Everyone has always focused on the Boomers, as they now transfer into their sixties. But few regard those of us who ‘just missed’ the era of the college protest, LSD, hippies, and civil disobedience. Some of us were close, but we were really the younger siblings of the boomers. We looked up to their idealism, their experimentation, their thirst for civil liberty (and every other kind of liberty) and their rejection of corporatism and environmental abuse.
We lived ‘lives of what was left’—we experimented, but it wasn’t new; we protested, but it had lost its visibility; we were tempted to follow our elder, cooler siblings into communes and rogue armies, but heard about the psycho Manson and the victimized Hearst before we had a chance to see it with innocent eyes.
And so, what we are most familiar with is disappointment. The old media of networks and newspapers reported on all the latest wildness going on with young adults while we were still old children. Janis, Morrison, Hendrix—all dead just a year or so before we were old enough to attend a concert. On the first day of Woodstock, a VW bug stopped by our front lawn and asked if I wanted to catch a ride upstate with them—being fifteen and broke, I said no. So now Woodstock is a big part of my past—but definitely not in the same sense as those who were three or four years older and attended the event.
For us the boom generation was the spoiled generation—they got to break in all the newest ‘toys’ of modern life: drugs, counter-cultures, sexual freedom, and birth control—while we were of an age formed more by cable TV, personal computers, AIDS, and the Internet. We harvested the wreckage of their dreams: side-affects, addiction, STDs, the pharmaceutical industry, the music industry, the cancelling of our space program, the death of cruising due to an oil shortage, lung cancer, no-smoking laws, the DEA, mass media, post-modern cinema, shooting sprees, and policing the world instead of supporting or assisting it.
While the world still changes, even faster now than then, it seems like they were the favored children, granted the 20th century’s explosion of innovation and liberty—the last to ever grab for all the gusto without any nagging concern for the inevitable consequences. And if it all turned to sand and slipped through their fingers, they did hold it in their hands—we just stood by and watched each new wonder become an old problem.
Yes, we lived more safely—their trailblazing did spring a few traps that we were then forewarned against, but safety isn’t what young people look for.
And the true, the real, our broadened understanding of what is and what has come before—all these still ring-out as free-er attitudes and a greater sophistication of attitude than those of before, the whole of the rest of history, who saw the world with a superficiality that can never return. We will not go back to accepting segregation. We will not go back to willful gender-inequality. We will never give up the separation of church and state, or the Miranda rights decisions of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, or the protections against bullying parents that abuse both spouse and offspring—physically, mentally, or sexually.
These levels of decency are, as always, a matter of location, regime, and economy. What is taken for granted here in Westchester County would seem a fantasy of impossible enlightenment to citizens of places where warlords continue to press-gang their children ‘soldiers’. But the world as a whole heads towards the advances made in the developed countries, especially the USA. Thus, when some aspect of our thinking goes deep enough to allow acceptance of the formerly unacceptable, it is a global benchmark—and a big part of the reason many of the world’s citizens still dream of coming here to live lives of freedom and dignity.
The victories of the sixties and seventies weren’t the sensationalized behavior of protesters and hippy communes and acid-trippers—these things all paled with the passage of time. But the freedom-conscious thinking of that era helped to end institutionalized segregation, par-for-the-course misogyny, and the shunning of the disabled, the mentally challenged, and the impoverished.
This makes me happy. This is much more enjoyable than getting a police-baton upside the head—so I hold no true grudge against the boomers, I just enjoy complaining. And besides, when does one ever stop resenting ones older siblings for being older?