Bill Sepmeier: The leaded generation
I’m a baby boomer in my mid-50s who works with people half my age on a daily basis. Recently, while driving back from a job site with one of these Generation X members and talking about the state of the nation, my co-worker paused and said, “You know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I am 29 years old. I was brought up to believe things would keep getting better. But, things seem like they are totally screwed up and I swear, I don’t know how they’ve gotten to this point.”
There was a lull in our conversation and all I could say, after thinking about his statement for a bit was, “Blame me. Blame the entire boomer generation. We had it all and we squandered it all on ourselves.”
Perhaps it was the tetraethyl lead in the gasoline my generation grew up with. Billions of tons of lead, a known brain poison, was pumped into the atmosphere, solely to increase the profits of oil companies and “The Ethyl Corporation,” a jointly held subsidiary of the industry (which is still in business, profitably pumping lead into the environments of “developing” nations). These millions of tons of lead had to have had some effect on our minds over time. Add a diet of endless television “programming” (it’s called “programming” for a reason) and you get the baby boomers as adults and seniors ” a nation capable of little more than following directions. What were our directives, this generation that grew up post war in the land of plenty? Peace? Love? No, we are the generation of “Borrow, spend, consume and above all, be quiet.”
How else can you explain a society that hasn’t done anything as their freedoms, constitutional rights and liberties have been systematically taken away in the name of “security?” Whose members actually think this is a good idea? What’s to be said for a society that exports most of its middle class jobs and most of its manufacturing, even the manufacturing of its defense equipment, to foreign countries run by totalitarian regimes? A society that ships off hundreds of billions of its dollars a year to Middle East dictators and then has to spend half of what it earns just to drive itself to work, while its Congress votes down ” eight times this year so far ” a paltry subsidy vital to development of alternative energies that could help stem this bleeding of national treasure? A society where every citizen now owes over $32,000 towards the national debt (and the actual unfunded obligation we’ve created is 100 times this amount, when all of the future entitlements are counted, meaning every family alive really owes $3.2 million). A generation that remains passive while government continues to dig itself, and us, ever deeper in debt? A society that pays more for health care and education than ever before in history, yet whose mortality rate is falling and where many high school graduates can’t spell well enough to write a simple business letter or perform the basic math problems needed in daily life?
Perhaps it is talk radio, left and right wing, that provides the vent that keeps the lid on the pot. Or the Internet, where everybody can post a comment. After all, when Alexis DeToqueville, author of the seminal “Democracy In America,” was confronted with a union demonstration on the streets of New York nearly 200 years ago, his host Charles Ingersoll, grandson of New York’s first colonial governor, explained America’s tolerance of free speech by explaining that, “As long as a man might speak with liberty, you can bet he won’t act.”
Whatever the reason, America’s not well and my generation doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.
It’s hard to believe that this country, the nation that led the free world to win two world wars against fascism, that invented penicillin ” the first “wonder drug” ” only 55 years ago, the nation that put men on the moon only 39 years ago without the benefit of solid state computers ” which it also invented ” is effectively bankrupt after just one generation: mine.
Our investment houses and major banks have basically failed and their losses have been effectively nationalized. Century-old institutions have been sold to trillionaire Arab oil-states after the “profits” of the last two decades of my generation’s unmitigated greed collapsed, their managements now facing multi-hundred million dollar fines and settlements due to fraud and misrepresentation of products we, the boomers, concocted out of thin air. Another hundred-plus regional and local banks are expected to fail with a year. More than 561,000 American jobs have been lost over the past nine months. Our venerable American dollar has lost 50 percent of its foreign buying power in five years. A majority of American homeowners are upside down on their mortgages, owing more than their homes are worth for the first time in history and we’ve dragged the U.K. and Europe’s home markets with us. Energy costs are rising at a rate of 40 percent to 100 percent a year while our government deletes these expenses from its inflation calculations as if they didn’t exist. Food costs have risen 50 percent in the past year, but again, food costs don’t count in “official” inflation figures. Twenty million acres of trees stand dead around us and yet we still plan to develop “high-end” real estate in the mountains, expecting somehow that nobody will notice that their million dollar homes are surrounded by dead forests. And, 30 years after it became common knowledge that petroleum supplies would start getting tight right about now, we still have no plan or means to get along without the stuff.
We, the generation that grew up with more lead in our bellies than anyone since the ancient Romans, sit quietly, electronic peasants distracted by consolidated corporate television channels that tell us what we want to hear, ignoring reality as hard as we possibly can, blaming the usual suspects we’re told to blame by our “chattering class.” Fiddling while the place burns around us.
The upcoming presidential and congressional elections feature absurd commercials that receive more media coverage than actual viewers. Blatant lies and the other spurious eyewash seems to pass for reality today. As the old saying goes, the “elephant in the living room” that nobody mentions is that these elections may be a contest between my “leaded-gas, me-generation” and the younger, “lead-free” generation; those lucky to be raised after leaded gas was banned and who would like to restore their country to an upright position in the world, a status that we older folks won’t admit we’ve lost. .
One can hope that enough people will pick up on this fundamental difference amid the distractions imposed by those who would continue our collective circling of the drain while they pick the last pennies from our pockets, that enough will wake up and express themselves through the voting booth this November to stop the final circle towards the inevitable end of our recent behavior. When the books are settled, we boomers”will have little to be proud of,other than perhaps producing children who can see through our mistakes and hopefully drag themselves and us towards a better future than we’ve presented them so far.
Bill Sepmeier has been a valley resident for 25 years who lives “off the grid” in the Sweetwater area.