Some people say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
— John Lennon
Although Albert Camus died before baby boomers took charge of the world and placed their redoubtable imprimatur on the political scene, he foreshadowed their eventual devolution in this prescient statement: “Conformity is one of the nihilistic temptations of rebellion which dominate a large part of our intellectual history. It demonstrates how the rebel who takes to action is tempted to succumb, if he forgets his origins, to the most absolute conformity. And so explains the twentieth century.”
Camus was right, of course. As a baby boomer, it doesn’t make me happy to say this; however, how else does one explain the “absolute conformity” (not to mention hypocrisy) of my once-rebellious generation? How else does one explain the disgraceful situation in which our country now finds itself?
We can’t blame Nixon any more, although it would be fun to still kick him around. No, we have to look inward. We’re the ones who created this mess. We’re the ones who abrogated our political idealism and slowly but surely conformed to establishment power and corporate materialism. And we’re the ones who allowed George W. Bush, a baby boomer of the worst sort, to slime his way into the presidency and bankrupt the country both economically and morally.
No wonder young people and Europeans hate our guts. The sad truth is, if you had told me in 1968 (40 years ago) that in 2008 the United States would be bogged down in another unnecessary war of choice that would kill thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I would have said, “No, I think Americans have learned their lesson with Vietnam and won’t make that mistake again.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that proportionate to inflation, average Americans would be worse off economically than they were in the late 1960s, I would have said, “Impossible! Every generation since World War II is destined to do better than their parents.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that Americans would eventually embrace free market economics, become slaves to multinational corporations, and allow the upper one per cent of the population to own 40% of its wealth, I would have laughed and said, “I agree with Mencken that Americans are not the brightest inhabitants on the planet, but they’re at least smart enough to know when they’re being played for saps!”
If you had told me 40 years ago that the stock market would crash in the late 1990s, that hundreds of thousands of citizens would lose their homes to foreclosures and that major banks would fail in 2008, I would have said, “Not possible! We learned our lesson from the Great Depression regarding the importance of strong government regulations and oversight of the real estate and financial markets!”
If you had told me 40 years ago that in 2008, the price of gas would be over $4 a gallon and that the country still wouldn’t have an energy policy based on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, I would have said, “Are you kidding? I just read the latest issue of Popular Science, and by the turn of the century Americans will all be riding in electric cars.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that marijuana would still be illegal in 2008 and that over a third of our prison population would be in jail not because they hurt anyone but merely because they possessed drugs, I would have said, “Nah, by the turn of the century, even the most conservative stiffs will wake up and realize that making drugs illegal is a huge mistake.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that 47 million Americans would not have health insurance in 2008 and that the accumulated debt on their medical bills would be the leading cause of bankruptcy, I would have said, “Americans are compassionate people. That could never happen.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that there would be a television show in 2008 called Jackass and that one of its “stars” would literally jump into a cesspool at a waste treatment plant on an episode called “pooh diving,” I would have said, “That’s ridiculous! No one would do that on TV– even for a lot of money.”
If you had told me 40 years ago that the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 would be stolen by the Republicans courtesy of the Supreme Court and Diebold, I would have said, “Nonsense! The Democratic Party would never stand for that!”
If you had told me 40 years ago that the 43rd President of the United States would be this spoiled, dumb-ass, rich kid who would make Lyndon Johnson look like a compassionate genius, a noble King Arthur, I would have said, “No, Americans are becoming more sophisticated after being deceived about Vietnam and will demand much more truth and authenticity from future presidents.”
I could go on, of course, but you get the idea. So maybe I was a dreamer 40 years ago. Then again, my generation didn’t exactly live up to expectations. So what’s next for baby boomers? What’s next for America? If Camus thought the 20th Century was an age of conformity, imagine what he would say about the 21st Century!
Lucky for us, no one reads Camus anymore. After all, he was French… and an intellectual… and a left-wing radical; everything Americans despise and distrust. They would never have a beer (much less a glass of wine) with someone like Camus. Americans like regular guys, like George W. Bush and John McCain.
Perhaps Barack Obama can change this paradigm. The young seem to like him, and so do the Europeans. And at least he’s not a baby boomer. But will he be any better?
JOHN F. MIGLIO can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org