A generation of sociopaths?

  "Narcissus'' (1590s) by  Caravaggio .

"Narcissus'' (1590s) by Caravaggio.

 

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com.

Generations obviously flow into each other and we must be leery of over-generalizing. But Bruce Cannon Gibney is on to something when indicting the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) for having all too many selfish, narcissistic, greedy, uncivic-minded, myopic and, well, dishonest people. He makes his case in forthcoming book: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Consider the corruption in varying degrees of leading politicians and business leaders in the past 40 years as the Baby Boomers came to power. Look at their disinclination, compared to their parents, to participate in unpaid if admirable civic projects.

You don’t hear very much anymore of “dollar-a-year men’’ who volunteer to take onerous but crucial public-sector jobs to address a crisis. Look at their using public office to line up gargantuan payoffs  later in the private sector.

You see many more rich Boomers plastering their names on buildings, be they at colleges, museums and hospitals, compared to their parents’ generation, for whom anonymous giving was much admired. From the Gospel of Matthew, in the New Testament: "Be careful not to do 'good works' in front of others. Don't do them to be seen by others. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you.’’

You see something of the Baby Boomer culture in executive suites, not to mention the Oval Office. As Boomers started to take big jobs in public companies many started to display astonishing greed compared to their parents, and a disinclination to share corporate wealth with their underlings, whose inflation-adjusted wages generally have fallen over the era of Boomer hegemony.

 That is, of course, partly due to the increasing self-segregation of Americans into their own socio-economic groups.  The rich have less and less daily contact with the nonrich and so the former care less and less about the latter. There is less and less cross-class interaction.

At the same time, insider trading and other Wall Street sleaze have flourished.

For whatever combination of reasons – be it that too many Boomers were cosseted as kids or whether the media came to excessively worship wealth and conspicuous consumption –arrogance and extreme greed came to characterize much of American business under the Baby Boomers. You have to go back to the Twenties and the Gilded Age of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries to see its like.

And consider many Boomers’ lack of interest in supporting government programs for the poor and other weak  groups and their generally successful push for lower taxes even as they fight any cuts in programs that benefit, or will soon benefit, them, especially Social Security and Medicare.  And look at the popularity of eliminating the federal estate tax as affluent Boomers’ parents started go to their reward. Or their debonair attitude toward the ever-deepening federal debt that goes with lower taxes and higher spending on programs that disproportionately favor the Boomers.

Glance at America’s crumbling infrastructure -- mostly due to a refusal to pay taxes commensurate with long-term public needs – is another monument of the Boomers, too many of whom are not societal builders but users.

And it’s curious that older Baby Boomers often get credit for promoting civil rights for racial minorities, women’s and gay rights associated with the ‘60s and early ‘70s, when the people who led these movements were from the so-called Greatest Generation and Silent Generation.

And while Steve Jobs and his Silicon Valley contemporaries did come up with some nifty inventions they can’t compare in long-term importance with those  developed by the generation before them – often with the help of federal programs. Semiconductors and Internet are examples.

It is true that many Boomers became avid foes of the Vietnam War – but mostly because they didn’t want to fight in it.

Let us hope that younger folks display more civic-mindedness and generosity than their parents. Or will they just disappear into social media?