An indictment of the Boomers

Peter Hitchens reviews Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster, a book written in the style of the highly influential Eminent Victorians:

While not quite impaling (among others) Steve Jobs, Camille Paglia, Al Sharpton, and Sonia Sotomayor, she deals brief, eviscerating sideswipes at the ideas and follies that brought such people into being and sustain them now. For this reviewer, a partially reformed 1960s bohemian, Bolshevik, and general scapegrace, these sideswipes were pure joy, the sort that make me cry out with recognition, or pound the arm of my chair. I say “partially reformed” because the things once inside me that the 1960s broke remain forever broken. I cannot be what I would have been if this had not happened, and I am not at all sure I would want to be. My main use to civilization, as a resister and critic of these things, comes from knowing who and what is now my enemy, in a way that very few conservatives do. It is a skill I largely retain, which is why I think that “Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll” is a much clearer statement of the revolutionary program than “Workers of all Lands, Unite!”

So I saw repeated flashes in this volume of another book I very much hope Andrews will write, a lament for the great loss we have all suffered and which cannot possibly be repaired until we admit it, if then. Such a book will be so sad that it will make the sound of bagpipes played after a funeral on a windy hillside sound cheerful. But it has to come from someone at the beginning of life, not from some gnarled survivor of the lost world before the revolutions. Her opening chapter, a general segment on Boomers rather than on any individual, is the best part. Here is perhaps the most poignant passage in the book:

As a woman, if I had been born in another century, my schooling might well have stopped at age twelve. On the other hand, in this age I attended some of the best schools in the world until I was twenty-one and still didn’t receive an education those benighted eras would have considered standard. Is this necessarily an improvement?

Andrews cannily observes another often overlooked convulsion in thought: “The most glaring objective consequence of the boomers’ embrace of mass culture has been the death of both folk culture and high culture. Earlier generations felt obliged to graduate from the good-time music of their youth to opera and classical, upon reaching a certain age. Not the boomers.” I had never seen anyone make this point before. Yet it was exactly my decision to graduate in this way that opened a tiny gap between me and my contemporaries, which has widened over fifty years into an immense gulf. I am glad to have even a poor and sketchy knowledge of a part of the musical classics, but I think what I gave up is even more important than what I gained. For in abandoning it I learned how not to conform, and how not to care when found out. And I also ceased to hear that incessant pied piper, with his false promises of untold joys to come if I would just follow the others.

This brings us back to the destruction of formal education, the acquisition of defined knowledge based upon authority. I was caught in the middle of this change and am cursed and blessed with a constant painful knowledge of what I have lost. But those who came very soon after me do not even have that. They live unaware of it, in a fog of unknowing. It was this incredibly rapid removal of all landmarks, signposts, objective measures and maps which left us where we are now, lost boys and girls trying to invent our own ideas of the good, condemned to repeat every stupid mistake in human history, which really defines our age. Yet in the world of the boomers, the uneducated think they are educated. As Kingsley Amis long ago pointed out, we are at a party where the wine tastes like kerosene, the canapés are stale, the music is badly played on inferior instruments, the conversation is lumpish and dull, the clothes ill-fitting—but nobody cares because nobody has experienced anything different or knows that it could be any better.

The histories of the wicked g-g-generation are already being written, and the general tone of the verdict is already clear. They will whine and snark until they completely f-f-fade away, but it will all be in vain.

If I ever write a book on the Boomer g-g-generation, I don’t think I’d focus on the famous individuals as archtypical examples of the whole. While the approach is informative and can unquestionably be very effective from the rhetorical perspective, which is why even serious historians like Paul Johnson have utilized it, I tend to view it as an unnecessary distraction from the more significant points at hand.

And in his criticism of the book, Hitchens explains why it is so important to indict and prosecute the Boomers in the court of intellectual history, contra the incessant complaints from the guilty parties. There are few things more tedious than Boomers crying about the younger generations damning them for their damnable choices, behavior, and social mores, especially doing so is a vital part of convincing those younger generations to reject the Boomers’ collective path toward societal and civilizational suicide.

Any proper discussion of the cultural and moral disaster of our age cannot really concentrate on that age and those who grew out of it. That is just a tour of the ruins, without an explanation of why they are ruins. It needs to look a little further down, into the minds of those who inherited an ordered, free civilization and chose to throw it away. This is the mystery and tragedy of our time, and until we can solve it, it will go on forever, and perhaps be repeated in civilizations to come.