Monday, April 23, 2012

Generation X

What kind of name is that, generation X? Who named us that? I seem to recall someone saying, back in the nineties, that we were the tenth American generation. I don't really get that, insofar as the generation namers seem bored and over eager, adding a new generation every few years now. People talk about generation Y, the millennials. I heard a new name recently, for those entering the work-force now, graduating from college with tens of thousands of debt and degrees in things like German studies - I forget what name though. It seems strange to me, as it was only in the last decade that the millennials started working. I'm not sure if there is a Z anywhere in there. Whatever. For the record, I think the boomers are the weirdest generation ever.

Actually, I'm quite fond of the moniker X. It implies both danger, and a warning. Also, the unknown. Very mysterious. We came of age in a time between, between the full flowering of the boomer influence, and the information age those millennials have known nothing but. When I was a kid, Atari was a revelation. Music videos were like the voice of a god. We still had appliances that had already been working for a generation, not the trash available to us today that has to be replaced once a decade or less. There's more of that boomer influence, forced obsolescence in the name of economic growth. If it sounds like I'm headed in the direction of ripping on the boomers, well, as far as I can tell, about 99% of boomers don't yet get the predicament we are in, won't get, refuse to accept, and if you are a boomer and have done all these and are moving on, feel free to disagree.

Of course, the boomers conceived of forced obsolescence in appliances and auto's and such, and now they are paying that price themselves, many of them, forced into retirement long before they expected to retire. Even those who still have good jobs don't necessarily have savings to retire on. I've heard something like only 50% of boomers or less have enough money to retire, not least because of the financial looting of 2008 (let's call it what it was), but because they have always lived as if there would always be more of everything. They are holding onto that with an iron fist, that mythology of progress, despite all the available evidence. Who can blame them? The media is lying to them shamelessly, and themselves, but then, isn't the media mostly controlled by boomers?

I was working on the hardwood floor in my bathroom, cutting out the rotten spot underneath the old sink. The hardwoods in my house are original, 1918, but as far as I can tell, I'm the only one who has tended to them since. I was listening to NPR at the time, a documentary called Burn. It was about the oil predicament, ostensibly; through the first half, I was unimpressed. By the end of it, I was infuriated. How in the hell are Americans supposed to face the predicament we face, if the best news outlet we have is proffering lies? What lies? Like world oil production is going to climb to 110 million barrels a day, by 2035. We are at about 88 million barrels a day, which is a number that has flat-lined since 2004-2005. Flat-lined. But most Americans aren't going to hear about that any more than we heard about the housing bubble before it collapsed. 110 million barrels? That is a 22 million barrel a day increase, which is about 4 million barrels more than America will consume today, April 23, 2012! Even as no one really, not even the industry, denies that oil is getting harder and more expensive to collect and refine.

Burn might be a hard headed documentary by mainstream standards, but it is otherwise known as an egregious soft-pedal white-wash. Notice, boomers will be at about the end of their time on earth, by 2035.

Immediately following that program, was Science Friday, and an in depth discussion about technology in movies. Isn't it great! One of the techies interviewed, said, and I'm paraphrasing, “You know that movie about Marilyn Monroe, the one where she was played by Michelle Williams? Well, wouldn't it be great if instead, we could create a hologram image of Marilyn, and animate her, and thereby create a more compelling movie experience?” Excuse me? Is that the point of this existence, to replace all of human endeavor with holograms that we experience neurologically, whilst sitting on our ass? The energy analyst Tom Murphy recently had a conversation with an economist who was astonished, astonished I tell you, that Tom would not want to live a virtual life, in which he could live like aristocracy, with everything he wanted, except not a body but only a neural experience. Aside from the question, what kind of tyranny is possible if most of humanity is plugged in constantly, their entire lives; but if you can have every thing you want virtually, who is going to make and manage the technology that makes it possible?

And therein lies the crux, the fatal flaw of this whole human endeavor, that we think technology is going to solve the predicament of declining resources and increasing population. This is how I know they aren't going to fix it, because they are deluding themselves. Not just about available energy, and the difference between energy and technology, but about what technology is capable of. I'm not saying humanity won't be living some marvelous technological existence someday, far surpassing the limited, meager, destructive, polluting technology of our day. I am saying, it's all going to go to hell before we get there. Because they are lying to themselves. They are not being honest. They are stuck, in the proverbial clouds, pie-in-the-sky eyed and oblivious to the storm coming, which is only making the storm worse.

It's not as though boomers are the only American generation oblivious to the threat, about 800 nuclear facilities world wide, tens of thousands of nuclear warheads scattered about, and thousands of off-shore oil wells, every one of them vulnerable to economic, ecological collapse. But the boomers are in control of the world, and they have put us in this place. They want a hell of a lot more off-shore oil wells. My suspicion is, they will definitely still be around when the collapse comes, the wells and the boomers. There isn't much more awareness among the Gen X'rs, or the Y, Z, millennials – anyone. But the baton of management is passing to the Gen X'rs, and we will be the generation, I believe, that has to lead, if there is to be any recovery from collapse. The pivotal generation, the phoenix, that will have to find some way to rise from the ashes, with help from the young and the old. Are we up to it? Maybe. Maybe not. Holding tight to the mythology of progress, and faith in technology, it's not looking good.

You think the so-called “greatest generation”, preceding the boomers, went through some difficulties? That will appear as nothing, compared to what we face, and there is hardly 1% of us who are aware of it.


mwk said...

The term 'Generation X' was coined by Douglas Coupland in his debut novel of the same name. It's not a bad read, a bit nostalgic from our current vantage point, but worth your time if you come across it.

It's funny, I heard KMO on the C-Realm podcast taking to John Michael Greer last month about how 'Generation X'ers can see the future, know it's not going to turn out anything like they were told it would, and want nothing to do with it. They instead are choosing to drop out and go study permaculture."

Which is pretty much EXACTLY what I have chosen to do.

Once we learn how to live with less, to live simpler, but better, maybe by then we'll be better able to take whatever reigns are left from the Boomers and try and get this ride back on track towards something other than a brick wall.

Time will tell if we even get the opportunity.

Justin said...

Spot on the boomers.

re: hologram - You should look up the Uncanny Valley (I've taken the Uncanny Valley as the name of my as yet unheralded production company.)
A hologram Marylin Monroe would freak me the fuck out. But isn't that a quintessential boomer fantasy, a hologram image of a long dead woman, who was psychologically broken for her beauty within the hologram of American paternalistic culture? That's crazy.

I have a friend who is way into the singularity. He couldn't believe that I would prefer to get old and die in a normal life cycle rather than stay artificially young forever. I don't know about you, I think we are around the same age, I'm 33, but getting older and living life on different terms keeps things fresh. I'd never want to stay in the mind and body of the 22 year old me forever, and I look forward to what the 50 year old me has to say about things in a few years, provided I make it.

William Hunter Duncan said...

I love that the two who have commented on this piece thus far are as crazy as I am. mwk, aren't you off too Peru, to lose your Child of Empire weight and find your soul, with the help of the Ayahuasca? And Justin, isn't your plan to work on a Thai farm, and then work a series of apprenticeships in skilled labor? It's an honor to know you are both out there, living.

mwk - you're right. Most people think you gotta fix culture. Can't do that without fixing yourself first.

Justin - When Joseph Campbell was an old man, he said he felt like HE hadn't changed, that he was still a young man inside. Your friend is afraid of life, and risks never maturing, like so many boomers. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with me. I can't imagine any worse fate than an old soul trapped in an eternally young body.

William Hunter Duncan said...


I looked at your link. Best of luck with that, though I am a mostly indifferent gamer. I did happen to write a chapter about chess, philosophically speaking, in my first book, which should be out for download in about a week.

John D. Wheeler said...

"I'm not saying humanity won't be living some marvelous technological existence someday, far surpassing the limited, meager, destructive, polluting technology of our day. I am saying, it's all going to go to hell before we get there."

I am so gratified to read that. That is essentially the message I'm trying to get out in my blog, one of realistic hope, not for ourselves or our children, but for many generations hence.

Justin said...


I've been in Thailand, setting up.

I am about to return to the US and start working on the apprenticeship with blacksmith.

I'm also working on a couple of books.

We'll see.

William Hunter Duncan said...


There's an old Hopi, or Indian, or quasi-Indian saying, that every action should be measured with respect for the next seven generations. Which is why everything about industrial culture will have to fall away, or there might be no seventh generation from today. If it never occurred to most boomers to look that far ahead, our generation and the millennials would be famous for the cynical, ugly "who cares?"


Safe travels.

cpm said...

Nice blog, just found it from your post on Kunstler's blog.

"That Green building is everything but. It is like the environmental movement, the desire to save the planet, as long as we don't have to change anything meaningful about our standard of living, or question in any meaningful way, the arrangement that has allowed Americans and Westerners generally, to live so extravagantly. "

Very well put!

Looking forward to reading more

William Hunter Duncan said...


Thanks for the support, the kind words and the $. The third donation I have received. Blessings,