Saturday, December 23, 2017


I wrote this a few days ago but I still think it is true so I'll post it.  This is not a diary of my own family life, we avoided some of these trends, but it is a collection of observations from my own family and those individuals and communities that were around me as I grew
Yesterday I experienced the closest thing to prejudice that I probably ever will.  Now I'm not in any way claiming to be a victim of prejudice.  I'm a cis-gendered straight white male in his 30s, I'll be just fine.  What I found interesting was observing the process and noticing how it made me feel.  While talking with two baby boomers, "Millennials" come up.  The one speaker was remarking on how a student of hers wanted to be given credit for a wrong answer because the student had put in the effort of answering.  Then the other speaker told the joke, "You know how to confuse a Millennial?  Show them a first place trophy."  I get it, I even think it is funny, but I did think it was strange to tell Millennial jokes like a millennial wasn't standing right there.  But I've also noticed this happen when someone tells a "Mexican" joke in front of a Mexican like they haven't heard it before.  I've probably done the same thing when I was young, insensitive, stupid, and ignorant.  I also thought it was funny that 2 boomers, the generation that handed out these participation trophies, are the ones having this discussion.  But I'll come back to that later.  I made a quick jest to try and change the topic before I stumbled onto my generational anthropology soap box.  In response to this Speaker One said, "Oh I know, I know, but you are the exception, you have a work ethic."

Now that hit me two ways.  Way number one was that I felt a little proud after the pat on the head from my elder.  I had somehow beat the odds and made something of myself in spite of my generational cultural baggage.  This feeling quickly turned to being irked that I so quickly and easily allowed myself to glow after being patted on the head.  But secondly I was a little peeved that making something of yourself was the exception to the rule.  We live in a country where quite a few of the most powerful, most wealthy, most influential people are millennials.  I would be interested to know if any other generation in the last 100 years was as involved in shaping their culture and economy in their 20s & 30ss as millennials have been.

Afterwards I thought about how I have seen these backhanded compliments being used on people who suffer real consequences of prejudice and it got me a bit fired up.  "It's great to see someone from your background become successful."  "I'm so happy to see a black father engaged with his children."  Now I know, being a white person of extraordinary privilege, that these people of extraordinary privilege are trying to say something positive and encouraging with these compliments.  But these compliments, the racial "you look so pretty when you smile, you should smile more" statements serve to further re-enforce the systems and mindsets that create the inequalities that justify the statements in the first place.

But this is not what I wanted to write about, what I was churning through my head as I went to bed last night.  Talking about micro-aggressions and well intentioned prejudice seems to trigger too many people.  So I wanted instead to provide what the world has been waiting with baited breath to hear, my view on Ustatian generational anthropology.

Lets start at the turn of the century.  You have a generation filled with tangible fear of the coming modern age.  From J.R.R. Tolkien to the Spanish Modernists you see a growing fear of the world of smoke and machines.  A steam punk dystopia grinding humanity between its gears of industry, cities wreathed in black smoke, and slick with oil.  This is the generation of great disappointment.  The marvel of the world's fair and the coming of a new age of humanity had given way to the fire, mud, and blood of industrialized warfare.  Gone was the glorious empires and the next step for humanity.  In its place was senseless slaughter, the desperate hedonism of the roaring 20s, and the bleak hunger of the Great Depression.

Next we have the greatest generation.  If not having actual memories of the Great Depression they were definitely shaped by parents who had raised them in hunger and hopelessness.  World War II came in the blossom of their youth and they answered the call and died by the droves.  It is good for us younger folks to keep in mind that as horrifying the losses of Vietnam or the terrors of the modern wars have been, about 3 times as many soldiers died in combat in WWII as Ustatians have died in combat in all the wars since.  It was a huge blow to the population and the psyche of this country.  And the Greatest Generation earned their title in that war.  Serving with honor and bravery to stop the spread of genocidal fascism.  That is undeniable.  Was it a war filled with mistakes and senseless slaughter? Of course.  But it was probably the last war that could be easily argued as being "good", maybe ever.  Now the survivors of this war came home to factories emptied of man power and a broken world economy hungry for Ustatian goods.  And so they worked and thrived.  I saw a comic this last week of a man in 1950s garb saying, "It's pay day.  I'll get some dinner and then buy a house or something."  The ease at which a white man could get a good paying job, buy and pay off a house, and live debt free have not been seen since.

But the Greatest Generation was not without their faults.  Raised in the desperate straights of poverty their childhoods were not always happy.  Child labor, alcoholic parents, abuse, and deprivation mark the stories of many of the early lives of that generation that I have talked to.  They were not trained to be nurturing and loving parents, especially the men, and with many of them coming home from combat with what we would now call PTSD they didn't tend to grow into it.  Something interesting to me is how many of this generation were pretty great grandparents though they struggled fiercely in the parenting department.  Maybe a softening of age, maybe learning to do it better 30 years later, who knows.  But the shock of hearing what my parents' experience with their parents was in comparison to my own experience with my grandparents I'm sure I share with many others.  And so the WWII generation came home, worked, lived, drank beer and watched football.  They bought sweet cars, houses with white picket fences, and saved tons of money because they hated to spend it in case the terror of '29 came back to haunt them.

And they had sex.  Lots of pent up, heal the internal wounds of combat sex and had children by the droves.  And those children lived in wonderful Leave it to Beaver homes.  Or not really.  I haven't talked to many Boomers who had childhoods like the Andy Griffith show.  Radio and Television were their escape from emotionally distant if not abusive alcoholic parents trying desperately to build their dream life and sooth the wounds of poverty, war, and abuse.  And their parents built up comfort and security by big savings accounts, a nice car, and a nice house.  But their children grew up seeing piles of wealth you couldn't touch and in the midst of an exploding materialistic culture they grew up resenting the comfort of their parent's generation.  None of this is morally judgmental, just my observations.  I don't think the Greatest Generation were horrible parents because they were horrible people.  They just didn't have a lot of tools to deal with the lives they had lived and the 35 children now running around their feet.  So Dad came home, turned on the TV, drank a beer, and looked forward to getting away and fishing on the weekend. Mother put on her pearls, snuck vodka neat from the liquor cabinet, and waited for that promised trip to Bora Bora.  They were broken people surviving as best they knew how.  But they raised a generation that was deeply unhappy with the lives they had been given.  The 60s and 70s are the proof of a generation that was discontent with the current order.  Some of those changes were good and needed to happen.  But they were the chants and protests of an angry generation who had wanted something from their parents that their parents could not give.  And as the Greatest Generation came into power and continued to horde resources and make war, which is what they were conditioned to do, their children despise them for it.  And the Boomers were called lazy and transient and idealistic.  Interesting.

Then the Boomers started to have kids and things changed quickly.  The Utopian dreams of their youth were exchanged for the security and safety that they had so despised in their parents.  But where the children of the depression saved their wealth the children of untouchable wealth splurged it.  The Greatest Generation had given their children what they wanted most: safety and security.  Their children, in turn, gave their offspring what they never had.  Piles and piles of stuff.  Where the Greatest Generation had an excellent factory job that turned 40 hours a week into all the comfort they had ever imagined, the Boomers in the slinking economies of the 70s and 80s had to work themselves to the bone with long hours to buy the toys they wanted for themselves and their children.  And so they were gone.  Children grew up with keys around their necks on a strand of yarn and came home to empty, pristine houses filled with toys and comfortable abandonment.  Parents showed up to chew out teachers and host extravagant vacations so that their children would not know the rigors of their childhood.  They protected their children from the cruel world but were never home to show them how to live in it.

Where the previous generation had been present but emotionally absent the boomers were emotionally more available but physically out of the picture.  They came home with their good intentions to eat a quick dinner at their desk to wrap up their finance reports.  Their boats spent all summer in the driveway because they never had the time to enjoy them.  And surrounded with everything they ever wanted they tended to spend most of their evenings, like their fathers: exhausted and depressed in front of the TV.

Now the Millennials come on the scene.  The factory jobs of their grandfathers are gone, the cheap college of their parents a dream, and the thriving job market moved overseas.  I had many friends who were promised lucrative careers that were almost completed outsourced in the 4 years it took them to finish college.  And without the promised 6 figures they had been guaranteed, the gamble of a significantly more expensive education sent them back home to their mother's basement.  Yes our generation has a reputation for being low in grit and tenacity.  But this is not without its causes.  A plush comfortable life filled with video games instead of parents.  Participation awards from coaches who were never quite good enough themselves in their own father's eyes and couldn't bear to see the same sadness in ours.  We were promised a life of luxury and then handed an economy that was stripped of its jobs but still carrying the weight of the highest college cost in recent history on our backs.  Raised without having to fight for anything we were then thrown into the Colosseum of life. We were told to fight our way out by the very ones who had, in the best intentions, protected us from the rigors of training for it.  Who had only ever fought for stuff and not for us.  They did exactly what they wanted from their parents.  Stay at work so you hit me less and come home to only give me toys.  But that dream was empty and left children just as empty as the generation that had dreamt them.

And just as each generation resents the dreams of their parents we as Millennials resent the material thirsts of our parents.  We want to actually live our life instead of dreaming of using a boat we never have time to play in because the payments are too high.  We want to have families and spend times with them because ours never did.  Our the pain of family is too fresh and we don't want them at all.  And we don't know how to fight and work and suffer because we never had a chance at it before.  Are we still responsible for our lives and decisions, absolutely.  Are we still responsible for our failures?  100%.  Just don't be quick to blame the cookies for not turning out if there is flour on your hands.  And don't forget that the culture is changing, just like it did when you were in your 20s and 30s.  The values are shifting, once again.  Some for the good and some for the bad.  Give us a chance to learn to fight and you might just be surprised at what we can do.

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