I just read about the new Netflix series, Friends from College. From what I’ve read, it’s about Gen Xers who hit middle age and must deal with their own slackerist lives. I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh at it. It’s usually pretty easy to make me laugh and after all, it’s my kind of people. I’m rapidly approaching forty, myself, in little over a year, and I’m also a bonafide (though not distinguished) member of the Gen X demographic, a late-born Gen Xer, to be be precise, just on the cusps of what the experts refer to as the Millennial generation — but I’m a card carrying Gen Xer all the same.
So, I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh, but there’s something more going on here, more than just a generation that can’t grow up or get serious about their lives. There is, in truth, a certain cultural decay that seems to be more and more obvious every day.
Jimmy Carter talked about a “crisis of confidence,” but there’s another crisis, there’s been this really long unwinding, this decades-long crisis of meaning, a lack of purpose that continues to deepen. The Baby Boomer generation was stuffed full with a sense of destiny and of their own role as world changers, or at least as keepers of the truth, as individuals who really got it. In a general sense, this was/is true across the board — regardless of whether a Baby Boomer was/is a dope-smoking hippie or a suit-and-tie-wearing corporate types. It was as true for the religious as for the irreligious.
My father, for example, was/is an evangelical/fundamentalist minister, as far removed from any Sixties counter-cultural movement as he could be. Still, he dreamed about and contemplated the idea of revival, of God doing a great work, maybe something like the Great Awakening, but even in my most enthusiastic days as a conservative Christian I don’t remember giving that any thought or of ever being caught up with such lofty aspirations.
We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. (Fight Club)
All of us post-Baby Boomers seem to share a common crisis of purpose, a loss of hope in the idea of greatness or of meaning. Or maybe I’m projecting my own Gen X perspective on younger folks, that’s possible, or maybe it’s just feeling most especially that way with Trump and his cronies in control, but my sense is that we have been rather roundly disenchanted with our own greatness, stripped bare of purpose or meaning. And I don’t know that this is such a bad thing.
When you feel destined for greatness, when you are armed with a sense of purpose and destiny, anything you do to reach that goal is okay. The ends justify the means. You can support a corrupt politician and a corrupt political party, so long as they are fighting the bad guys.
If you believe in yourself with a certain faith, with religious zeal, you can justify any wreckage you leave in your wake, because you are one of the elect, or you’re an intellectual, or a mover and a shaker, an inventor, a deal maker, someone special, someone that the world really needs. But now we have to live in the wreckage, and there’s something about this that changes your perspective.
Even so, although we post-Baby Boomers may be inhabiting a time where there is a crisis of purpose, we may have unintentionally stumbled upon a crisis, and hence may have a chance to uncover the purpose of crisis, which is basically that a crisis tests your mettle, it makes you or it breaks you. To live in the wreckage and inhabit a crisis is, itself, a form of meaning and purpose, albeit something that’s thrust upon you. Whether or not the slackers can unite and overcome it, though, well, that’s another question for another day or another blog post.