Boomer Revolution to change the world: the sequel

Here we go again.

Baby Boomers, their revolution to change the world when they were young, wide-eyed, and idealistic having failed, are set to give it another go. In retirement. So blathers fellow Boomer, Nicholas Kristoff in his NY Times Sunday column this week.

“We often think of those trying to save the world as bright-eyed young people,” Kristoff opines, suggesting that now that the Boomers are swiftly becoming wrinkly old retired geezers that notion will be changing, because of course only the Boomers can save the world. Or so they believe in their collective, solopsistic borg-like mind. It is more true to say that they are the only ones who would be arrogant to make such a claim. As they did before. And how did that work out….? Just splendidly I’m sure they’d argue. But I’m going with not so well.


Some 78 million American baby boomers are now beginning to retire, and one survey this year by a research institute found that half of boomers are interested in starting such new careers with a positive social impact. If we boomers decide to use our retirement to change the world, rather than our golf game, our dodderdom will have consequences for society every bit as profound as our youth did.

There it is in bold folks, the nauseatingly deluded optimism of a self-centered generation. I don’t know about anyone else but just the idea of a second Boomer attempt at revolutionizing the world not only makes my queasy it makes me nervous.

But perhaps I should be so cynical. I know, I know. It is the default Generation X mode, but this could be good thing.

Yeah, that was I began to think, reading about Peter Agre,

a medical doctor who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003 for research on … on … well, on something to do with cell membranes that I still don’t understand. Dr. Agre could have run his lab indefinitely but was restless to assume a challenge that would more directly affect society.

He thought about politics, but ended up taking on a fancy administrative position at Duke University, thinking he could help shape students and education. Then he became restless again, and this year he took a substantial pay cut to head the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Until he was quoted thusly:

“It wasn’t a matter of being a Mother Teresa,” Dr. Agre said. “It was a matter of, ‘Boy, that sounds like fun!’ ”

Gag me with Ginsu! What kind of crap is that. Hey, it’s great that the guy wants to good. More fucking power to him. But don’t deal me that bullshit that it’s, oh, so fun. Yipee!

But still if the guy manages to overcome malaria, as he hopes to do, who really cares if does it with a Polly Anna grin on his face.

Of course leave it to the Boomers to “redefine” a new stage in life, so they can avoid from slipping into irrelevance:

Marc Freedman, author of a book called “Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life,” notes that adolescence is a relatively modern concept; until the 19th century teenagers normally were treated as adults. In the same way, he says, a new life stage is emerging — the period of 10, 20 or even 30 years after one’s main career is completed but before infirmity sets in.

I would argue that what some of this graying Boomers believe is a new way of thinking is actually replicating the kind of things that Generation X would do. They are thinking/acting like GenXers. For example:

another general in the war on malaria is Rob Mather, a British management consultant who — thank heaven! — isn’t very handy with a TV remote. Mr. Mather was trying to turn off his set in June 2003 when he accidentally flipped to another channel and was riveted by the image of a 5-year-old girl who was struggling to overcome severe burns all over her body.

Mr. Mather suggested to several friends that they swim as a fund-raiser for the girl. Because Mr. Mather is relentless, the swim ended up involving 10,000 people in 73 countries and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bowled over by the possibilities of mobilizing people for good causes, Mr. Mather set up a swim the next year to raise money against malaria — and this time 250,000 participated. He left the business world and founded a group called Against Malaria, now one of the world’s leading organizations battling the disease.

Of course he does it with a typically Boomer twist:

Mr. Mather browbeats businesses into donating services and covering overhead — “we have 17 legal firms working for us, and we’ve never paid a legal bill” — so every dollar donated to the organization ends up actually used to buy bed nets for families that can’t afford them.

Still, it is for a good cause. I won’t ague that. If people are being helped it is all too the good. But as the ending of this column implies that at the root of such Boomer motivation is accolades:

If more people take on encore careers like that, the boomers who arrived on the scene by igniting a sexual revolution could leave by staging a give-back revolution. Boomers just may be remembered more for what they did in their 60s than for what they did in the Sixties.

The point is to be remembered. If people get helped along the way, cool, but it won’t be just that good was done, but it was Boomers that done it.


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