Niagara Gazette

December 29, 2013

SINGER: The baby boomers: An endangered species?

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Are baby boomers (and/or yuppies) an endangered species? I guess actuarially that’s the case, but I’m thinking more in the short run. I don’t have a good feeling in my bones about this, while hoping against hope that they — me included — can safely guide millions of personal skiffs into port; but I’m not so sure it will happen. Plenty of people will want to put us out on the equivalent of ice floes? If there’s something to this dire feeling concerning our horizons, how did it all become possible?

We hear plenty these days of a “stuck in the middle” boomer quandary and of some beneath them, too (late thirties or forties) – i.e., as a kind of sandwich generation taking care of both needy parents and children. However, problems facing the numerous, yet vulnerable boomer contingent go well beyond that.

First off, baby boomers lived the best of it all in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, arguably one of the cushiest epochs to grow up in throughout all of human history. Then during the late ‘60s and Me Decade of the ‘70s, many thumbed noses (in varying degrees) at age-old conventions of different kinds. That included a basic questioning of elders, now frequently perceived as stodgy — a generation that had gone through the Depression and World War II, but didn’t seem cool enough with current trends. (Think of new stimulants versus martinis, or Meathead versus Archie Bunker ... )

The “youth” revolution? That was certainly us. But there’s a hidden price to having been part of a youth revolt — the fact that we were a generation that was somehow not supposed to turn gray and get old ourselves! Yet that’s exactly what is ironically, jeeringly happening now. Deriding Archie Bunkers or Nixons is no longer an option — most in that generation are gone, and the rest (thankfully) are holding on for dear life.

Now boomers themselves are more of an appetizing target, even if this is often unspoken. Coming up from below are so-called millenials or Generation Y, and you think they’re automatically going to care for us over the next several decades? They have enough troubles of their own, not least, those associated with indebtedness, and having intermittently to come back home to roost!

Then there’s what might be called the Third World crunch, a massive incursion during the past several decades into the Western world, which somehow boomers during the heady days of campus revolt and the rest didn’t anticipate. Yes, we were used to having and getting a good deal, almost as an inalienable right; but will that good deal automatically continue, once too many covet it? Very doubtful.

The 19th century English reformer Jeremy Bentham famously desired the greatest good for the greatest number; but the greatest number can ultimately grab only pie slivers that get cut ever smaller to go around.

And of course boomers are now retiring in droves, hoping to retain their entitlements, bank accounts, lifestyles, and again, to be taken care of by millenials, Third Worlders and the rest. Yes, we’re used to the goodies and want them to continue — no New Deal for this contingent, but instead, they might indeed be dubbed the “Good Deal” generation!

But will that “good deal” be operant 10 years hence, or even five? Again, will boomers make it into the harbor as blithely and painlessly as they first embraced life during the ‘50s, growing up with TV and stereos, Dairy Queens and McDonalds, this innovation and that, and America on top of the world economically?

They had so much that by the late ‘60s they could idealistically critique the materialism of parents and other elders; but by God, they themselves now want to live roughly the same way, holding onto things to which they’ve grown accustomed, even when they donned, and still do, jeans, sneaks (expensive ones), and the rest.

Again, I don’t have a good feeling in my bones about this, as traiterous to one’s fellow boomers as that might sound; but we shall see ...

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.