Editor’s note: The second of a two-part article examines the intertwined cultural imperatives of the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations that pervade our society, affecting everything from the response to the Coronavirus to the gutting of the First Amendment. Read part one here.
Perhaps in response to the strict style of their Greatest Generation parents, Baby Boomers took a kinder, gentler approach to child-rearing. Expectations were lowered, self-esteems were elevated, and parents did all the problem solving for their kids. Teachers often mirrored the same “everybody wins” mentality for their students. And yet they were astonished to find that the parents of yesteryear, who frequently sided with teachers, gave way to Boomer parents who would wage war with teachers about their children’s low grades and imperfect behavior in an attempt to remove all obstacles in their paths. The nadir of this wayward impulse was reached in the college admissions scandal, in which parents lied and cheated to secure their children’s places at the most venerable higher learning institutions. Celebrity mothers Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were Boomers who did whatever it took to give their children an edge beyond what they’d already been gifted as the children of wealthy, famous parents.
The Baby Boomers’ need to control is rooted in fear. They were just kids or young adults when the advent of the 24-hour news cycle in the ‘80s suddenly turned parenting from breezy permissiveness for their offspring into a constant worry of murder around every corner breathlessly reported in the ever-present news. The terrible Etan Patz case in New York brought about pictures of missing children on milk cartons, and parenting was never the same. Hyper-vigilant, the Boomers rarely let their children out of their sight, and the innovation of the internet just increased the anxiety that was only a click away.
The Millennials are then the generation of unwarranted sky-high self-regard mirroring that of their parents, masking a deep insecurity about their place in the world. The anxiously over-protected generation was not prone to hard work and discipline, and the idea that everyone deserves a trophy was prioritized.
Millennials grew up expecting the world to conform to their needs, and when they went to college, their professors adhered to the same expectations and catered to this desire of their charges to be infantilized. A massive vacuum now exists in higher education that once taught students to think for themselves. The Boomers who have taken over academia in America have been only too happy to fill that vacuum with indoctrination into the canon of the left.
Are the fear and need for control that have typified a generation of Boomer parenting the smoking gun in why the entire world has quarantined for a year to fight a virus that has a 99.74% recovery rate, according to the CDC?
Just one-quarter of 1% of those infected with COVID-19 perish from it. And yet we have decimated world economies, profoundly undermined education for children worldwide, generated dramatic spikes in suicide, drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, and caused as many as 150 million people to fall into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Many of the world leaders we have relied on for leadership during this pandemic are Boomers.
Bill Gates, Dr. Deborah Birx, Robert Redfield of the CDC, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) – who have prominently driven the response to Coronavirus – are all Boomers. If we include such honorary Boomers (slightly outside the demographic demarcations) as Anthony Fauci, Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College, Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA), and President Joe Biden, we have assembled an all-star team of people who don’t appear to have questioned for even a second the often disastrous orders they imposed on the world from sheer intellectual imperiousness. Former President Donald Trump earns a carve-out, for while he was born in the first year of the Baby Boom (1946), he largely resisted the science-free hysteria that came to characterize the virus response.
The generational ethos of the Baby Boomers is rooted in the rebellion, even radicalism of the ‘60s anti-war, free-love, hippie protest movements. And when combined with the advent in fearful parenting that arose from the 24-hour news cycle, these two elements may have produced a curious amalgam once Boomers began to assume positions of leadership. Broadly speaking, the Democrats’ ideal is based in an all-powerful, centralized government that utterly believes in its power to do good, that provides for us and protects us, and that assumes an intellectual superiority that necessitates making decisions for large swaths of the country, regardless of the variables.
This intellectual certitude of the Boomers was bequeathed to their children, most of whom are Millennials and often grew up having their paths snowplowed in front of them by their parents. They are also now assuming positions of power and include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mark Zuckerberg, LeBron James, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. The unwelcome arrival of cancel culture and the alarming rise in censorship may be a Millennial phenomenon that has directly resulted from the way they were parented.
The Gallop to Cancel Culture
The Boomers’ evergreen belief in the ideals of the ‘60s never allowed much latitude for other visions. That philosophical intransigence was taken up by their kids – with a twist. Overly protected, the Millennials can often be fearful of others’ ideas, thoughts, and opinions – and desperate to control them in the same way their parents sought absolute control over them. The canter of cancel culture has now increased to a gallop, and anything that challenges “causes harm,” is considered “disinformation,” or constitutes “hate speech.” So the First Amendment right to free speech keeps dimming.
Boomers locking us down for a year was a fear-based hysteria of selfish self-preservation, out of a need for control – and in contravention to most available science. Their Millennial children proscribe free speech, free thought, and access to information they deem damaging. Is this an all too simple formulation to impugn the motivations of millions? Maybe. Is characterizing whole generations with a handful of adjectives and a unifying thesis too simplistic? Possibly.
Certainly, both generations have innovated in the service of good. The Boomers’ valuable questioning of authority, as well as such developments as computers, the internet, the advancement of civil and women’s rights are all feathers in the cap of the ‘60s generation. In its earliest and idealistic iteration, social media was a way to connect people around the world in a shared experience – and that is largely the provenance of the Millennials.
To be fair, both generations have had to struggle. The Boomers dealt with the moral ambiguities of war and terrible numbers of dead in Vietnam, as well as the fears of the Cold War. The Millennials have confronted ever-declining prospects in income, the job market, and homeownership. Some of the younger generation’s cynicism is surely a reaction to the older generation’s gross mishandling of the Iraq War and the sub-prime market explosion, and they have a right to be mistrustful.
The Watchword Is Control
Both generations are characterized by a need for control: The parent’s need to control the child results in a child who needs to control. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had it right: Everything stems from our childhoods. The need to control COVID – though often by ill-considered means – may be linked not only to the Boomers’ need to reject the sacrifices of their Greatest Generation parents but to their desire to impose their idealism on a shattered innocence that followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and to assert control over the vagaries of wars, cold and otherwise. Their fear of the world flogged by never-ending news was inherited by their Millennial children, who drive an effort to constrain our access to information they see as harmful, just as their parents shielded them from the hardships of the world. The circle completes itself, like a snake consuming its own tail.
Both COVID responses and cancel-culture censorship are profoundly ill-advised. Yet both are being demanded by an unfortunate dovetail of two generations. Do we need either? Let the sarcasm of the Millennials answer that: OK Boomer.
(Note: The author is complicit in his thesis as a Boomer on paper – but identifies Gen-X.)
Read more from Pennel Bird.