This blog post was inspired by a recent article in ZeroHedge that tried to describe what my generation is like. One belongs to this generation, Generation X, if you have been born between 1964-1979. I was born in 1973. Perhaps the best known icon of this generation is Tom Cruise (in the picture). If you are younger, then the chances are that one of your bosses is one of us.
To understand what we are like, it’s useful to take a look at the two previous generations first. My parents – now mostly pensioners – are the Baby Boomers. This was the generation that was raised by the overly disciplined and rigid war generation – my grandparents’ generation. Baby Boomers rebelled against the rigid social norms established by my grandparents and so emerged the rock’n’roll hippie, sex and drugs movement in the 1960s. It is difficult to understand this today, but my father’s mother didn’t let my father to listen to Rock’n’Roll music, thinking it was “sinful”. And we are talking about people like Elvis here. That captures it all.
What we have here, then, is that my generation was raised by these sex & drugs & Rock’n’Roll hippies. We are talking about the 1970s and early 1980s when the Baby Boomers had not yet transformed into the type of lazy materialist conformists they are today. What was this like for us? To be raised by hippies?
What this meant in practice is that our parents didn’t care at all what we were doing or thinking. I mean not at all. We were just left alone.
I was, and my friends had similar experiences. We didn’t get any kind of value system from above. Whatever we did was “okay.” These hippies did not bother to force, or teach, or to explain to us any value system(s). We were raised in a vacuum. Of course, since I am thinking of one whole generation here there are exceptions, but all my friends and colleagues had similar experience. Think of this as a tendency. Similarly, because my grandparents faced an existential threat, there was a tendency to have very strong and rigid values.
But we were raised by hippies. As a consequence, when we entered early adulthood in the 1990s, we had no values of any kind. Nobody knew what was supposed to be important, relevant, or if anything had any real value. There were no common ideals (things like nationalism, socialism, capitalism, whatever) or no higher goals. We just kind of hanged around in an empty world. I cannot explain it better.
This was also the time when the working conditions in the society began to change. My parents entered their work life in a situation in which they just “took jobs” that were for life. Whereas, during my first two years, I worked under a series of three-month contracts that were chained. I am not alone in this experience. That had interesting consequences for all of us.
It is not that I want to complain about this treatment. My boss can write whatever contracts s/he wants to. That’s how the world works, and I assumed it without protest. But there were consequences. One consequence was that I had no loyalty to my boss either. No loyalty whatsoever. Can you understand why? The whole enterprise becomes cynical. I take advantage of my managers – by whatever means – and they take advantage of me, and we can depart our ways at a moment’s notice. No long-term loyalty or trust is involved if you are treated in this way. But it’s a two-way agreement. No commitments, no hard feelings, no ideals. We just work here for the time being.
This cynical selfishness that was forced to us by the previous generation in the work environment now converged with the lack of ideals that we inherited from our youth. They reinforce each other. We were raised without higher ideals, and the working conditions were similar.
During these years, one of the prominent feelings or narratives in my circles of friends and colleageus was a feeling of being lost. I mean royally lost without having any idea of what we should do. We could not really rebel against anything, as our parents did not provide anything we could have rebelled against. There was no place for nationalism, religions were mostly a private matter, there was no loyalty for anybody (as we were not trusted or showed any loyalty either). We were just hanging around in a void. Everybody was doing some little meaningless things. I was snowboarding.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it was unpleasant. It’s not necessary a bad thing to just hang around without purpose, or go to Chamonix to snowboard. I don’t think that my grandparents’ generation that faced an existential threat had it any better. It just is what it is.
So, my view is that a prominent feature of my generation was, and is, to be royally lost. We really didn’t know what the hell we are supposed to do.
In the article I referred to above, my generation is characterized as being “selfish”. I think that’s true. But it is true in the sense I have just explained. It’s a two-way agreement. Nobody never cared what we do or think, and for all of our lives we have been treated without any trust or loyalty by our superiors. What else would you expect? Religious fanatism or nationalism? Why should I care for my country if it only ignores me at every turn? If course I don’t care. I’m only happy when somebody labels it the “idiot belt”.
The situation changed when we got older. Some of us are still just hanging around without any ideals, I think. I eventually converged into something that you can get a glimpse of if you read this blog. I mean that I have some values and ideals that I do not question, and which guide everything I do. But I didn’t have any before I was almost forty.
In the next post, I’ll try to characterize my encounters with an alien species known as the “millennials,” which is the next generation that came after ours (born after 1980s). I encounter these creatures at work. Then there is the Generation Z, in essence my children’s generation that we are raising at this very moment and which is going to replace you pesky millennials when you start to grow grey hair. We will train them well for that task, so beware.