14.7.18

SPOCKIAN ADOLESCENTS.

Venture capitalist B. C. Gibney, whose money is in a number of information technology based services, whether of the social network, transportation and tourism, or financial sort, is also no fan of the Baby Boomers.  His A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America uses passages from psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to introduce the various elements of his argument.  It's difficult for me to write Book Review No. 17 without making some references to my formative years, which were precisely when Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care was the go-to advice for seemingly everybody, and seemingly everybody's parents had memories of a difficult era of depression and war and wanted to spare their kids from all those travails.  Thus the cheerful Christmas songs of the era, and the optimism of much of broadcast television, and the dawning consciousness among some of the young people that perhaps the modest comforts they enjoyed were being purchased by the suffering of invisible Others.


I'm not sure whether to view Mr Gibney's work as restating the obvious, or whether it's yet another complaint from the Thirteenth Generation about getting to the beach the day after the big picnic, only to find broken glass and cigarette butts everywhere and all the eateries trashed, or whether it's really about the Baby Boomers squandering the victory dividend their parents earned.  Evidence for the squandered dividend hypothesis emerges in the foreword, page xii.  "[B]y historical standards, every challenge after 1946 was minor compared to what had come before; all should have been easily surmounted, and, for a time, most were.  But the fact is that American dynamism did peter out, no later than the 1990s."  That is, as the baby boom generation started seizing the levers of power in business, industry, and governance.

It might be that the very starkness of the saecular challenges of depression and war fostered consensus, even if, as was the case with saturation bombing and nuclear weapons, that consensus lead to second thoughts (and thought leaders seeking the nuance and the process instead) about dynamism itself.  That's standard generational morphology thinking: not at all where Mr Gibney will be going, despite returning, toward the end of his work, to the characterization of Boomers as lottery winners squandering their prize.

Rather, he sees the beginning of the sociopathy in permissive parenting (page 25), plural countercultures (the Consciousness Revolution makes more sense as a libertarian impulse gone wild rather than as an irruption of Communist sympathies, pages 52, 54), and a denial of coherent beliefs based more on "do your own thing" than on any carefully reasoned argument from French philosophy (page 84.)  Those impulses, taken together, unravel the authority of government (or any other mediating institutions) and the sociopaths (or perhaps the rent-seekers) fill the void.  Or, I should amend, rent-seekers in the service of the proper causes.  Consider pages 191-192.  "Boomer bourgeoisie stasis must give way to forward thinking.  We do not need to go as far as China, which simply bulldozes the straightest path between points A and B.  We simply need to exercise the constitutional means of eminent domain and let a few homeowners stew in favor of the greater good."

Two observations.  First, as a matter of logic, is there such a thing as the greater good?  People interacting for mutual benefit, yes.  All of those interactions harmonizing in the same way, such that they might be perceived as a single greater good, doubtful.  Second, as a matter of history, it was the constitutional means of eminent domain that got us urban renewal and urban expressways, and the Trump casino in Atlantic City.  Maybe those libertarian elements protesting state action, whether in Vietnam or in the cities, were on to something.  Mr Gibney doesn't quite want a "war on sociopathy" (if we can, for once and for all, retire "moral equivalent of war" arguments during my lifetime, I shall be grateful) but he's a technocrat at heart, page 355.  "Science, reason, and the intermediation of competent elites provide ample prophylaxis to the sociopathic cult of feeling."  Sorry, that's the Fatal Conceit, and when it fails, interesting things can happen.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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