Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Bust to the Body Boom

The Boomers are not babies, but they are getting closer to being bodies. The last two decades of American life have been presided over, and dominated by, not mere individuals born during the baby boom, whose boundaries are fiddled with to make various people fit or not based on some thesis or other about them. They are not the only component of a demographic structure which is a failed generation, but they have the most powerful consciousness of themselves as a generation. Thus criticize the present generation, and a boomer will show up, angry that you don't recognize their magnificence.

So, in the end, the problem is the Body Boomers, because they want to be the problem.

Generational consciousness is a recurring, but not constant, feature of history, because synchronizing events that create a wave of people all shaped by the same forces, are a recurring, but not constant, feature. For a time after a synchronizing event, generational consciousness runs on its own, as people marry, raise children, who fall in orderly averages from the previous generation. The consciousness wanes, until some new event resets the clock. The Civil War was such an event in America.

But the period from 1914-1945 was larger and more global than any event before. Only a few events during humanities time on this planet could be compared to it: the end of the Younger Dryas, the Lake Toba super-eruption, the Black Death, the age of discovery's impact was concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, and did not have a generational moment. Or, bluntly, there had never been anything human generated with so much scope, but it was not unprecedented in more localized forms.

The waves that have been thrown off of this event are, however, unique in the combination of circumstances, as all historical events are unique. But since we are living with it, and through it, it's structure is of more than academic interest. We can learn a great deal from the flowering of the Romantic Generation, and from the period after the Black Death. But those are lessons by inference.

The first thing to remember is even highly synchronized generations do not have absolute power. The American GI generation, which held the Presidency from 1961 through 1993, came into its own, and fell, but had other cohorts it had to appease or tried to direct. The present generation in power is a mixture of the Silent Generation, the Body Boom, Generation X, and increasingly Millennials. The reasons for failure cannot be laid at the doorstep of any one group, but thte dysfunctional relationship between the Silent Generation and the Body Boom represents the most immediate political dynamic. They simply cannot easily do business with each other, and their impulses, alternating between confrontation and accommodation on their worst impulse have left the country in a far worse state than before.

The reasons that the Body Boomer, and its ideology. What ideology? David Foster Wallace is well known for his commencement address "This is Water," headlining it with a joke about an old fish asking two young fish "How's the water?" The ideology of an age is not generally made explicit, because much of it consists of the unspoken assumptions and heuristics of a period. Later people, or people coming in from the outside, often must formally phrase the details of the ideology, so they can function in it.

Thus Liberalism, Conservatism, and the rest of the explicit ideologies, are embedded in the zeitgedanken, and change over time, because their tenets are seen through the lens, which is transparent view face on, but changes all that perceived. In the post-modern era, this means the lens, not of production, but of consumption. (For the fundamental analytic terms here see Le Miroir de la production by Balliard) Consumption is the objective reality and necessity with which that era thought, and as one can see, the Body Boomers were conditioned and receive their ideas from post-War syntheticism, more on this another time.

To grapple with real meaning, at some point, requires looking at the underlying assumptions about what proves truth, or epistemology, and what constitutes the boundaries of existence and moral allowance, ontology and deontology. Because every utterance is interpreted in the light of the implicit connection between what can be said, what proves what is said, and what is real, the same words mean different things in different times. Pace Borges, Don Quixote was still written by Cervantes.

The Preconditions of Boomerism

To be quasi marxian for a moment, the easiest way to explain boomerism, is to look at the objective physical facts of the boom, and what that meant for their social interaction. It is not that marxian thought, vulgar or refined, is the best way to interpret events, but it allows people to connect observations with personal experiences more easily, and gives cognitive narrative shape to what can be overwhelming abstract notions, which must be made abstract not because they are, but because they are not. We can only see ourselves in a mirror, and abstraction of common notions is a kind of intellectual mirror.

The realities of the boom were two fold: they were many, and their parents fewer, older, and busy; they were born into either a wilderness of austerity, in the case of Europe and Asia, or a Garden of mass produced plenty. You could have as much of anything, so long as it was like what everyone else wanted. Ken's New Industrial System: corporations do not generate supply to fill demand, but generate demand for what they can supply. This is important, the boom does not fill demand, but creates, or mandates, demand. Before the boomers were even conscious of themselves, the fragmentation of extended families and the building of the "nuclear" family was begun by the Second Word War: war industry meant that people had to be moved to where there was demand for labor, and during the war, remember, the war effort virtually was the American economy. This sheared the coming boom from the communal labor of raising children, and from the extended family labor. Instead, it placed people in a labor-age cohort based on where their parents were in the productive system, not stratified by class, but grouped by demo-economic function.

From this first flows important implicit assumptions: rather than growing up amidst adults, from whom they learned adult games, like many generations that grew up with lowered supervision, they reified children's games. They did not have older adults from clan, family, or geography to learn from, but learned from each other.

Carlin quipped on this, so it is not new.

Thus the first precondition of the boom is demographic isolationism, and consumer productionism as the "realities" that people grew up among. What your cohort liked, and what could be consumed, were the proofs of everything.

This is the first tennet of Boomerism: an acceptance of the post-modern assertion of the game itself being the only important standard: or in short social consumption epistemology. This is codified and re-enforced, and enforced, by its own social proof, Or: once something becomes popular, it pushed out all other alternatives, because the production system of the time was a short tailed one: the few most popular alternatives with the most profitable production were everywhere, a few other items that were distant from them were "alternative" and available and more expense from specialist outlets. And for everything else, you were on your own. Social epistemology is a constant feature of human life, it is the relationship between social proof, as embodied by consumption as a tangible thing, that is central to the boom.

Thus social epistemology has the social proof of personal approval first, but being part of a larger wave of success is proven by success in the popular market place: the band you liked was suddenly on the radio, the food in the supermarkets, the clothes in Sears, the cars on the streets, the images in shows. The proof of social success, would be staring everyone in the face. It is a side discussion how taste makers will then move on to the next area of pre-demand, but it fits in with this structure as can be trivially shown.

Another implicit assumption flowed from the disparity of available adult labor: that of generational exceptionalism. The Body Boomers did not come up  with the idea of their exceptionalism, their parents planned for it. This means that for much of their early existence, the boomers grew up in a world where whatever they needed, seemed already provided. The boom was a demographic escalator, and also a target for demand shaping.

This fit hand in hand with the growth of mass media: in 1945 mass media was films, radio, magazines, and news papers, by 1970 it was color television above all. Mass media lead to media theory, that is a shift in how people mediated their image of the world from what they saw, to what they saw in the media. This was explained, most famously, and framously, by MacLuhan. One can say directly that the hallmark of the age is media theory as a component of all social discourse.  Mass media is "instant karma," it is social epistemology lagging by the minimum distance from the event.

This means that many of the attributes of boomerism were present before the boom was even morally, let alone intellectually, aware: the synchronizing events of the first half of the century. the development of the mechanized industrial economy, the disparity in adults to children, the fragmentation based on the needs of production, the new industrial system, mass media as a form of demand shaping and reality mediation: all of these are pre-conditions to boomerism. Thus two of the important pillars of boomerism are completely beyond the reach of logic, they are matters set in the moral formation of the boom as a generation, and are pathos conditions: the boomers are good people, and what they think and want is what appears on screens and shelves, is also good. It's a good life, or they will wish you to the bottom of the cornfield.

One can see then that the core pathos of the Boom is not their creation, nor then, is their ethos, or really, their logos.

Yes, I know I start much and wander on, but then just as the core society is about holding on for a few more years – the old boomerites love of Hillary gives away that they have no next generation, but only want 8 more years to get to slip to retirement  – means that on the frontier of knowledge it is a time of beginnings, not endings, a time to begin threads that others will spin, and then weave, and then cut, and then sow.


  1. I thought the ex post facto error contained within the "law of effect" was recondite, but I am simply not up to understanding much of anything in this post.

    On the other hand, my inner layperson remains interested in your "thermidor" thesis, especially wrt the domino effect of deficits; my outer layperson wonders what you think of Stoneleigh's (Nicole Foss) and Ilargi's view of deflation. It would surprise me if you didn't know of them (theautomaticearth.org/com), but their primers are fairly representative of their take of the supercycle credit bust.

    I tried to get Ian Welsh to comment, even to host a discussion between you and Nicole, but he demurred. What I know about econ you could write on the back of an envelope, and still have room for a dissertation on the feedforward effects of stress.

    Ian kicks ass talking to the layperson ( he has few peers in that respect), and while I realize it may not be in your interests, I'd really like to know what you think of Nicole's views.

  2. I've stopped by TAE a few times, I think they are right in talking about the impossibility of a supply based solution to energy problems. The better measure is LCA, rather than EROI because LCA takes into account the disposal cost, and therefore adjusts current energy sources down to where they should be - in many cases negative total return.

    What I would like to seem more from more of the people involved in talking about energy is to focus on demand. As long as the demand is for things that a petroleum energy curve supplies, there is no hope, because only petroleum really looks like petroleum. People have to want a different world, rather than this world.

    Right now, the crock in the figures is forgetting the reality that the creation of a bubble economy for the super rich is no longer a negligible percentage of resources. The hole in the bottom of a transition to an electrical economy, is that the demand by elites is for goods that the electrical economy cannot supply. As long as the public is unwilling to disturb this equilibrium, where all gains in productivity are sucked upwards, the numbers will never work.

    It is my own position that the passing of the current generation in power (the Silent-Boom-X complex) is a prerequisite for change, because the social consumer epistemology which is dominant will never do enough, but will instead pick the second worst alternative. TAE, and others, are right to point out that the return on the second worst alternative (essentially a 2% shift of investment half the time) is not even close to enough, and that the energy water trade off makes many simple renewable sources non-viable in the present hydo-cycle.

    Hope that is clear.

  3. A point that TAE have made often is that energy is not our first (imminent) problem, but rather that economic collapse is: The resulting lack of investment potential in alternatives following that collapse will be the nail in the industrial coffin; the current situation doesn't even approach "Life-cycle assessment" thinking within a thousand miles; short-term thinking and eroei are perfectly sufficient to do us in, because there will be no investment in energy as demand (ability to pay for energy) collapses.

    Your time-horizon for snafu seems longer than theirs, yours based on demography, theirs on current, ongoing insolvency, e.g., when was the last time anything was "marked to market?" 2009 was a while ago. I believe they were also correct in saying that the collapse goes from periphery to center(europe (greece --> germany) + flight to american safety), which is a pretty good track record.

    Like I said, "what i know about econ..."

    and you'd still have room for a thesis on n-cuppable sets.

    1. apart from the intellectual mechanics, this part shined:

      People have to want a different world, rather than this world.

      That's both stiff and beautiful medicine. You're asking a lot of the first world.

  4. Oh, since we're on the subject of "LCA," which I had never heard of before you said it, because I'm really just another ignorant fuck in the crowd (not being facetious), I'm sure you're aware that Steve Keen has now explicitly gone into ecological/thermodynamic mode; he's turning into a regular herman daly/frederick soddy type of econ genius, of whom we have so few. I favor the mood. I believe in carrying capacity more than I believe in waking up in the morning.

  5. Back in the mid- part of last decade at Bopnews I went on a great deal about lack of investment supply and the housing bubble a great deal, because then there was still time with relatively doable changes to fix it (e.g. end the wars, universal equal health care, point of presence energy generation and rapid shift in transportation) that would have yielded sufficient changes in sufficient time. LCA was important because it would have allowed us to avoid traps (such as going down various short term fixes). However, the election of 2008 ended all those line, because it was clear that Obama did not want to do them. Once there was no future in the present, or long term in the short term, it was clear the only topic was in the long term.

    And that means accepting that only a crisis more damaging than 2007-09 would be sufficient to change the direction of the developed world, and only a change in the generation in power would produce an electorate capable of acting. We had the ability to make a radical shift in 2008, because the developed world governments could have bought everything for pennies on the dollar, and then forced changes, now it is not possible.

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