Hillsdale, MI. There are Baby Boomers, and almost everybody has been talking about them for what seems like way too long now; there are also Generations X, Y, Z, and Jones. Everybody gets named, it seems, except the generation that maybe started in 1933, when my friend Arlan Gilbert was born in the lowest month of USA babies in our history, and ended when my next youngest brother Tom Willson was born on March 19, 1944, just before the celebrated Boomers started socializing the earth.
We’re the NoName Generation.
We didn’t have our war: too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam. We might have had part of a depression, and certainly the absence of fathers during the Great War. We had the Great Prosperity, or so the 1950s seem now that our jobs have been exported to places all over the world and our workers have lost ground ever since the terrible summer of 1973, when our “allies” in the Middle East decided to keep their oil and our money under control.
The irony of us NoNamers is that although we got to enjoy The King and that girl who sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” the rest of what we got was to take responsibility for running what was left of Place. Limits. Liberty. while the Boomers and all the named generations enjoyed the fruits of the declining things that the “earlier generations” had built.
This might sound a little bitchy, and I guess it is. Lately I have been talking with men and women on this site and in colleges and around the midwest who seem to have no connection to what Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, Tocqueville and Burke called the “little platoons.” The NoNamers have tried to hang on, but it was probably people of our own NoName generation who started the slide down the slippery slope: Bob Dylan, for example, and The King himself.
The disconnect is from place more than anything else, because place anchors limits and liberty, and in turn gives meaning to what Robert Frost said about family, the “place, where if you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
I sense a gap on FPR between NoNamers and most of the rest.
The gap you notice is, I think, increasingly present even within the younger generations. The boomers practiced the worst rejection of place possible, due partly, I think, to their fetishization of nature either as god or as canvas. There’s little room to care for a damaged place, an overfarmed village, an ugly mid-century suburb, when nature exists either to be worshiped or to be exploited.
The boomers, as well, have had the luxury of nostalgia for Place. Because they could remember having lived in a place, they could persist in the destruction of these places, content to dwell within their memories of what Christopher Lasch referred to as “delights no longer obtainable.” The younger generations, for the most part, have no such memories, and are so, I think, less blameworthy for their failure to preserve any sense of Place. (But then, as a member of those younger generations, I’m biased).
There’s a growing longing for place among the younger generations (who often feel more comfortable with their “no-name” grandparents than with their boomer and buster parents), but it often takes forms unexpected forms: young evangelicals becoming Orthodox or Catholic; intentional, self-destructive downward mobility, what I might call a placedness of the gutter; even the popular college game Zombies vs. Humans is, I think, an attempt to do that one thing which is needful for a sense of place, which is to stop geographically sequestering public and private, work and play, family and friends. Similarly, what many of the older generations see as laziness is, I think, in part a rejection of the compartmentalized day, the selling of oneself to a master with whom one does not also play and worship. Perhaps not all of these phenomena are good, but they are all, I think, part of an attempt to recapture a sense of place.
You don’t “bitch” Willson, you lament in a key of curmudgeon…an entirely more professional pursuit.
Late last night , I was trying to explain to my oldest how different the country is now than it was in the 50’s and 60’s…let alone the 40’s. She’d just returned from a film festival in Norway and was struck by their socialism and its differences from our system, such as it is. We discussed how much easier it is for a small homogeneous country to run a socialist game than it is for our own polyglot mob. But when it got to describing the differences between then and now, it was hard to put a finger on it beyond specifically the “place” you speak of. Up until the 80’s, we were a people of distinct places. Local businesses and local vibrancy varied from place to place but the places across the country were still strong. Downtowns had not yet been stomped by the Strip “Business Bypass”. We did not spend most of our time driving to and from work to support a life of consumer urges whose chief aim was as a distraction from the perceived drudgery of labor.
Seems to me that the great Globalist Consumer Project has done a fine job of homogenizing what didn’t used to be homogenized and so it would be likely prudent to go long on socialism and short liberty. But then, whoever gambles with liberty deserves what they get.
As the son of a couple of No Namers, I have always felt that their generation toiled in anonymity their entire lives. They were born in the depression, grew up in the shadow of “the Greatest Generation”, watched the insufferable baby boomers wallow in the fruits of mid century prosperity they would never appreciate, and ultimately suffered the ignominy of having to answer to the little brats late in their careers.
So for whatever it’s worth, not all of us all take you for granted. Some of us recognize that you have carried the cross of knowing what we have lost. As an X-er, community to me is like a Chestnut tree; something beautiful I have only experienced through the stories of others, and hope that someday my kids will experience again.
At one point I think demographers were calling this group “the silent generation.” I might also add that the 1930s were the first decade since the 1810s not to produce a president.
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