Why did my peers from grade school to high school turn out so very differently on how we view the world? I’ve thought a lot about it, and read one book that shed some light on the subject. Not a light that made me very happy I might add.
I posited that to some degree, it had to do with those who ventured from the home base (Genesee County) and those who did not. But that is superficial at best. I know a strong liberal from Ann Arbor and a reactionary teabaggin’ fundamentalist from Traverse City, and a reactionary from the Phoenix area. So go figure.
No attempt to define the divide is perfect for quite obvious reasons, people are individualized too much for such neat and precise division. There will always be not just a significant outlier, but lots and lots of softer outliers. One is always operating on a bell curve and before you start providing me with examples to disprove the theory, it’s best you get that first. Those with some education in statistics assume it but for others, it is not so obvious.
I’m reading a book called Generations, written in the early 90’s by William Strauss and Neil Howe, who posit that it is helpful to examine American history based on generational attributes (strengths and weaknesses) and their reactions to big turning points, like revolution, depression, war, spiritual awakenings and so forth. For Boomers (born 1942-1960), the GI generation (most of our parents) is a prime example.
Fighting the big one was a seminal turning point. The GI generation became the can do generation, taking upon itself to build and build, institutions, infrastructure, and one of the biggest booming economies the world had every seen. They saw failure as not an option. They were also the generation that from start to finish saw the greatest growth in government all designed around them. From child labor laws in their youth to Medicare in their old age, government was their provider against the big bad realities of the world.
Boomers were a nurtured, and largely indulged generation, raised on Dr. Spock, offered everything, the apple of everyone’s eye. We were encouraged to seek the moon, and we became the most self-confident in our own righteousness of any generation in a long time. Fifty-eight percent of us went on to college, the largest percentage before or since by a long shot.
That I think is the key. Education.
Because we are perhaps one of the most fractured of all the generations as well. We may well be the beginning of the great divide between “red” and “blue” in this nation. We gave the biggest votes to Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson in their respective runs for President. If that isn’t a divide I don’t know what it.
While something like only 10-15% of us were “hippies” or like travelers–civil rights workers, feminists, environmentalists, anti-war activists, campus radicals, we controlled how this generation was perceived and responded to. We adored our mothers, and argued with our dads. We, were not interested in emulating our father’s drive to build things, but we examined the ethical underpinnings of the world and found them largely missing.
The Silent generation which sandwiched between the GI and the Boomer (1925-42), flipped between trying desperately to match the GI productivity with “something big” themselves, and trying to be “young” during the 60’s in their late 30’s and 40’s.
Boomers gave George Wallace more votes than any other generation. Those from Michigan can surely relate where Wallace gained his third highest greatest electoral count, behind Maryland and Texas outside the South. Surely boomer activists were not voting for Wallace!
Contrary to what right wingers suggest (that all colleges and universities brainwash youngsters into liberal malarkey), education, by exposing youth to the underbelly of a largely white-washed and prim history presented in high school, opens eyes not to some liberal Marxist ideology, but teaches a basic distrust of “traditional” answers to traditional questions.
I learned, (and I have no reason to think I am different than most) that everything should be questioned, and that books and experts provided the window to an expanded perch from which to reach a conclusion about what was true and what not, or at least what was not quite so true as offered.
This was coupled by the very real truth that people who are college educated simply make more money, live an easier life-style and have less quarrel as a result, with helping others through taxes.
Those from my generation who sought to follow their fathers plan, i.e, get a job, work hard, marry, have children, buy a house, and live contentedly until retirement with a nice pension and social security, ended up in a very different place. For my classmates who took that route, GM, long the “job for a lifetime” turned into plant closings, layoffs, and ultimate blame placed not at the corporate doorstep (where it so perfectly belonged) but rather at the feet of the unions. Unions became some bizarre “bad parent” who fed the unable to think for themselves babies too much cake until they got sick, and corporations threw up their hands in disgust and moved to Bangladesh or similar cheap labor environs.
These folks did work hard, harder certainly than the rest of us and what they got was “barely making it” and instead of what I got (doing better than my parents but by a slimmer margin). They regressed.
Somebody has to be to blame for that, and of course their were just tons of slimy politicians all pointing the finger at minorities, immigrants, and other lazy-shiftless individuals all the while receiving yet another check from corporate coffers to deflect the blame away from them.
All those classmates who paid next to no attention to politics for 30 years, suddenly woke up in a world that definitely was not what they expected, and listened of course to those who gave them somebody tangible to blame. Business can’t be the problem because “business” built America for God’s sake. But people who don’t have a job? Well, why don’t they? Is it because they are LAZY? Easy answers for people accustomed to being given answers by their betters.
The educated half of us is more liberal because we don’t accept standard answers, we distrust simple, and know that truth is often buried deep in self-serving rhetoric and grey fringes. We are not without blame in all this either. We are the part of a generation that thumbed our noses in our 30’s at our brothers and sisters who were working in factories and raising children as the “not with it” folks. They were the one’s inhibited the transformation we saw as imminent in the Age of Aquarius. We berated the stay-at-home-moms for being part of the problem, by living out all we stood against–being “somebodies wife or mother”.
If Lennon’s Imagine was our utopia, we surely went about it the wrong way. We alienated our own. If there was a resurgence of “spirituality” for our generation, at least half of it went not to “new Age” but rather to fundamentalism. If we brought before the eyes of American the horrors of war in our marching, the largest segment of people supporting the war were from our own as well. Similarly the war over abortion is largely led by the divided boomers, divided not so much by education here, but by birth placement. The early boomers are pro-choice the late boomers like the next generation (13’ers) are decidedly less willing to compromise on the issue.
Our legacy in the end is one fraught by victories on a social scale and disastrous set backs on that same scale. We set out to change the world. And we did, but good God, we never meant for it to go this way.
That’s the way I see it today.