Here is a (the?) comment I received on my last post. He makes some good points, and I would like to open up a little more dialogue here:

One of your bottles washed up on my beach and I must say I’ve rarely endured such a tongue lashing re: dignity. Yes, I am a baby boomer, aged 54 years as of yesterday. I grew up in the deep south, Birmingham, Alabama to be exact and had it not been for iconoclasts like those you condemn as the source of our cultural decline I dare say we would still have white and colored water fountains. Granted, you seem to make an exception for opposing racism and antisemitism but then make sweeping generalisations about the negative impact my generation has had on subsequent generations. True, there were excesses but that is true of any cultural change. You mention the “greatest generation” and their sacrifices during the depression and WW II but go back and take a look at prohibition and the “roaring twenties”. I suspect there were more than a few of those paragons of virtue you describe that drank untaxed liquor and danced in a speakeasy. I could go on but I think the one that needs to practice moderation is you, before you throw all the boomers out with the bath water, like so much sewage.

Arguing that a return to the values of our elders is the only chance of saving the planet must be one of the most grandiose things I’ve ever read. As the father of two daughters, that would be anathema.

Sometimes, in order to be treated with dignity, one must DEMAND IT!


Randy Johnson

You are right, Randy. I did make some sweeping generalizations. But in-depth treatment of this particular subject would have required a book…perhaps several. In trying to keep this short enough to make a point in the space of a decently readable journal post, I omitted a lot of the peripherals.

Yes, history is, to some extent, a parade of generations, each rebelling against and rewriting the rules of the previous one(s). Without that intrinsically human desire to stretch the envelope, civilization would have stagnated and disappeared eons ago. But I think that we boomers and our parents faced some unique challenges that caused some rather larger blips on the civilization meter than have transpired in a long time. Or perhaps it’s simply that since I am a part of this particular generational schism, it seems like a really big deal to me.

The “Greatest Generation” (our parents) attained adulthood to find a World War—against a true evil—staring them in the face. Fighting that war, and then reconstructing their lives afterward, kept them from doing too much rejecting of the values of their elders. I suspect that after the upheaval of the war years, they actually craved the relative calm and ease of their parents’ lives, and set about trying to emulate rather than break free of it. They settled down and gave birth to—the post-war baby boom. And because many of them had also faced the deprivation of growing up during the Depression, they wanted to make sure we had all the things they couldn’t have when they were kids. Which may have been one of their biggest mistakes…

The Boomers were presented with a very different set of rules. First of all, we were (here comes another of my infamous generalizations…) spoiled. Our parents, rich or poor, did everything they could do to make our lives better than theirs…because they could. To a point. Unfortunately, we also grew up in the shadow of something our parents gave us that I’m sure they wished they could take back—the mushroom cloud.

Perhaps we believed that if we were going to make changes, we’d better hurry up before the world exploded around us. Perhaps we felt betrayed that our parents not only didn’t contrive to leave us a better world; they created the means by which our world might be snatched out from under us at any moment. I think it’s safe to say that could make anyone a little bit crazy.

Too, as we came of age, many of us were sent halfway across the world to die in a war that we were told had direct bearing on whether that mushroom cloud would indeed explode in our faces. When we figured out that was a lie, I don’t think we had a whole lot of patience left to pick and choose what parts of our parents’ social codes to reject and which ones to keep. We just picked up the whole mess and heaved it.

My argument is not that we need to return to the values of our elders. My point is that we need to understand that some of the things we threw away were not “values of our elders” at all, but things basic and necessary to the survival of a society. What makes dignity one of those things? To have dignity is to be “worthy, honored, esteemed.” Respected. What does our society, as a whole, respect anymore? We don’t respect each other; we don’t respect ourselves. Respect, compassion, empathy, charity—these are the things that keep us from annihilating ourselves. As we reject these concepts, we move closer and closer to the brink.

The question is, how does a society go about recouping when it starts throwing away the basic building blocks of its very survival? I don’t know the answer to that. There must be historical examples; then again, how successful could they have been, as it seems that every great society in human history has eventually gone down to decay. Are we there now? Are we on the brink of that extinction? And since we—the Boomers—took such an unusually large step down that road, can we discipline ourselves to take a giant step back? Or is it too late?

…And as to “DEMANDING” to be treated with dignity… One can demand to be “treated with dignity,” but if one is not dignified, one would be demanding acknowledgement of a trait one did not possess. That would be like McDonald’s demanding to be treated like a fine dining establishment. (President Bush’s handlers have demanded that he be treated with dignity…but since he hasn’t an ounce of dignity in his body, at least none that he has ever demonstrated to the public, how can he realistically expect to be “treated with dignity?” For that matter, Bill Clinton’s exploits demonstrated his lack of dignity as well). Dignity is no longer cultivated, even in the highest echelons of our society. For whatever reason, our generation branded dignity a stuffy and outdated concept, and we set about not only throwing away our own, but making damn sure no one else had any, either. A glance at any of our highfalutin 21st century media will leave no doubt about that.