dropped-out flower children and serious political radicals. To sum up, a hippie can be hippy, but not all of the hippy are hippies.

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