Andersen: Rampage of the baby boomers
Conscience was a defining characteristic of my generation. That was before the Great Seduction. Now most baby boomers bask in material wealth, many facing spiritual deficits as they look to the ends of their lives, wondering what it all means.
When John Lennon asked us to imagine, he wasn’t suggesting the longing for a cornucopia of stuff with which to clutter our lives. He wasn’t suggesting that we gorge on natural resources until we’re choking. He wasn’t asking us to imagine enriching ourselves with stock portfolios that make us complicit in the death of the biosphere.
Lennon’s words carried moral weight because he asked us to imagine a world of idealism. Lennon was a baby boomer who saw beyond the Lexuses in our driveways, beyond the iPhones in our hands, beyond the narrowly defined material parameters of success.
Last week, a local paper reported that a “super basement” is under construction in Aspen and that it will house a basketball court. The Aspen City Council agreed, after a tour of the luxury pit, that super basements will not become a trend in Aspen because that level of outrageous resource consumption violates community values.
Too bad those values were not imposed before countless examples of conspicuous consumption became the status quo for Red Mountain, Starwood, West Buttermilk, Highlands, Owl Creek, The Pines, Mountain Valley, etc. A super basement is just an absurd take on accepted consumption patterns.
With baby boomers driving much of this self-serving, super-consuming trend, it’s a wonder that our generation once had the moral fortitude to condemn the war in Vietnam and support civil rights, women’s liberation and environmentalism — only to recant its seminal values during the Great Seduction.
The erosion of values occurred almost immediately after Clinton-Gore stormed the White House lip syncing, “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow.” Here was a perceived turning point in history as our generation rose to power and influence only to throw away an opportunity for social change less than a decade later.
What happened was inheritance. The baby boomers inherited the “system” their frugal, Depression-era parents had never dreamed of milking so fully. Baby boomers stepped into their parents’ leadership roles and turned their mercurial attention from the reforms of social justice to self-aggrandizement.
It was as if graduation from college ended the radical collegiate atmosphere of the ’60s and ’70s by ushering in a professional era measured by material status. Wealth had long been equated with success, so the malleable youth of my generation stepped right in line for our share and more.
Aspen experienced a similar social progression when the cultural revolution was launched in 1968 with the “Hippie Trials.” Joe Edwards, a young and daring attorney, stepped up to protect the civil rights of persecuted longhairs who were being jailed on specious charges.
Aspen hippies and sympathetic liberals soon garnered enough votes to overthrow the old guard, introduce Freak Power, a la Hunter Thompson, and radicalize Aspen’s political landscape. Their first significant act in office was to downzone the city and county to protect the valley against sprawl and strip development.
This downzoning soon pushed real estate values sky high and ushered in millionaire ghettos where material excess grew to a level that would make Thorstein Veblen blush. This pandemic of entitlement for conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste is now a global disease festering across the planet.
A recent car ad states: “You don’t need it, but you can’t live without it.” Most recently, Volkswagen shocked the world by cheating on emissions data — all to make a bigger profit.
Such universal rampant greed is what Pope Francis condemns with his environmental encyclical and his condemnation of capitalism. The kingdom of heaven is not offramped in a Tesla Model S or paid passage to with a platinum Visa. The eye of the needle is small indeed.
Through it all, feckless baby boomers go rampaging across the planet sharing in an eco-holocaust with conscienceless portfolios, gross material appetites, skewed values and a reckless sense of entitlement. We have stopped thinkin’ about tomorrow.
It’s time to rewrite Lennon: “Imagine lots of money / It’s easy if you try / Forget about your conscience / Enjoy your slice of pie.”
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.