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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Best Minds of My Generation

The one thing that gave me hope for my generation was our cynicism. We might not believe in anything, but at least we wouldn't believe in everything. We might be apathetic, but that just meant it was harder to enlist us in causes. We didn't just march to the beat of our own drummer, we questioned the need for having a drummer and a beat. We were burnt out on everything and done with it all.

Of course it wasn't really like that.

Generation X became obsessed with authenticity the way that the Baby Boomers had with realization. Reality TV overseen by Baby Boomer producers and catering to Generation X combined the two and made it seem revolutionary. The Baby Boomers may have given us navel gazing music, but Gen X's obsession with authenticity gave us grunge and rap as their defining genres.

In its on way, Generation X was as narcissistic as the Boomers. It just didn't want to be seen that way. Like the Baby Boomers it was obsessed with selling out, but in a generation that had already sold out, it had no one left to sell out to and nothing to buy. The worst Boomer excesses rejected tangible accomplishments for narcissism, but by the time Generation X got to it there was no longer a culture with tangible accomplishments, only a long slide downhill.

Generation X was born into Weimar Germany. It came of age among decadence. And its own decadence, its sour obsessions, its media skills, set the stage for another generation that would be defined by the media. It would no longer be obsessed with authenticity. Instead it would embrace its own inauthenticity. Defined by the media, it would see fakeness as the true test of reality. Born in a life defined by the image, it would treat the ability to recognize and subvert the fourth wall of the audience, the recognition of the unreality of reality as the ultimate form of reality.

Each generation further fragmented what was already broken. Each spent far too much time looking into mirrors. Each had undeniable talents and skills, but employed them in a way that was autistic, disconnected from others, giving up the culture of builders for a lonely life as craftsmen, hobbyists learning to make small things while letting the big ones go to rust.

There is something medieval about our world. A strange dazzling house of technological mirrors filled with the caves and straw huts where hermits make their own homes and every hundred people become their own community. Connectivity has disconnected physical communities, torn down towns and nations and replaced them with online communities making for a world that is defined less by family, neighborhood or even work, and more by the movies you like and the celebrities you hate.

The Boomers laid the cornerstone of that world when the culture began breaking up with nothing to replace it, but Generation X built much of the rest of it out of its eccentric talents and social unease. It was left to its successors to properly populate it with a broken culture coming together around nothing.

Generation X wanted to be defined by taste. Taste was the thing it thought was lacking in the Baby Boomers who were creatures of many enthusiasms, embracing the terrible and the tacky for the sake of novelty. Generation X wasn't going to settle and it didn't. It is still unsettled. Many of its members are unmarried, childless and still looking around for a world that suits them. Like the Boomers, they want the ideal, but the ideal can only be found in the flaws of the real world that they tore apart.

Some Baby Boomers had developed a penchant for abusing their generation as the one that wrecked the country and some Generation X'ers couldn't help but join in. But it's a simplistic picture that doesn't entire hold up. The static image of frozen generations divided by fundamental characteristics is a simplification of a more fluid reality.

The line between Generation X and the Baby Boomers is blurred. Generation X was what the Baby Boomers were becoming in the shards of their own culture. The Millennials are what Generation X became lured by its solipsistic siren song. Generationsim fragments each generation further until we have generations not of decades, but of years. And looking back, it is easy to see not a dozen generations, but only one generation.

The problem did not begin with the Baby Boomers. Each generation only takes up the qualities of its parents. The flaws and triumphs of each generation can be found in subtler forms in the preceding generations. The 70s would not have existed without the 50s or the 20s or for that matter the 1890s. Every obscenity and absurdity, each form of irresponsibility and depravity, has its origins in prior generations.

The collapse of social mores, bizarre interests in the supernatural, a fascistic obsession with government power and complete economic irresponsibility all happened before in American history. There was no Tabula Rasa out of which evil was born. The evil came, it was suppressed or survived, and then it rose again. It is tempting to look back and imagine a perfect past that became corrupted, but that perfect past didn't exist. What did exist was an ongoing struggle in which the bad did not succeed in destroying the good and in which the good passed on its qualities to the next generation.

Look back enough and you find that the heroic generation of pure men and women were considered a band of scoundrels and rapscallions by their forebears. And usually they were right, not because we were in an inevitable state of decline in which each generation was worse than the last, but because change churns out different qualities, bringing both bad and good to the surface.

The collapse of America is largely a failure of education. Not the education of the behemoth systems which transmit the latest politically correct nostrums from degenerate academics drunk on their own theorizing at the hands of incompetents with Master's Degrees and union entitlements, but the passing of values from one generation to the next.

The growth of the media made that difficult. The rise of the state collapsed the notion of the family. The world in which the virtues of the healthy family and the larger culture did not contradict each other is gone. The two are at war and each succeeding generation is born into a world in which excesses and eccentricities are no longer marginal, but defining.

The Baby Boomers became the defining point because for the first time each generation became actively hostile to the future. They embraced ideals over realities and destroyed realities in the process. The narcissism of each generation made the demand of an ideal, on their behalf or on their own behalf, second-nature. It became routine to call for a world without war, without hunger or without any of the other realities of life and to expect that someone would deliver it.

That ideal world was never delivered, but the real world was torn apart trying to deliver it. Interest in the real incremental future diminished while an obsession with changing the world into something perfect by letting go of reality increased. Media exposure weakened the walls between the real and the ideal. Natural disasters looked like special effects. Ordinary people became famous. Famous people became ordinary.

While the family is the province of the real, the media is the province of the unreal. Generations raised by the media were being raised to seek out unreality and to live unreal lives. That is the legacy not only of the Boomers or the Gen-X'ers alone, but of the generations that preceded them. The growing influence of a collective culture that made the ideal seem real, that encouraged everyone not to sell out, to seek self-realization, the authentic experience and the deconstructed everything, killed the real future and replaced it with an unreal future of fantasy politics, fantasy economics, fantasy values and fantasy people.

Idealism and cynicism are flip sides of the same narcissistic coin. The search for the ideal sometimes brings back beautiful things, but in an entire culture it only produces a decaying self-obsession. In a culture where everyone is an artist, no one is an artist. In a society where everyone shatters taboos, there are no taboos left to shatter. In a world where everyone is searching for truth, there is no truth.

That is the beautiful ugly world we made. A world enraptured with its own preciousness while giving no thought for the future.

Obama is the perfect intersection between the two generations, idealism made cynicism and cynicism made idealism, the authenticity of the fake and the reality of the unreal. He doesn't belong to any single generation. He is the fluid transition point between Generation X and the Baby Boomers and also the Millennials. The decay he represents transcends generations. To believe in him is to believe in everything and nothing except the empathy and cleverness that makes each of us a better person.

A narcissistic culture besotted with its own reflection is bad news for the future. Those who spend too much time looking in the mirror rarely have time to gaze out the window.

20 comments:

fsy said...

Your pictures today remind me that I grew up in the '60s on Time Magazine, which somewhere deep in my subconscious has the status of impartial Truth. Talk about media control!

Anonymous said...

Soon all of this will be blown away by economic reality.The reality will be terrible economic collapse & world financial chaos,perhaps even war.Not enough emphasis is placed upon the failing economy & the corruption in the financial markets.We can have a plethora of degenerate,crazy ideas circulating through society.John Adams said "facts are stubborn things".The ideas the BabyBommers & Generation X have are going to collide head on with economic reality.Reality will win!The classes of people you are speaking of are products of a perverse economic system,implode this system & these elite classes,along with their ideas,will fall apart!They will disappear the way our Plantation aristocracy did in 1865 & Russian aristocracy in 1917.The real tragedy is not whether this degenerate society can keep going down hill,it can't!The real tragedy is the human debris left behind.Many of these people will not be able to be productive in a traditional economy.A traditional society of give & take.These people,like all previous protected & entitled classes, have spent a lifetime taking.Can they learn to give back?

AG said...

This is the only perfect explanation of my Generation (X) I have ever read. So many have tried to sum it up the way you just did and you nailed it. I think part of the Gen X problem is that it seems like every Generation before us had a new wall to break down and that by the time it got to us, there were no walls left. It seems like so many our generation is so obsessed with having a wall to break down that they turned to one that shouldn't be broken down and that was to break down the wall of Capitalism and Democracy, but they are too uneducated to realize that those walls are up to keep the demons out.

meema said...

Trust no one over thirty was my mantra. Now I say, trust no one.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

fsy, the Times and Time were the ultimate in serious branding. Fortunately they left that behind to try for the cool angle.

Anonymous, indeed

AG, every generation has to remake itself. At first X seemed to be rebelling against the very idea of rebellion through engagement, hence the cynicism, but then...

meema, true

IgorR said...

The Universe has no feelings and no morality, but people have feelings, morality, and amorality. There is a kind of Maslov's hierarchy of projection: very poor and primitive people project only relatively simple things on the Universe, but people who have a lot of wealth and a lot of leisure can afford to project infinitely more perverse versions of unreality on it. Sooner or later the latter process terminates in running out of resources and violence, because fundamentally morality is about allocation of resources, motivation, and fairness. It's not that primitive people don't run out of resources and engage in periodic violence, but the pattern is more predictable. When a lot of wealth is involved, something bad and unpredictable is guaranteed to happen. Nihilism is also guaranteed to happen when the Universe does not respond in any kind of meaningful way. The people suffer a lot and return to a more sane version of morality, but scarred by the most recent trauma. They build up wealth and the cycle repeats, except it's not quite a cycle but one mess after another.

Deborah said...

"There is something medieval about our world. A strange dazzling house of technological mirrors filled with the caves and straw huts where hermits make their own homes and every hundred people become their own community. "

I was just talking with a friend the other day, bemoaning the fact that it is so hard to get more than just a handful of people together to DO something. It's like we have been conditioned to only 'hang out' with people who think EXACTLY as we do. And the first little hint of a preference difference, and people bail… ('I can't work with YOU!', you are using plastic bags to clean up this vacant lot! I only use paper!)

Yours is a voice of sanity, though a sad one, during the days of our demise. I want to stay sane as long as I can.

Baby Boomer who didn't do drugs…. ;-)





Anonymous said...

Just a couple comments. First, you need to get an editor. One destractor about your otherwise wonderful and insightful articles is the misspellings and redundant or wrong words.

Second, found this article rather nihilistic, though judging from the times that we live in that is not neccessarily uncalled for.

I understood what you were saying about the Weimer Republic, but the line that followed sorta through that off. Germans in the Weimer Republic lived through a decade and a half of political and economic chaos with want and hunger never far away for most of the populous. Generation X and even the Baby Boomers, lived through nothing but material abundance and little in the ways of economic challenges.

Politics througout their lives, though they may insist that they were a whirlwind, were in fact extremely tame and vanilla when compared to what was going on in the Weimer Republic, or even compared to contemporaries, especailly outside the western world.

The world that we of Generation X and our forebear Baby Boomers have built is not very real. It is a nursery school world, and the vast majority of the people inhabiting it are children, no matter how old physically.

Without the material abundance and lack of true want, what has been created will quickly fall apart and go up in flames. The smarter politicians realize this, which is the reason for their willingness to spend like their is no tomorrow. Their whole existence is vested in this nursery school world, and should it run face first into reality, there will be no tomorrow for them.

We are not the Americans of the Depression Generation, and when the music stops, which it most surely will, we will quickly see just how divided, immoral (or is it amoral) and tribalistic we have become. What grows out of that moment is anyones guess, but the moment and very likely the after-effects will be very ugly.

-GKC

Naresh Krishnamoorti said...

The nature of evil now is no different from what it has ever been. There is nothing new under the sun.

What is different today is that the power to resist evil is vastly diminished; and the power of evil to hold the minds of men in thrall is vastly augmented through social media.

This is why the world is more evil today than it has ever been.

Gould K.L. Brownlee said...

"There is something medieval about our world."

You said it. And the prevailing Leftist tyranny with its irrational, brutal, reptilian aggression resembles an uglier, immoral Feudal System where there is a ruling elite that steals everything from everybody; that demonizes its most productive citizens; that lowers everything beneath them to the lowest common denominator; that insists on rigid adherence to the secular religion of materialist monopoly by a criminal government.

But the original feudalism worked. The modern Leftist feudalism doesn't care if it work or not. It is a shark with a tiny, tiny brain.

Anonymous said...

the rise of the sodomite has defined us as a fallen generation...the last time such a rise took place was Weimar...the culture crumbled, the economy went south and a call for a strong man to clean up the Jewish mess (secretly made by the Jew hating and religion hating sodomite)was on...through his use of flattery to a defeated people a raging mad man was given power and eventually their sodomite influenced society was destroyed...but not before they brought a reign of terror to the world...if anyone thinks our society is out of reach from the right hand of God they are sadly mistaken

meema said...

@GKC

If you are going to critique DG's spelling and grammar, perhaps you should clean up your own writing first.

I do editing and I know first hand how typos happen even to the best most careful writer. Typos do matter but not more than content. I'll put DG's content up against any perfectly edited liberal double-speak any day.

Just sayin' this is a blog not a printed book.

DenisO said...

I don't think the critique was insulting, or meant to be. I have made the same remark, not to call attention to typos, but having been an editor, too, I feel they distract and diminish brilliance. This article was very "heavy", and it could have been clearer, but to knock-out brilliance on a daily basis is impossible and there is not enough time to keep re-editing. I'm sure the Sultan edits as best he can, but he has to have some sort of life besides, and time is limited.
As to why? theory, I think it is closer to the nursery school idea. I was going to say it was "teenage" mentality,--having to be cool and be among the coolest in the cool group. No room for analysis and ideas; it's all about being cool, and that is best demonstrated in high schools.
Who advises the Dems? They betray their constituents with policies that bring immigration competition to Union Members they rely on. They demand and support all abortion when 80% are black future voters. Worse yet, they rush to keep the surviving Boston terrorist from revealing more plots to bomb the most Democratic cities. It's not Karl Rove or Dick Morris advising them, is it?
Regards,

Anonymous said...

GKC, you criticized Daniel for word misspellings. You are also guilty. You misspelled the second "their/there" in your sentence, "The smarter politicians realize this, which is the reason for their willingness to spend like their is no tomorrow. " The second their should be "there."

Elaine

Anonymous said...

It is not insulting to suggest corrections to writing that is for publication. And because a comment writer has spelling mistakes does not okay them in articles that are written to sway the public opinion.
That aside,I see Generation X defined by lazy childish attitude.

Elaine the misuse of 'their' is the result of quickly having written what one has on one's mind. Few edit their comments.

Anonymous said...

I honestly thank all those that pointed out my own misuse and misspellings. I do honestly try to use proper grammar and correct spelling, but have become just as lazy as many of the people who have grown accustom to spell check constantly running in the background. When it is not available, I find myself getting sloppy, especially if typing.
I only pointed it out to Daniel because he is much better at putting to paper in a clear and illuminating manner the thoughts that so many of us have haunting our thoughts and observations and yet have trouble explaining or putting into a clear train of thought. His essays are near to or even on par with the critiques of G.K. Chesterton and others, and his voice is sorely needed in these trying times. That is why it pains me when I see the minor typos and errors in his work, because it will allow some that would be challenged by his words to dismiss what he has to say.
Some of you might say “so what, if they let that bother them, then we don’t need them anyways”, to which I would say you are wrong in my opinion. We need everyone we can. This is a battle of persuasion, at least for now, and we cannot afford to hide in our own echo-chamber.

-GKC

Anonymous said...

@DeniseO,
Thank you. As to who advises the Dems, well some very smart people. Daniel covered it before, as have others. A better question would be who advises the American voter.
If 70% of single mothers receiving welfare vote Democrat, why would you want to reduce the number of them, even if it was the morale thing to do. As a Democrat, you want to make more of them, and as long as you play the game of division and blame correctly, 70% will still vote for you even though your policies put them in that situation.
Look at Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans or any other city run by a Democrats for real world examples.

-GKC

Fodderwing said...

"The decay he represents transcends generations. To believe in him is to believe in everything and nothing..."

Other politicians ask to be believed, but Obama never really asked anyone to believe him. Still doesn't. The perfect politician for our time.

Anonymous said...

Liten up yu lot on the speling wil ya. just enjoy the harticle ,I doos.

pgk said...

Great article as usual, I would just quibble a bit with the use of the word "medieval" as a sort of generalized put-down. Like all ages, it had its good and bad aspects (a point aptly made in this article itself). The use of the term in a derogatory sense (as well as the stronger term "Dark Ages") have their roots in anti-Catholic prejudice among Protestants and secularists.

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