Race, God, Hurt Feelings, and Cynical Absolutism: The Political Rebellion of Generation X
I was born in 1972, placing me directly in the middle of the age group called Generation X. This seems appropriate, my viewpoints mostly centrist, only extreme in ideas on the absolute freedom of speech. And yet Generation X, children born from 1965–1980, or thereabouts, has a nature consumed by the petty, ear-clogging stubbornness of absolute belief.
Now let’s get this out of the way first — there is no Generation Y, the now Millennials, mostly just a tamer version of the final years of their generational predecessor. They were primarily raised on games and technology and the trendy sameness of individuality, instead of games featuring blobs eating blobs and the blank, yearnful emptiness of a constantly buzzing TV. There is no Generation Y, simply a lazy follow-up title until they found themselves. This is a defining characteristic of our younger siblings’ unambitious ideology.
The so-called Gen Z, an even lazier abbreviation than their parents’ or brothers’ and sisters’ aloof indifference, are those lost inside of their phones, the world of their views something out of a science-fiction nightmare where consciousness is downloaded then sold as an app. They are the most prone to misinformation, having never learned much from their grumbling and selfish parents; their guardians so caught up in themselves and what they are thinking and what they want and what they are convinced they know is true, that they abandon their children to an inhuman upbringing, to a robot nanny offering them everything they’ll ever need to know.
Of course there are positives to each class should we consider individuality, but a generation is much less than the sum of its parts. A generation is a generalization of either the worst or best characteristics of the people temporarily in charge of the world. The so-called “Greatest Generation,” with most of their sins swept under the rug, told themselves they were noble and well-meaning. And while most did not participate in the crushing hope and gloom that spilled out into the streets as their Baby Boomer children rose, those same children grew up angry, having had enough of all the senselessness, of the violence and bigotry and hatred they sought to expose, and they just wanted all of it to stop.
They sought shocking reactions.
They formed movements, sometimes cults; they wanted to preach for their better world, and impose an absolutist sister and brotherhood upon the remnants of the outside, hate-filled puritan bunch.
The young right-wing Boomers in opposition decided to take on every tactic of the left — the movements, the organization, and spit out their own bantering slogans with soul crushing cynicism.
Every side attended similar protests, similarly violent, usually provoked by some smug anarchist on another side, every movement on the fringe, seeking to destroy the world in order to save it.
As the Boomers got older,
spoiled from the get go regardless of their lessons in hard work, once they decided to marry and had children,
what they came to realize was that all those years of protesting and refusing to fight anywhere other than in the streets of America had exhausted them. There was a time to be young, they finally decided,
and now that time was over.
The world, as the Boomers finally decided, was a terrifying, terrible place, filled with threats around every corner.
Maybe the religion of their parents was right after all.
There were serial killers everywhere, splashed all over the news:
Even those we thought we trusted
they were in on it too, all part of some secret society, covering up the actual truth, buried by satanic elites.
But the Boomers had one defense against the onrush of eternal night:
They could raise their children to be self-aware, to realize just how wonderful and perfect and better than everybody else they were, no matter how much mom and dad yelled and criticized and attacked when expectations weren’t met. They would teach them how much better these spoiled, coddled children were as they grew, believing they could do nothing wrong and would succeed at everything.
Let us blame something for this because it still haunts my memories of childhood, and quite a number of my peers have talked derisively about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iset88O__qc&ab_channel=ToonORama
These public service films, 66 in all, each preached the same message: everything is all about you. Sure, there were lessons about friendship and respecting others — maybe even some jagged liberalism on equality — but even these themes circle around the idea that you behave in such ways only to get what you want.
Such beastly, gruesome creations were plastered on television on both Saturday mornings between half hour cartoons, and on commercial breaks between the same rerun shows after school, clawing their venom inside our minds all the way back to the early 1970s. Such messages helped to create the sour, bitter, disappointed generation I grew up in. Such imposed self-belief, the subsequently mocked everyone-gets-a-trophy syndrome
where children were taught
And those hovering advocates, worried more about their children’s feelings than about teaching them the ways of the world shouted sugar-coated platitudes;
sniveling academic-sounding dogma that was really just a terrified scream of “what if my own kids don’t match up?”
This was the foundation of my generation’s childhood. Oh, do not mistake those now increasingly old days for the bluntly short-attention spanned outrage of today’s youth, anaesthetized by streaks and toks and memes and hypnotic images they do not understand. No, not yet having the advanced distractions of today, we grew spiteful, angry at everything against us (which we believed was everything) and, truly believing in nothing (thus, ‘X’), we raged out at the world, reducing all there was into a swamp of cynical quicksand, sucking everything down down down so we wouldn’t be the only ones drowning in hopeless misery.
We sought the destruction of each other, our parents nervously going further and further away, or “born again,”
or finally consumed by greed
sucking up the idea of money in whatever yuppie baptism offered a new way of thinking.
All of these images, all these people and things provided a new backdrop for an aging generation insisting that it have everything it ever wanted before their kids were grown. It became a race, all of life speeding up, and their children came of age rushing around with newly defined illnesses and disorders. Their kids would neglectfully face horrifying real psychological issues that did not resemble the more obvious insanities of the past. And with the loud trumpeting of everything that is me me me, that younger generation suddenly made everything private publicly available, all secret perversions now on display, ready to be consumed or copied or stolen.
We were the first generation to truly take advantage of and subsequently exploit the darkness of the internet (awkwardly called “the internet of things’’ back in those somehow primitive days of my earlier lifetime.) We were the ones, eventually to be painted as historical villains from an era where people were willfully ruining their world, who were lashed into snide speculative future commentaries, told by self-interested historians such as myself about the dangers of tomorrow; we were the generation (our parents perhaps still too close to the past) who took the Nazi version of propaganda and expanded its influence onto every urgent, multi-partisan cause.
We can follow the results today, seeking social media discussions, those 99.4% bullshit soliloquies from Generation X assholes, those left over, and not listening, and still believing in nothing; people who are still the same as when they were children. They are bitter, angry, frustrated and disappointed with their lives, lamenting some lost opportunity that may itself have never been real. They pray to those promised dreams being seemingly left to everybody else. But what about me? Asks The Most Important Person in the Whole Wide World. When do I get what I deserve?
As parents we are terrible.
Nearly everything we’ve ever said, all our paranoid, hard-fought lessons about the abominable world we will leave to our children, almost all of it is bullshit. Complete bullshit. Profound bullshit. Bullshit. Shit dripping oozily out of some bull’s asshole. Bullshit. Lies.
We are liars and enjoy proving it, taking bets on how many will believe us. We invent these heroic fantasies or dark plots, wonder worlds from the few books we read when we were young, before time and work and hateful responsibility took away our imaginations. We reserved whatever was left of our creative intellect for other people’s stories in the movies and on TV, then applied them to ourselves. We chose to learn nothing, abandoning the past, abandoning art and hard work and the future, living forever in the permanent basement of now.
And yet this implied sadness, the utter meaninglessness we crossed out with an X, much of this is grossly exaggerated and out of proportion.
Look at all the good and bad, the great and the small, the consequential and irrelevant that we’ve lived through, those staggering events of world history that will define the stereotype of who we are all those years in the future. There will, of course, be a new narrative twist to the past by then, singling out certain moments and abandoning the rest, from the Conservative Revolution, through the glut of uncensored popular culture, and the glamorous tabloid adventures of people we never cared about, and straight into the apocalyptic 21st century. The one time right wing hero Ronald Reagan
was transformed into the symbol of a way of life.
He was a man who’s since become both an inspirational figure of national confidence, and a signpost for the way some believe we’re supposed to be, for a roadmap to a past many want to relive. When we were young . . .
The Reaganites (and Reagan Democrats, who were not really Democrats, but aging, fed up folks who’d been born again into fear the moment they had children and saw their bank accounts dwindling) tended to share the smugness of the truly saved.
And yet Ronald Reagan,
outside of heretical mythology,
is not a right-wing deity, no matter how much today’s hard-core Generation X acolytes demand history paints him.
No, Reagan was far too liberal, https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/november-december-2019/the-liberal-reagan-you-never-hear-about/
a failure of modern Republican purity tests, a man who believed in actually conserving our space and environment (so long as it didn’t affect the price of oil.) He was a man who didn’t enjoy watching anybody suffer. Ronald Reagan, for all the credentials the modern extremists admire, was simply too decent to last in the social and political environment of today. Today he would likely have remained in Hollywood. He would start believing and promoting crazy things. He’d get a talk show, go on TV, and sling half-truths for commercial dollars, riling up the crowd so they tune back in tomorrow after rebuying Alka-Seltzer to soothe their acidic outrage. Ronald Reagan would be more popular (if not more beloved) in the present era than anything he’d ever accomplished had prepared him for.
And yet my generation . . . — okay, quick story:
My first year in college I took classes only towards my prospective major. I ignored introductory sessions, arrogant enough to know I could pass, and went straight theoretical from the get go. My choices ranged from literature through history, and into social and political philosophy since the dawn of civilization. I devoured these contrasting and violently opposing theories. It was no different, for me, than reading conspiracy textbooks. Back when I was in high school, after all, a class book report I did was on Whitley Strieber’s Communion,
a presumptively true story about an experience of this already famous author, known for his horror novels about werewolves and vampires
when he asserts that creepy gray aliens abducted him, took him into outer space, cut him open, implanted things inside of him, and all of this took place while he was being raped by hard, blinking metal probes. The teacher told me that the book was “inappropriate,” although I got an ‘A’ on the paper anyway . . .
Anyway, when I was hovering there on campus, not yet knowing anybody, I would sit around overhearing conversations and taking notes on styles of speech. I would scribble down the tag lines and brutal cliches salt-and-peppering youthful views of the world, and this became an activity I would even do while in class, or, years later, when sitting alone and drinking in bars.
There was this one guy . . .
I didn’t meet him in a bar, but in the classroom, a very intelligent and smugly oppositional sort of guy — an asshole, this was for sure — who seemed to sneer at every challenge. He was a short-sleeve shirt-and-tie wearing nineteen year old toting around hardcover editions of the works of Ayn Rand,
and preaching the gospel of economic libertarianism.
He once told me, with hushed laughter, that there was only one real freedom that mattered in modern America.
- The only freedom that matters is the freedom to make and spend your money. There is no use for freedom of speech after you make some, and all the other laws that hold us together are finally meaningless, simply moral pacifiers for those either too stupid or too weak to see that life is a challenge of every man for himself.
He was not specifically racist as later stereotypes would define him, although he cared nothing for human rights or those of the oppressed. He was a happy young fellow, one who’d once clearly been bullied, but who was smarter than everyone. He quietly focused his rage on those who had shunned him, looking to show them, seeking to punish those useless posers of whatever stock character they’d once painted themselves to be, to prove that now they were dependent upon him for their very survival. He was going to be a titan of industry, he told me, an actual “zillionaire,” who would employ millions and millions of people across the world (“an army” he called them), and probably some of his bullies too, and even more of their children. He was going to preach his religion until he gathered a flock.
Now this guy was looking to make his name, running for something absurd like “Student Campus President,” or “Chairperson of the Collegiate Council,” but nobody liked him because he was a loudmouth, and all his ideas were cynically about very important things. All that most of us wanted to do was find our way to the orgy parties in the dorms and woods and fraternity houses, and drink and get high as much as we could stand. He lost the election to a girl who would later drop out of school after a failed suicide attempt.
He was an interesting person, an intelligent, funny young radical. He knew that I was to his left (to the left of him meant nothing), and yet he chose me to be the outlier of the stereotype he had decided to hate. I can only now remember him with horror, this cheerful, enthusiastic, absolutely committed guy who went on to become a person many of you have probably heard of, and certainly more than half of you, regardless of your personal convictions, hate. He has become a spectacularly successful man, as he predicted, a behind-the-scenes person who, in the age of social media, lands squarely at the front as the sort of person called “an influencer.” He was and is a monster, finally, even back then, one consumed by horrible, selfish urges. He has used those ideas, never wavering, and in the most terrifying moments of consideration he must know that people like me see he was right about the way to conquer the world.
We became a born-again generation, although most of us followed non-traditional religions like my friend from college. We developed into the most atheistic generation in the history of the world, and yet God never left our minds. God simply transformed, based on whatever selfish whim we wished on the world.
Yes, born again into cynicism, or into radical political faith
It is the same cruel, arrogantly dismissive commands, on every far side, blaming each other and never taking responsibility. And that defines, fundamentally, Generation X.
Remember these guys?
Yes, the smug name-stealing “Tea Party” of the mid-1990s.
The majority of these folks were the youngest baby boomers, but the true leaders that emerged from this movement were pure Generation X.
David Brat (former Virginia Congressman and now Dean of Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University):
Adam Brandon (President of FreedomWorks, a Libertarian Organization about money money money for me me me, and nothing else but cynical chaos):
Jason Miller (yet another goateed right-wing spokesperson, he a media friendly Trump gospelizer):
former Trump advisor and speech writer, for whom the following speech he made while in high school summarizes who he remains today perfectly:
Of course these folks were helped along, fed by their right-wing media opinion friends and heroes:
All of them of Generation X, every mean-spirited, conspiratorial, cynical bark out of their mouths merely variations on the same team-sport-styled aggression from back in high school, the issues changed, but still painted in our favorite team’s colors and hoping that the other side’s stars get hurt.
They also worshipped their older inspirations
Yes, we were born again, but not really changed by whichever conversion. We grew up refusing to know history (something we and social media, our own invention, have tragically passed on to our children, the idea that nothing really matters if it happened before you were born), merely fascinated by evil, like the Nazis, or serial killers, or maybe General Zod and Thanos.
We grew up thinking all evil was the same, defining no shades between atrocity and harmful self-interest. It is how we came to believe that people who didn’t agree with us were out to destroy the world.
If you point your finger at either side for this last one you would be right.
It is all so childish, finally. We never grew out of it, that competitive pettiness and our willingness to cheat to win. How many of you, my peers, grew up unable to solve the Rubik’s Cube?
Any of you try this?
How many of us compared to earlier generations cheated on tests, stole copies from other classes, or used our knowledge of computers (which proves that we could have learned other things had we only the will) to manipulate grades? This sort of cheapness is already our legacy, looking at the pathetic, spiteful world we have created and presently live in, haunted by the self-righteous arrogance of our even more spoiled and disassociated children.
And we join our children or condemn them, make up lies to justify all behavior
Right after the conviction of Derek Chauvin,
as people were on the most part simply exhaling, there was a handful of cynical, half-hearted right wing people saying things like
- And now we get to watch the cities burn
- I think all police should go on strike and let the animals eat themselves.
Of course this didn’t happen, to the irritation of those “I’m not a racist but” racists, and so they slumped down in frustration to watch their favorite commentators trying to make them feel better about something they could only see as a personal loss. This is the height of their cynicism, these images by people like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson
split screen next to them with tiny, random 2020 dates in-captioned. These things did not occur as the result of the conviction, yet placing such images behind their smug, disappointed faces allows the casual viewer to ignore specific details and simply assume, because they have been warned so frequently and because such violence, no matter the side, has become increasingly well known. This sort of horror, they keep telling themselves, is the result of allowing people unlike themselves to win.
This entire study seems to have taken a hard turn against the right, and I suppose that’s true. But the left, as they are portrayed in the media
in these cartoonish days, are certainly a bunch of pussies. When the right — again with deeply amused cynicism — warn about “cancel culture,” they’re not wrong, when dealing with extreme, laughable factions. Some little fuckers are offended by everything — are offended because nothing is there to offend them and so they make something up. As I said, believing our own lies is one of the predominant characteristics of the entire generation. Those younger than us — at least those still too naive to realize it — they have grown up in a world where there are no facts, and we can invent our own reality, that whole “You live your truth,” obscenity, providing a liberal hug alongside the conspiratorial doubt that reality matters and that nothing is real. It says there is no such thing as civilization. It reminds us that https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zix_SnVl2p4
I suppose, here at the end, here in these days as my self-destructive generation begins to age out of relevance, and the monsters we created in our image take over the world, it is no surprise that our imaginations have grown increasingly apocalyptic.
But this is simply another refusal to admit that we were wrong. We have never been wrong, we tell ourselves. We were raised to believe we are always right and terrific at everything. And since everyone believed this, we came to hate each other, and grew farther and farther apart, sinking into angry caves of gloom. We could not trust each other, and for very good reasons. We were liars. We cheated. We denied the existence of things we didn’t like, and decided that a fantasy was better than reality so long as it justified our views. And we tore society apart, becoming more and more extreme — radicals of religion
and political ideology.
We grew to live in a state of perpetual psychological warfare. We destroyed each other and had fun doing it. It is all our fault — come admit it with me! All our fault. We did this to ourselves. We did . . . we did . . . well we did what every generation before us has done.