Understanding the Storm

Everyone gets wetI understand the revenge narrative. The logic is the same whether we’re talking about the coming boomergedon or Peak Oil. The ship is sinking and we can at least smile at the fact that the assholes who hit the iceberg have the best seats for the end-of-the world show because they’re going down first.

The only problem is we’re wrong.

In the case of things like economic or environmental disaster, the very people insulated best from disaster are the people who have caused it. They are the ones with hidden reserves of cash and “bug-out” palaces in exotic, lush forgotten corners of the world. A collapse would increase their relative power and influence in the world, not diminish it.

Likewise, when the final Baby Boomer drops that last steaming bucket of crap on our heads, he or she won’t be around to see it. For better or for worse, no matter what your religious orientation, when these people vacate this world, they won’t have to pick up the mess they’ve left behind. What they leave behind will be much worse than what they were handed.

For us Gen Xers who have watched Boomer greed take down everything from higher education and insurance to the housing market, knowing that in the end these cretins will stand barefooted before their children and grandchildren, stripped of all their imaginary wealth and hubris… Well, it’s comforting. It helps us make sense of a world that seems so out of focus.

No, we may never get the meritocracy we were promised – probably won’t be able to retire in a world that was made for us – but at least the most awful generation of all time will finally get what it deserves. The only problem is it won’t and waiting for judgment is a waste of energy. We’d do better to build more escape rafts and lifeboats than to use that wood to start a celebratory bonfire.

More importantly, there’s no escaping the tidal pull of Boomers as they begin their inevitable decline. They are going to rip and tear everything as they depart and there will be nowhere to escape to because they have contaminated everything. The shitty strip malls and McMansions will not vaporize as their masters depart the stage. Their debt will hold everything in a sort of suspended animation, like Disney’s head.

So don’t cheer too much when I tell you AARP says that one third of all foreclosures are from homeowners 60 years old or older. The truth is much, much bleaker (not just for Boomers, but for all of us) when you consider millions of Boomers are still clinging onto the idea that they can roll the dice one last time with their homes and flip them to finance retirement.

Worse, many are tied to mortgages that will balloon well beyond their means just as their incomes take fatal nose dives. Married to homes that are no longer worth what they paid for them, waiting for the tsunami that will double or triple their monthly bills, these people are walking time bombs far deadlier than the Gen Y student holding on to a 150k student loan.

Even if those student loans are completely forgiven, they can be offloaded over many years minimizing the damage to the economy. Boomers will give up their debts only when they die and when that happens the system will need to absorb the shock.

The effect will be exactly the opposite of what we saw in the gold rush days of the 1980s and ‘90s when the Greatest Generation began dropping like flies and leaving money and property to their Boomer kids. Rather than an influx of liquidity into the market, this debt will choke it and seize up the machine. It will also entrench the country in the housing problems we’re experiencing right now for a LONG time as money dries up and inventory increases.

You can see some of this world already in places like Miami and Las Vegas, where largely fictitious Boomer wealth spread up over the land in a flood of liquidity, dried up and died back, leaving behinds the debris of a trashy life. Bright useless objects bought when cash was cheap and the party looked like it would go on forever. The scum trace of crap as the tide goes out for a long, long time. And what’s that, half buried in a Doritos bag?

A spent condom filled with Viagra juice.

We’ll be here to clean it up. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Think of this as you watch the gathering storm with glee in your hearts.  


Self-Help / Self-Hurt

One of the persistent problems with the self-help movement is that it can’t understand that the problems most people have are symptomatic of being itself.


Instead of viewing social phenomenon such as divorce as a problem in the historically constructed mindset of a specific generation (Boomers) it instead identifies a problem in the social convention of marriage. This is all well and fine until another generation breaks with the pattern and stays together.


The self-help therapist then has to either choose reality – which would say that maybe marriage is fine and what requires work is the Boomer worldview – or stay close to the path that they’ve walked for decades and declare that millions of Boomers are just not doing this marriage thing correctly. Marriage needs to be tweaked.


In the August 1, 2011 story “Gen X marriages: Divorce is out, monogamy's in” the Baltimore Sun comes to the startling conclusion that Xers are different than Boomers. The story says that divorces have been in decline since the 1980s (a fact which doesn’t itself discount the possibility that older Boomers have figured out how to stay together but never mind that) and that we Xers have somehow figured something out for ourselves.


Hard to believe, no?


The story takes a predictable turn to the right by suggesting Gen Xers remember their own teary childhoods and want to spare their kids that pain, though there isn’t any evidence cited in the story. This narrative (that Xers are staying together only because they don’t want their children to face the things they did) is a quaint fiction.


On first blush, it might appear to be a (gasp) compliment, but it’s not. It’s based not on the belief that folks my age are altruistic, but that our narcissism  projects our problems onto our children and we only do good because we don’t want to face those issues again.


“In any case, it is easier to put the kids first if you remember too well the pain and confusion of your own parents' divorce,” writes Editor Susan Reimer. Oh, I’m glad to see that we owe our successes in staying together to Boomers, however indirect.


So instead of asking what miraculous drug us Xers have been smoking that exempts us from the divorce epidemic, the rest of the article is devoted to the intellectual burps of a Boomer expert, author Iris Krasnow. Putting aside the obvious question – Why not survey younger couples that stayed together, if MOST older couples are having a difficult time? – the Boomer expert launches into a critique of marriage which is itself a deconstruction of Baby Boomer issues with intimacy.


So it’s not unexpected that for Krasnow the enemy of marriage is intimacy, the fear of losing one’s individualism and being ‘swallowed up’ by the other. The antidote for feeling alienated enough to break up seems to be to remove yourself from the relationship so much that you can’t be hurt.


Krasnow suggests setting realistic expectations and keeping secrets as a way to cement the glue on Boomers’ wedding vows: "A secret is different than a lie, and secrets can be healthy. Keep a little part of yourself to yourself. Something that is a mystery.” Yes, there is nothing better for a relationship than a secret internet porn addiction, nothing as magically mysterious as a private crush on a co-worker.


Now I haven’t written a book about why Boomers break up, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say it’s not because one person has “lost” him or herself in the other, but that neither have committed completely. Without that sort of surrender to the other, love is a casual experience that’s as easy to end as a contract for a cell phone.


One of the reasons most Boomers seem unhappy to me is that they have sealed themselves off to others. They have built myths of self-sufficiency that make them difficult to work or live with and this has made them secretly lonely. Every friend they’ve made with winning smiles and tasteful jokes has proven to them how easily manipulated and shallow others are.


Suggesting that fear of losing one’s self is the reason marriages fail is like saying that the only way to beat addiction is never to run out of junk.


I would suggest that Boomers (and everyone else) need to give up their secrets, admit their faults, and learn to have authentic connections with one another and everyone else. But don’t ask me. I’m only an Xer who has been married 19 years.

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