Posted by: bkivey | 17 July 2012

Peter Pan Syndrome

There’s an article on the Reason magazine website that goes into some detail about the inimical (the less charitable would say destructive) effect the Baby Boom generation is having on American society. By definition the Baby Boom generation is composed of people born 1946 – 1964, but there was such a steep decline in births by 1959 that, as the article notes, the practical definition is anyone currently over 55 (i.e. grew up in the  ’60’s). The article is well worth reading, although if you’re a member of the peace and love generation, you’re not going to like it. If you’re on the sunny side of the divide,  the piece should anger you.

The article came to my attention from Robert Zimmerman’s Behind the Black blog (link under Blogroll on right). After I’d commented on the post, Mr. Zimmerman was kind enough to provide a link to a post from 2010, titled ‘A Question for Baby Boomers’. Mr. Zimmerman’s question:

How is it that so many former hippies — who believed so strongly in freedom and individual rights — have allied themselves so closely with the Democratic Party and its philosophy of big government, complicated social programs, and high regulation and supervision of our lives?

It’s not gone unnoticed that the generation that enjoyed the highest living standard of any people in history,  the freest society the planet had ever seen, and whose ethos was rooted in freedom and rejection of authority, would become the militant proponents of declining living standards and oppressive government regulation of the individual. I’ve discussed the first part of the question in several posts: the idea based on observation that the Boomers feel so guilty about their comparatively privileged childhood that they feel that they have to somehow ‘make up’ for it by ensuring that no one else will get to enjoy what they had. Thus they get to feel good about themselves in a vicarious way, sort of like a perversion of the  stage mom or baseball dad.

But the point of this post is to answer the second part of the question: why do the erstwhile proponents of large degrees of individual freedom now think it necessary to oppress others?

Based on decades of observation of humans in general and Boomers in particular, my hypothesis is that an entire generation is afflicted with Peter Pan Syndrome.

The parents of the Baby Boom generation (aka The Greatest Generation), had fought through the Great Depression sans a social safety net, the Dust Bowl, and then gone on to fight, and win, the largest conflict in history. Those who didn’t go overseas faced some tough economic times as most consumer goods were redirected to the war effort. When they got home, they went to school, and started having babies. The first thirty years of their lives had been pretty rough, and when they started raising families, they didn’t want their children to endure anything like what they’d gone through. This is completely understandable. If you were white and middle class in the 1950’s (most of America at the time), your kids were going to have everything you could give them.

As their kids came of age, they rebelled against their parents. This is normal. It’s what children do. In the normal course of development, human’s push against societal boundaries until they find the limits. Once the limits are established, and the child recognizes societal expectations, they settle down and conform to those expectations. This is called ‘growing up’.

But what if there aren’t any limits, and no expectations? What if it’s all ‘do your own thing’, and who are we to tell Janey she can’t ‘find herself’? And it wasn’t a few people here and there experimenting with ‘alternate’ lifestyles; it was tens of millions. Tens of millions of people who never had to accept responsibility, because they could always find someone to tell them they were right, and it was always someone else: parents, teachers, cops, The Man, what have you, that was the cause of their problems. But economic laws don’t’ allow for consequence-free choices.

So people got hurt. A lot of people made poor decisions, or found out that what they thought, and what actually was, were two different animals. When kids are hurt, they turn to their parents. But the problem is, you’re 20 years old. Mommy and Daddy can’t kiss your boo-boos and make  them better. Oh, but you can turn to the State and other institutions.

Yes, you can force people to be nice to you, because there are always people in power looking for followers, and they’ll say whatever they have to to make you think they’re on your side. Now you don’t have to listen to mean people, and everyone will be fair like when you were a child: everything has to be the same for everybody. And because your world revolves around you, whatever is good for you must be good for everyone. If the uberparent of the Institution makes people behave, then everyone will be happy. It’s so simple. Anyone who disagrees must be crazy or evil.

The shift from if-it-feels-good-do-it hippie to micro-managing bureaucrat may seem a quantum leap, but it’s not. All it requires is that the person hold on to concepts formed in childhood, and not adjusted to reality.

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