Monday, April 24, 2017

A generation of sociopaths

I just read A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney. I've read a number of these books with interesting theories about the things that have gone wrong in recent years. Even if none is wholly correct, most of them have interesting pieces of the puzzle, and I support them on that.

This is one of them. I have called the Baby Boomers "the Worst Generation" myself, and think the majority of the conclusions here, especially the most basic one that the Baby Boom generation as a whole has been vastly more destructive than constructive, are essentially true and need to be dealt with. I think the demonstration here of how the facts come together makes a very good case, including a number of places in which Baby Boomers have given themselves tremendous credit, and recent history, largely written by Boomers, has happily given them the credit they demanded.

The fact that any of this is controversial, as many reviews of the book show, has more to do with Boomers ability at public relations than anything the facts demonstrate.

There are a couple of nitpicks to be made here.

Gibney starts by trying to diagnose how the Boomers became sociopathic. Here he is less convincing than elsewhere. To start with, because it's a more difficult proposition, as it would be with an individual sociopath. There are factors that can play a role, and many of those his lists are valid, but he makes a less than convincing case in doing so, I felt. It makes sense, as this is essentially the same as diagnosing an individual. Concluding their sociopathy is relatively simple when compared with assessing which factors caused it. This is frustrating, though, if for no other reason, because he opens the book with it and occasionally uses these alleged factors to bolster later arguments.

One criticism I've seen is that he doesn't take into account the split values of the Baby Boom generation, between liberal and conservative members, as this is a key factor in the political duopoly we are all crippled by. I think he too strongly felt it was a given, or implicit in the message. As many of us who have been frustrated by our choices between Democrats and Republican candidates in many or most elections. The trouble being the issues on which the candidates openly agree or functionally have agreed in the form of supposed compromises that continually slant in one direction or inaction on the part of one to allow the other to win.

This is a major driver of current voter dissatisfaction and apathy, but goes largely unaddressed by either party. Once you are looking at it from that lens, however, it is interesting to note how exceedingly many of those issues are indeed ones that benefit Boomers alone, generally at the expense of other generations. This is a factor in which that is effectively all they can succeed at on a regular basis, because either side will against the other on the others actions, keeping them from reaching at least some level of success.

He does, however, note a number of major policies that were brought through by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that seem to cross party lines that but share a common effect of benefiting Boomers at the expense of other generations, so it is a factor he is able to cover, if not as head-on as he perhaps should have in order to provide a direct cover for that criticism.

What he does, however, is produce a convincing, well-reasoned and extensively backed argument that the effect of the Baby Boomers is the effect of being controlled, in most significant ways, by a sociopath.

Some have pointed out the many notable failings of preceding generations as a flaw in this logic. There are many valid criticisms to be made of preceding generations, but when you examine it, as Gibney does do, you can see how much faster progress on social issues under the guidance of the preceding generations than they have under Boomers. Frankly, between the early '70s, when Boomer power began its ascendancy and the '00s when Gen X finally began to get some toehold, it's nearly impossible to find any example of significant social progress. I think this one is a complete non-starter that depends entirely on our preconceptions of Boomers as a source for good, which we've learned almost entirely from Boomers telling the story.

In the end, while I think there are other factors at play in this, and I don't agree with all of Gibney's conclusions, I think it's helpful to view this perspective when considering how we've gotten to where we are and how we might possibly escape.

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