The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Boomers, Millennials and Stereotypes

Posted on | May 18, 2024 | 1 Comment

Mr. & Mrs. Matthew Schmitz

One of the unfortunate habits of journalists, academics and other members of the intelligentsia is to generalize about generations to the point of promoting stereotypes. It is somehow acceptable to make categorical characterizations of Baby Boomers in a way that would be considered racist — RAAAAACIST! — were one to make such broad generalizations about ethnic groups. Vox Day (b. 1968, and therefore a member of Generation X) often sneers at Boomers in this manner, which annoys me. Being a “Boomer tradcon” in Vox’s telling, makes me complicit in every failure of the Republican Party for the past 30 years, despite my avowed opposition to all of the most obvious errors of the GOP during that period. For example, it was not me who thought that nominating John McCain in 2008 was a good idea; in fact, I voted for Bob Barr on the Libertarian ticket that year, as there was obviously no point in voting for the doomed “Maverick,” who was wrong on every issue that mattered, especially immigration. I am generally paleoconservative, and agree with much of Vox’s indictment of “tradcon” errors, yet there I am, categorically denounced merely by virtue of being born in 1959.

All of that is preamble to introducing Matthew Schmitz, an earnest young native of Nebraska who graduated from Princeton and became a senior editor at First Things, a conservative publication founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus. A Millennial (born circa 1986), Schmitz has published an article entitled “The New Midlife Crisis”:

Check all the boxes, then chuck it all aside at forty to follow your muse. Play by the rules and win, only to decide that you don’t want the prize. Most of the rebellions were minor. The devoted housewife informed her husband that she would not be cooking dinner for the family on Tuesday and Thursday nights, as she was finally taking the art class she had always dreamed of. The cliché for men was the red convertible. But some people set off explosions: quitting jobs, filing for divorce, engaging in affairs.
For Baby Boomers, the midlife crisis was very nearly a rite of passage. John Updike made a career of chronicling the earthquakes that rattled the mannered world of upper-middle-class suburbanites. But that world of well-scrubbed children, stay-at-home wives, and afternoon cocktails seems as remote today as King Arthur’s court. For most millennials, the idea of being a forty-year-old ad executive on a commuter train, oppressed by routine and convention as he returns to his spacious suburban home, wife of eighteen years, and two teenage children, is just a fantasy. For those who haven’t yet found a spouse or bought a house, it might seem not a nightmare but a dream. . . .
Baby Boomers got married, owned homes, and had kids. The price was conformity. No doubt it could be stultifying. But for most people, the crisis was mild. You could waste money on a sports car and still have grandchildren someday. That was true even if your affairs led to a messy divorce. What of my generation? Our plan of life has been to put off the old patterns of adulthood.

(Hat-tip: Stephen Green at Instapundit.) Let us stipulate, at the outset, that comparing the life experiences of two age cohorts in a general way, to examine the way how social change has affected those experiences, is a worthwhile endeavor. For example, I might compare my own experience to that of my parents, who were born in rural Alabama and made their way to Atlanta (and eventually its suburbs) in the 1950s. They were born in the era of the Model T Ford, and by the time I was born, were living in the era of interstate highways, jet aircraft and nuclear weapons.

In general, then, it is worthwhile for Schmitz to compare what a typical “midlife crisis” meant for Baby Boomers, as compared to what it means for younger Americans. As he points out, before you get divorced, you first have to get married, and the under-40 cohort has historically low marriage rates. In particular, Millennials have tended to delay marriage and, especially among college-educated women, to delay childbearing to such an age that becoming a mother may require medical intervention, if it is even still biologically possible. Whereas, by comparison, when I was living the bachelor life back in the 1980s, I was being countercultural — because in the Bible Belt, most folks still got married in their late teens or early 20s — nowadays, it would be countercultural to marry young.

Interestingly enough, my kids are countercultural in this way. Our eldest daughter married at 21 and, of our six children, the only two who haven’t married yet are Jefferson (a 25-year-old law school student) and our youngest daughter, Reagan, now a 21-year-old college junior.

You do not have to follow social trends; you do not have to be a slave to peer pressure. Intelligent people can evaluate choices rationally, and make choices based on their own judgment, rather than being another sheep in the conformist herd. Of course, larger social factors may limit one’s choices. Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s presidency, there was a general economic expansion, a boom that lasted until the 2008 collapse caused by the mortgage crisis. For those who have come of age in the past 15 years — a cohort that includes Matthew Schmitz — economic realities have generally been less encouraging, and the housing market in particular has been made difficult by “Bidenflation.” Furthermore, employment opportunities have been diminished by various regulatory impositions of government (a fact of which Democrats seem oblivious), and many young people have no choice but to become freelance hustlers in the “gig economy,” because there are fewer full-time jobs available.

General economic conditions, however, cannot explain everything wrong with the lives of Millennials (or Gen Z). The lazy bum sitting on the sofa in his mom’s basement, playing videogames all day, is not a victim of anything except his own sloth. For every miserable young slacker like that, you can point out many others who are energetic and industrious and who, as a consequence of their good traits and good attitudes, have a clear path ahead to success and happiness in life.

Certainly, I suppose Matthew Schmitz points out the unfortunate trends among young Americans in order to encourage them to stop following these trends: “Be not conformed to this world,” etc. What was good advice to the early Christian church in pagan Rome is also good advice to anyone living amid the neopagan decadence of 21st-century America.

Because I was never a character in a John Updike novel, I resent having my life experience depicted as some kind of generational stereotype, and I’m sure that Matthew Schmitz would not enjoy being lumped in with the stereotypes of his own generation. He’s not a lazy slob or an anarchist spray-painting pro-Hamas graffiti on synagogues (to name just two of the many varieties of antisocial behavior popular among today’s youth), and unless he’s recently dyed his hair purple and gotten his earlobes gauged, seems to have avoided the worst trends of the era.

About 1,200 words ago, I began this post by comparing the stereotyping of generations to racism. Think about the phrase “the black community,” which is used to imply a monolithic commonality of interest among the 46 million black people in America. “The black community” is viewed as generally poor and oppressed, simply because of statistics, i.e., comparing group averages. Certainly it is true that, on average, black people have lower incomes than white people, but to turn this statistical comparison into a definitive description of “the black community” is unfair to those black individuals who strive to be more than average.

In fact — perhaps a white guy isn’t supposed to say this — many ambitious black people try to get as far away from “the black community” as possible. They want to make it into those John Updike suburbs, with spacious homes on tree-lined streets, and become part of the respectable bourgeoisie, living the American Dream. To achieve this goal, they must swim against the cultural tide of stereotypes which presents “the black community” as defined by ghetto behavior. Your chances of making it to bourgeois respectability are near zero if you don’t reject that ghetto mentality, and yet some pundits profess to be shocked by the emerging trend of black Trump voters. The idea of “the black community” as a political monolith, like the idea of Baby Boomers as a monolith, is a mistake, a mental trap of categorization that can blind us to individual differences. Because I’ve spent my entire life fighting against certain negative stereotypes of my own ethnic group (never tasted moonshine and I don’t play the banjo), I can relate to the dilemma of the black man who is accused of betraying his “community” if he doesn’t want to live the ghetto life (including the ghetto politics of the Democratic Party).

Rebellion, you say? Yes, there’s quite a tradition of that in my family, but “very fine people on both sides,” as someone once said.

If following the current trend means going straight to Hell — which is where it’s heading now — then it’s good to be a rebel. Deo vindice.


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One Response to “Boomers, Millennials and Stereotypes”

  1. Saturday Stuff | If You are Left you ain't Right
    May 18th, 2024 @ 12:43 pm

    […] The Other McCain has interesting thoughts […]