Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Boomer Reflects on Boomeritis

Walter Russell Mead (born 1952), James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is one of my favorite commentators on the world political economy.

Although I have never heard him mention Ken Wilber, his writing is certainly integrally informed.  He understands and writes about the impact of cultural dynamics on historical, political, and economic trends globally.  He acknowledges the role that our human foibles play in the way we make and carry out public policy.  He looks for and analyzes the interplay of events and impulses, both personal and collective.

He recently posted a useful polemic on the impact of Boomeritis on our generation—although he doesn’t use that term.  In “Listen Up, Boomers: the Backlash Has Begun,” Professor Mead takes us Boomers to task for what he sees as a generational failure whose seeds were sown from the very beginning.

He, like Wilber, certainly acknowledges the many contributions we have made to the material advancement of humanity.  But these pale in comparison to our disappointments.
But at the level of public policy and moral leadership, as a generation we have largely failed.  The Boomer Progressive Establishment in particular has been a huge disappointment to itself and to the country.  The political class slumbered as the entitlement and pension crisis grew to ominous dimensions. Boomer financial leadership was selfish and shortsighted, by and large.  Boomer CEOs accelerated the trend toward unlimited greed among corporate elites, and Boomer members of corporate boards sit by and let it happen.  Boomer academics created a profoundly dysfunctional system that systemically shovels resources upward from students and adjuncts to overpaid administrators and professors who by and large have not, to say the least, done an outstanding job of transmitting the cultural heritage of the past to future generations.  Boomer Hollywood execs created an amoral morass of sludge — and maybe I’m missing something, but nobody spends a lot of time talking about the towering cultural accomplishments of the world historical art geniuses of the Boomer years.  Boomer greens enthusiastically bet their movement on the truly idiotic drive for a global carbon treaty; they are now grieving over their failure to make any measurable progress after decades spent and hundreds of millions of dollars thrown away.  On the Boomer watch the American family and the American middle class entered major crises; by the time the Boomers have finished with it the health system will be an unaffordable and dysfunctional tangle — perhaps the most complicated, expensive and poorly designed such system in the history of the world.
And, he points out—channeling Wilber’s indictment of Boomeritis—“all of this was done by a generation that never lost its confidence that it was smarter, better educated and more idealistic than its Depression-surviving, World War-winning, segregation-ending, prosperity-building parents.”