On balance, I don’t think 2016 was such a bad year. It will be a while before we learn if Donald Trump leads us into a world war, so 2016 could end up to be a historic disaster, but let us allow some time to play out on that one.
But I’m not quite ready to put the year past into the epically good category, like astronaut Chris Hadfield implies on his Facebook page, listing 46 positives. Not that I will deny there was good news in the Columbian peace settlement, the news that the number of tigers has increased for the first time in a century, it being a historically safe year for air travel, the single day planting of 50 million trees in India and, closer to home, the BC government announcing that 85 per cent of the world’s largest rain forest will be protected. (I’m taking Hadfield at his word. He seems to be a trustworthy guy.)
But as lists of goods and bads and greats and horrors make the rounds, I am left to wonder if we, the Baby Boomers, aren’t the most hypocritical, if not disastrous, generation in history? And, before I get started, let’s talk about arrogance, too. Isn’t ours the first generation to have a name? (I honestly don’t recall a reference to the Great Depression generation, or the Great War generation. They might have been great, but they didn’t lord it over their progeny.)
My generation’s elder statespersons (Yup—political correctness was ours, too, wasn’t it?) started off like a house on fire, with the youngest reaching adulthood in the 1960s, and the peace, love and understanding movement that led to protests against war, segregation, sexism, proverty and all that good stuff. Turned out that they were not much different than their precedents, though, and once the air cleared (of smog, but mostly marijuana) what was to be found was a generation that embraced capitalism like no other. Heck, it was under our watch that corporations got the same legal status as human beings.
We fled the family farms and headed to the cities, took on jobs in industry and banking and technology, invented the idea of mutual funds and soon had everyone on the bandwagon. Mutual funds, those sneaky little packages that hid shares in cigarette companies and corporate agriculture and arms manufacturers and nuclear energy (we’ll figure out what to do with the waste when we get the time) among solar energy and all those other nice things that we actually want to pass on to our kids and grandkids.
Along the way we decided we hate paying tax. Dude, I earned my money, and now YOU want to benefit? My generation of political leaders has shown precious little interest in seeing education keep up with technology, we kept welfare rates in check and stuck the bigger-hearted among us with the job of creating and sustaining food banks, and then we jumped at the chance to save a few bucks by eliminating mental health services and creating an entire new culture of homelessness. And, just to rub salt in the wound, we became the first generation to declare our own homes to be investments, creating an expectation that we could live in a house for 40 years and then get rich(er) when we cash out. Sadly, we couldn’t figure out how to pull off the same scam with our vehicles and toys, which just go to the landfill when we’re done with them.
Maybe our greatest gift of all, though, has been to somehow decide that it’s okay for income disparity to get so far out of whack, all the while cooking up “free trade” agreements that let us buy cheaper stuff at the expense of jobs for younger generations, who get the added bonus of knowing that their own countries aren’t quite as sovereign as the ones we inherited. Those same trade deals make it just fine for foreign countries to sue our own government if they don’t get the same access to our markets as we do.
We’ve made the world smaller than ever, and we take advantage by flying off to all corners of it, often to become ecotourists and preach to less wealthy nations about the need to protect their environment. Heck, an awesome week for a Boomer starts with a protest over a pipeline and ends with a ski trip to the Alps or a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro or, for the most fortunate, a trek up Mount Everest with one hand grasping the belt of a Sherpa, who also happens to have placed the ladders, strung the ropes, hammered in the pitons and hauls our gear. “I say, Tenzing. Take my picture, won’t you.”
History might have a different take on the Baby Boomers, but we will continue to believe in our own awesomeness until we gasp our last breath.
And, while I’m at it, is ours the first generation to express surprise when a celebrity we like dies? (I could be mistaken in giving Baby Boomers all this credit but, hey, we’re nothing if not good at making up the truth.)