A PERPETUAL SOPHOMORIC CULTURE OF YOUTH: HOW THE BABY BOOMER GENERATION KILLED THE STATUS OF ‘ELDER’
Never before in the history of our civilization have we been blessed with so many elderly people. Yet simultaneously, we find ourselves living in a society which embraces a sort of ‘cult of youth and youthfulness’.
There’s a multibillion dollar industry in the west revolving around plastic surgery, male potency pills, women’s facial creams and other body care products that are supposed to get rid of wrinkles, and otherwise lead women to the proverbial fountain of youth.
As our population ages, we seem to be fighting it every step of the way, and even denigrating the status of advanced age, to the point whereby we now speak of ‘elder abuse’, and often shunt off our elders to old age homes to die a slow and undignified death.
What happened? It would seem that after WWII, the huge cohort of people born either during, or right after the war, otherwise known as ‘Baby Boomers’, were going to stay young forever, and never grow old. That or they were going to OD in a blaze of glory like Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or Jim Morrison, and be instantly canonized and mythologized as youthful, vibrant, pop cultural icons.
This group of people were the first demographic cohort in western civilization to have been born and to grow up entirely in peace time, and not be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice in a war somewhere in some far off land. They were also the first group of citizens to benefit entirely from the improvements wrought by the Welfare State, in the fields of health care, education, and social services. They were also the first to benefit from essentially boundless material prosperity, into which they were born, never having known anything else, and being led to believe that such linear growth in material prosperity was to be never ending.
The youth culture which grew up around them as they reached their adolescence in the mid to late 1960s only went to reinforce this feeling of eternal youth and vigour. We just couldn’t imagine kids growing up on rock ‘n roll and sports cars getting old and crotchety one day and starting to be moralistic and authoritarian with their kids, right?
They were supposed to be the generation that broke the mold of old-style traditional patriarchal authority, morals, and discipline, and would lead us all to some phantasmagorical land of wonders in their Yellow Submarine while we all had a group hug.
Guess what, they all started having kids, and not many of them by all accounts, if we go by the population statistics as laid out in the now increasingly inverted population pyramids, with the baby boomer’s parents getting old and grey, the baby boomers having procreated in a mostly perfunctory quantity, and THEIR children now at an age when THEY should be getting married and having children. But many of them are not. They’re too busy either partying into their early thirties, going for the umpteenth university degree, moving back in with their parents, or better yet, travelling around the global village with their backpacks on a seemingly never-ending string of adventure/travel/development projects trying to change the world and/or change their headspace because they can’t make up their own minds where their own moral and economic compass is, and how best to orient it.
So we’re stuck with a whole bunch of elders whom we don’t know what to do with, and an increasingly growing constituency of youth who don’t know what to do with themselves, much less take the time to look after the elderly!!!! Awesome!!!
Back in the day, if someone was lucky enough to actually grow old, we as a then traditional society revered that person for their wisdom and tenacity, and saw them as a precious gift to the community. Now we have so many elders that we literally don’t know what to do with them, and not enough resources to do whatever we’re supposed to do!!!
It would seem that, once again, overabundance, in this case of elderly people, has driven down their value to us as a society. In economics we learn that scarcity is what gives value to things. Perhaps this is the same for people?
In that case, our young people, being scarcer than our elderly, should be a more valuable asset to us as a society. It would appear; however, that many of them are wasting their value on a perpetually sophomoric culture of youth, refusing to learn the lessons of their grandparents, because many of their own parents refused to adopt the traditional values and lessons of THEIR parents.
The Peace and Love generation are quickly growing old themselves. Their supposedly eternal vibrancy will shrivel up and perish, like all others before them. No potency pill will work any more, the wrinkles will NOT go away, and their face lifts and Botox will inevitably be relegated to the dustbin of history.
What, then, will be the legacy of the Baby Boomer generation? That they threw off the yoke of traditional civilization, replaced it with a mentality of unlimited entitlement and material comfort, benefitted from the best that the Welfare State could offer them, including jobs for life with full benefits, paid holidays, and generous pension plans, then retired to let an overworked, under paid, economically and/or morally precarious younger generation pick up the tab?
It’s shaping up to be something like that, folks!!!! No wonder our country wants to attract so many immigrants: Our civilization is patently unsustainable and teetering on the brink of collapse!!! I think our youth need to begin to learn the lessons of our elders: The last Canadian veteran of the Great War died just a few days ago. This means that the veterans from WWII are not far behind in their final march to the grave.
What then? Our final link with the values of our civilization before the era of the Baby Boomers will then be completely wiped out. What, or whom, should I say, will transmit the time-honoured traditions of respect, honour, loyalty, discipline, self-sacrifice, stoicism, asceticism, self-denial, purity, fidelity, piety, and ultimately, faith in a power greater than ourselves?
It is therefore incumbent upon us as a civilization to re-evaluate our sophomoric infatuation with ‘everlasting youth’. Whomsoever says ‘forever young’ also says, ‘forever rash, impulsive, impatient, impudent, undisciplined’, as well as a potential whole host of other unholy horrors.
On this, the anniversary of the forty-sixth year that my mother bore me into this world of wonders, I pause and reflect: Being a leap year baby, am I really forty six, or really eleven and a half? Regardless of which one, I find myself once again caught between two worlds: The world of youth and vigour that I inherited from the Baby Boomer generation, and the world of knowledge and wisdom that I inherited from my parents and their generation.
I guess that’s what comes from being a Leap Year baby who’s too young to be categorically a Boomer, and too old to be one of the ‘Y’ or ‘X’ generation. I guess I’ll just have to admit it:
I’m middle aged!!!