I just read your essay “In Defense of Millennials,” and, as a “Boomer” myself, I felt I should explain to you what really happened before you were born.
The world evolves according to some universal laws. Greed and aggression play a role in that evolution. As the Great Depression became World War II, the United States was forced to turn away from the peaceful pursuit of happiness and become a state devoted to the military. However– and this is the real genius behind our current system of government– nobody openly admitted that we were doing this at the time. Only in recent years have a few bright people begun to suspect that something is “rotten,” but they do not (yet) have the power to make their doubts heard. For the time being, we are stuck within the military establishment that surrounds the underlying healthy body of America like a thick layer of fat.
Nationally, we need to lose this weight, but the benefits of being militarily strong are just too good to surrender. We’re addicted to our own military power–and we can’t even admit that we’re addicted.
All of this began late in the nineteenth century, but it really, really accelerated when World War II began. After the war, American culture changed. What looks, to a “Millennial,” like some kind of moral decline was really the indirect result of the rise and ultimate triumph of what Eisenhower famously called “The Military Industrial Complex.” The key thing that Eisenhower failed to mention was the role of the education establishment in this new system–it should rightfully be called “The Military Educational Industrial Complex,” because the myth of “education” plays a critical role in the process of creating a bloodthirsty population that is ready for war and doesn’t even realize that it has been hyped up because it happens in the schools, at an early age.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. began to build an education system based on the Prussian model that was fully developed in Great Britain. It incorporated a rigid, inflexible system of regimentation of children as well as training in ruthless competition (sports) and willingness to obey orders (discipline). Actually teaching the children the basics of reading and writing and calculation went out the window. Text books from earlier in the nineteenth century, such as Ray’s Arithmetic, now appear to have come from a different culture (or maybe a different planet). They are far too practical for the new educational system that was being built.
When I entered that system, it promised me nothing in regard to education (those promises were reserved for the tax-paying parents, i.e. “suckers”). But it promised me regimentation, discipline, devotion to “sports” as a religion and the idea of “belonging” to an arbitrary “clan” that was hostile to other clans and was, primarily, devoted to “school spirit” and “teamwork.” It was all about a collective experience, not an individual one, and anyone who stepped outside the rigidly defined boundaries was a “weirdo” who would be punished (officially, maybe, unofficially, certainly). The school I attended rewarded conformity and dependency. For me, it was a disaster.
I despised the compulsory “physical education” that was really an exercise in shaming and in the building of a “pecking order.” Again, the system promoted two military values–hierarchy and physical strength. Not intelligence or inventiveness. Not initiative or self-directed study. Always, always, always the system taught conformity, physical culture, obedience and a system of “rank” based on strength and power displayed on the “playing field” where “play” meant violent “contact” sports where young boys were taught to deal out and absorb punishment, where the “toughest” were glorified and the “weaklings” were shamed– and where, contrary to any true American ideal, might made right.
There was a group of us Boomers who objected to this, but we had no voice and no one to listen to us if we did. We were the “Poindexters.” The “nerds.” The geeks, the dorks, the losers and the outcasts. We were the lowest of the low, and yet somehow, in a bizarre inversion of “conventional” society, we felt, deep down, that we were, in fact, the “good guys” and not the “creeps” we were constantly told that we were. But that didn’t change anything.
You see, one of the grim realities of a really large national army that is dependent upon conscripts (like the U.S. military in 1968) is that it must contain a certain number of genuine sadistic psychopaths. These people are far more numerous than you might imagine, and, they come in handy in certain wartime situations. After World War II, educational policy, in the name of “opportunity for all” and social justice stopped expelling these future convicts and encouraged them to remain in school, poisoning the experience for everyone, but poisoning it in particular for–you guessed it, the nerds again. For my generation of brainy kids, we had to endure the posturing of “gung ho” would-be generals telling us to “get tough” and “be men” and then we had to endure the agony of being the targets for people (other kiddies) who would, eventually, grow up and end up out of society in prison–but not until after they had traumatized us.
Then, to top it off in the most grotesque way possible, we were given a choice at the end of our twelve year captivity in “school” to continue to go to school (you can imagine how we really felt about that) or be drafted into the military–the one place were sadistic psychopaths might actually be put in charge of us, to endure who-knows-what…but “where” was probably in Vietnam, where a lunatic war was being waged for no reason other than to reassure “the powers that be” that “our” military was tough and capable.
This is the reality of the life of a future computer billionaire in 1968 (or 1958). It was a nightmare from the depths of Hell painted up to look like happy fun times with my little pony. It was this, and only this, that created the monsters who would, holding their copy of “Atlas Shrugged” in one sweaty hand, go on to rule, and some say destroy, the imaginary happy and lovely America of the past.
These people, having been pulled through the ringer, as we used to say, were no longer the passive, harmless nerds they once appeared to be. They were the outraged, murderous nerds who created Silicon Valley and everything that goes with it. They’re not “unhappy”–they’ve become the very worst examples of sociopathic monsters because that’s what the system wanted to produce–for war-fighting purposes. Need a weapon so terrible, a torture so devious, a device so demonic that no civilized person would design it or make it? Call an angry nerd. Not only are they willing to make an H-bomb, they are actually willing to use it. The unthinkable, somehow, made real.
The military/educational/industrial complex had done its work so well it could hardly be blamed for glowing with pride in its accomplishment. Plenty of willing cannon fodder to use up. Plenty of killers to kill. And, above all, plenty of mad-scientists (how mad they are!) to do the real dirty work.
My friend, you aren’t looking at the awful result of an accident that somehow turned a generation of spoiled brats into tech-tycoons. You’re looking at the beauty of a plan that came together–and they don’t even have to draft the army now. The cannon fodder just show up and join. Don’t blame us Boomers. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We ended up being the couriers who had militarism slipped into our luggage and unknowingly smuggled it into America’s future, without even knowing it, and all the while imagining that we were “just this close” to founding Ayn Rand’s paradise on Earth where unhappy nerds could go to a far-off valley in Peru or Tibet or something and live free of the interference of officials and other bad people who SEND YOU TO SCHOOL. Or to war. Or anywhere else.
Convince an angry, nerdy Boomer that his new invention will make each and every person more “free” (because he knows what hurt him) and watch a great big beautiful tomorrow blossom at the end of the the day. Then grab that invention and a make a weapon out of it, or make a swindle out of it, or make a monster out of it.
He won’t care.
Do other people “get hurt” when the Boomer nerds refuse to play nicely? Frankly, my dear, we just don’t, on average, give a damn. Too much water has flowed under that bridge. Too many tears were shed. Too much internalized rage. Too many scenes that play out in the minds of the tech tycoons at 3 a.m. as they wake up in their hi-tech mansions. Just too much training of their minds has been done to undo it all and appeal to reason. There’s no appealing to reason, when reason is lost. No sensible, calm and quiet voice can undo the harm of being mentally tortured through more than a decade of “education” that turns a bright and capable child into a bitter and angry adult with an advanced degree–or maybe a few billion dollars to spend. This country manufactures sociopathic billionaires (a.k.a. “mad scientists”) just as it manufactures hydrogen bombs–and for the same reason, for the most part–to make certain that this nation is “invincible.” When you need a weapon so horrible no human being can imagine it–you first need to create a human being who can imagine it. And in order to keep your creation of these monsters secret you need to make a LOT of them–and turn them loose in the thousands–so that a few (the needed number) will show up at the weapons labs on time. The rest? They’ll end up in Silicon Valley acting like beasts or they’ll end up on SSRI’s and a few of those unfortunates will, later on, pick up guns…
Asimov’s Laws of Robotics ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. Now go on and enjoy your breakfast.