Earlier this year I read Bruce Gibney's screed "A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America," with the intent of writing about it here on MNN. At the time, I thought it was too extreme, too much of a rant.
He asks in the introduction: "Can the case be made: can an entire generation be described as sociopathic?" He has this to say about baby boomers:
The sociopaths’ goal is to wring every last dollar from the system, and any investment that could not be fully realized within Boomer lifetimes was to be avoided. Therefore, the nation’s infrastructure, built by the Boomers’ parents and once the world’s finest, was allowed to decay. Henceforth, state-sponsored research would be radically curtailed. Higher education was neglected; the Boomers had their cost-free diplomas in hand, so meaningful reform and costly subsidies were no longer relevant... Unlike acid rain, which had immediate impacts on Boomers’ quality of life and was therefore swiftly addressed, climate change is a problem whose consequences will fall most heavily on other generations, so far too little has been done.
It was too much. I didn't believe that this could really be true; I thought it all a ridiculous generalization. But as I've followed the news in the months since, I couldn't get this book out of my mind. It became a lens through which I looked at so many events and stories. And I'm coming to believe that Gibney is not so far off the mark.
The architects started it
I think it was SM a.r.t. that pushed me over the edge. This is a group of baby boomer architects in Santa Monica who protest against the removal of parking. Because the right to drive and to park right in front of where you want to go is almost in the Constitution and you can't change that — even though we know people should walk more, that cities should be designed to encourage it, and that this is fundamentally one of the biggest urban problems we have: how to deal with cars, the fuel they use, the space they take up, the people they kill.
Then it was Minnesota, where the boomers came out in force to protest a bicycle lane, calling it a Nazi Lane and worse because it might slow them down or take away their parking. It started as a joke on Facebook, but a crowd of people showed up and turned it into a real thing, with offensive signs and all.
Toronto's still-standing Gardiner Expressway. (Photo: AshtonPal/flickr)
Then, here in my hometown of Toronto, they're spending more than $1 billion to save an elevated highway that destroys the waterfront even as the New York Times describes how cities all over North America are demolishing urban expressways.
Those are just the transportation and urban design issues that I'm preoccupied with at the moment. Everywhere, my generation seems to be fighting change, resisting doing anything about the challenges that face our children, with climate being the elephant in the room. Writer and futurist Alex Steffen describes the technique boomers are using to maintain the status quo, calling it Predatory Delay.
It's all one big dynamic. Older people getting rich—unprecedentedly rich—by dismissing their obligations to society & young people's future.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) August 28, 2017
I described it on TreeHugger this way:
"The blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime." It is not delay from the absence of action, but delay as a plan of action — a way of keeping things they way they are for the people who are benefiting now, at the expense of the next and future generations.
Follow the money
Where I live, in one of the most successful cities in North America, we can't maintain our transit system or keep our streets clean or our trees trimmed because of a pathological fear of raising taxes. In the States, nobody can have nice things because Congress and the president want to give the boomers a big tax cut, increasing the national debt by trillions, which they'll never have to repay. They will gut Obamacare but of course, Social Security and Medicare, which serve older boomers and seniors, are untouchable. In Britain, they are ripping the country apart by leaving the European Union. I wrote a post about it, after the Brexit victory but months before President Trump's win, saying:
...what happened in the U.K. was in fact a preview of what might happen in the American election: the complete surprise shocker revolution of the older generations, the boomers and seniors, rejecting the changes that have happened in their respective countries in the last decade. It's not a fight to retain the status quo; it's an attempt to turn back the clock, to make things the way they were.
There are lots of boomers out there who will say they didn't vote for this, that they shouldn't be painted with Gibney's broad sociopath brush strokes. However, Gibney notes that while "not all Boomers directly participated, almost all benefited; they are, as the law would have it, jointly and severally liable." I only have to look in the mirror to know this is absolutely true; I got my almost-free education and I got my house.
In the U.S., baby boomers control $30 trillion worth of financial and non-financial assets. They have 70 million votes and nobody questions their right to vote when they show up at the polls. No wonder all these gray and bald white men are smiling. They've got theirs.
I started this rant after reading about these SM a.r.t. architects who I thought were an embarrassment to the profession I love. I'm finishing it realizing that Gibney was right. Perhaps calling us sociopaths is a bit strong, but we did mortgage our kids' futures. The next time anyone complains about the lazy millennials and their avocado toast, I'll suggest they read "A Generation of Sociopaths."
It's not them, it's us.
Editor's note: This post contains some opinion. MNN writers sometimes veer into the opinion sphere when it's an appropriate way to delve deeper into a topic. If you would like to respond, reach out to the writer on twitter or send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.