The answer is probably both. Each generation has its own flavor, and while not every person is a carbon copy of the stereotypes associated with their cohort, patterns have nevertheless emerged.
In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Bill Keller writes that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have been attacked by the media in years past for being selfish and entitled. A Boomer himself, Keller says that this reputation for being greedy and spoiled is not a new one, and Baby Boomers have been criticized for years.
In a 2000 article by Paul Begala, cited by Keller, Baby Boomers are called “the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history.” Boomers are 75 million strong with enormous consumer spending power and a great deal of influence.
The argument goes that while a large number of Baby Boomers championed social causes during the 60s, once the threat of the Vietnam War had passed, most Boomers placidly settled down to adult life. In an article by Kurt Andersen, he writes that the extreme individualism fought for during the 60s has really turned into the right to be selfish. “‘Do your own thing’”, he writes, “Is not so different than every man for his or her self.”
As young adults Boomers set out to change the world and many worked for peace, a more honest and transparent government, environmental change, less harsh judgment and fundamentalism, more open-mindedness. Did they achieve any of that? Maybe a bit.
It seems that since the 1960s, looking out for “number one” has been a national pastime. Business leaders rationalize outsourcing jobs because it can increase profits. Investment and personal savings have gone down, and many will argue that the nation’s current entitlement spending is not sustainable in the long run. Since the 1970s, income inequality in the United States has increased. Our country currently has the highest level of income inequality among the most developed countries. All this happened while the boomers were in charge.
As for the legacy of Boomers, they may be remembered for having fought in the Vietnam War and also protesting it. They supported many worthy social causes, such as the civil rights movement, women’s rights and ecological awareness. Oh yes, they also embraced sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Despite high divorce rates, they became involved, attentive parents and grandparents. They will also be remembered as embracing in an era of consumerism and self-indulgence. Some may argue that Boomers did little out of the ordinary.
Party on boomers.
John Bradley Jackson
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P.S. Check this article for more debate on the legacy of Baby Boomers.