We weren't exactly wrong. Living in the midst of the civil rights struggle, during a cold war with one totalitarian ideology after a real war with another, we understood the value of freedom and the ugly alternative to democracy. But we didn't -- or didn't want to -- understand power. This was particularly true of my age cohort, the baby boom, and particularly evident in the way we reacted when politicians attempted to use their power to limit our freedom by conscripting us into a war in Vietnam. We challenged the establishment by growing our hair long and dressing like Bozo.
We're a pathetic bunch. And it didn't start with the Beatles, marijuana, and the pill. Recall the coonskin cap. I wore mine to school. Children of previous eras may have worn coonskin caps but they had to eat the raccoons first.
* * *
The baby boom's reluctance to attend to the issues of power resulted from the fact that we had some. Freedom is power, after all.
And, as for freedom, we were full of it. We were the first middle-class-majority generation in history.We had the varieties of freedom that affluence provides, plus we had the other varieties of freedom provided by relaxation of religious convictions, sexual morality, etiquette, and good taste. The social institutions that enforce prudence and restraint had been through a world war, prohibition, depression, a world war part II, and Elvis. They were tired. We were allowed to fall under the power of our own freedoms. And we powered through them. Sixty years on we're still at it, letting not age, satiety, tedium, or erectile dysfunction stand in our way. Yet always at our back we hear the nagging thought that power comes with responsibility.
We don't want that. Has there ever been a generation -- a nation, a civilization -- more determined to evade responsibility? Probably.
The ancient Romans sliced open animals and rum-maged in their kidneys and livers in an attempt to avoid owning up to the consequences of empire and toga parties. The Greeks were forever running off to hear the irresponsible babble of the oracle at Delphi, the Larry King of her age. Maybe the Egyptians had an Oprah barge on the Nile where deceased pharaohs could fall to pieces and promise to become better mummies.
Nonetheless we and our contemporaries in the developed countries of the Western world have an impressive record of blame shifting, duty shirking, unaccountability, and refusal to admit guilt or, better, to readily confess to every kind of guilt then announce we've "moved on."
A gigantic global "Not My Fault" project has been undertaken with heroic amounts of time, effort, and money devoted to psychology, psychotherapy, sociology, sociopaths, social work, social sciences, Scientology, science, chemistry, the brain, brain chemistry, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, inhibitions, sex, sex therapy, talk therapy, talk radio, talk radio personalities, personality disorders, drugs, drug-free school zones, Internet addiction, economics, the Fed, PMS, SATs, IQ, DNA, evolution, abortion, divorce, no-fault car insurance, the Democratic Party, diagnosis of attention deficit disorder in small boys ...The list goes on.
Neither freedom nor power is what I should have been obsessed with for all these years. But it's too late now. I'm a child of my era. And speaking of that era, here are three slogans from 1960s posters that never existed:
SISTERHOOD IS RESPONSIBLE
RESPONSIBILITY TO THE PEOPLE