As the so-called Greatest Generation takes its place in oblivion, Generation X finds itself as the lone middle child of the generations, sandwiched as the smaller sibling between the Baby Boomers, the worst generation ever, and the Millennials, that great monolithic unseasoned mind.
GenX has assumed a peculiar role, I think, of being divided, divvied up by our parents, being the incarnational byproduct of the Baby Boomers’ willful overthrow of western institutions. On one side of the divide there is a sense of pessimism and doom that the whole western project is failing, and that the Baby Boomers are the primary malefactors in their sucking all the pleasures of civilization unto themselves before they crumple it up and throw it into the dustbin of history, at just about the same time they pass on to sleep with their fathers, leaving us no heritage except for some really great record albums.
On the other side of the divide is this: I was driving my 12-year old son to hockey practice the other day, and I was trying to penetrate his world, which was shielded by his iPod earbuds, and I heard myself saying, almost unconsciously, “So, Tom, what does your generation think?” Thankfully, he didn’t hear me or he would have rolled his eyes, and I would have become infuriated, and both our worlds would have become unpleasant. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the question, for even though this young man hasn’t a thought beyond the latest Minecraft update, or (to be more generous to my own dear progeny) his latest electronics project, he will soon have thoughts beyond those trivial things, and they will be generational.
It is an anxious game GenXers are playing, a Machiavellian one (by the common understanding): with one mouth, we are encouraging the Baby Boomers to remove themselves before their grip on our civilization becomes too morbid to procure its release, saying, “Why, yes, Peter Singer has some wonderful ideas about assisted-suicide. Say, the skin around your eyes does look a touch pallid, doesn’t it? I’ll go fetch the doings, and we’ll be done with you in a jiffy. You’ve lived a good life, now on to better pastures, right?” With the other mouth we are trying to set up a renewed western canon of ideals for our children via the Millennials, saying, “Have you thought to consider that human dignity doesn’t necessarily end when you become so weak that you need the constant care of your family?” Alas, to be the generational Pushmi-Pullyu is exhausting, and it is the essence of futility.
My son, however, is pushing the Millennials, and his generation are of a number, and they will be of a myriad of ideas that they shall press against the Millennials, and the Millennials shall press back, applying unwittingly the idealistic torsion forces which will shatter that infuriating optimism, as ours shattered, and as did the Boomers’ before us, and as it was for every generation whose parents sinned and set the children’s teeth on edge.
And then it shall come to pass that the Millennials will be frustrated in their efforts to progress, more or less, and their contributions to civilization, or to its collapse, will be put into the great crucible, and it will be fired, and the generations will sift through the ashes to find what value there might be.
And so there is hope.