Generation X feared becoming infected by this world and turned into zombies like the people around us who kept repeating that we never had it better, as if to assuage their own fears.
Generation X came of age after civilization took a wrong turn but had gone far enough along the road that the point of turning back became invisible. Big ideas – like those responsible for historical shifts – hide under multitudinous layers of interpretation. If accepted at face value, these layers lead the individual into a labyrinth of logical contradictions. For our generation, politics was divided into “issues” – human rights, the environment, social welfare – and no one was talking about fixing civilization as a whole. To a teenager in the 1980s, society seemed caught between ruthless commerce on one hand and happy kumbaya insanity on the other. There was no option which read, “Do the whole thing over.”
Our parents, the ever-smugly sagacious Baby Boomers, gave us voluminous advice about how to plan our futures which distilled to “keep your head down, work hard, and get ahead.” The individual has an obligation only to himself which he purchases by relegating all political activity to the symbolic and seemingly inconsequential activity of conformity, which in our time means being publicly Leftist. In this role, Leftism serves as apologism for bourgeois apathy: vote for egalitarian policies to be implemented by other people with other people’s money and do nothing yourself. This was the final masterstroke of the “Me Generation” of Baby Boomers: each person needed to be somebody, or demonstrate importance beyond a paycheck by having a cause, but never accept responsibility for anything affecting society as a whole. This gave new meaning to the 1990s slogan “the personal is the political” by reducing political viewpoints almost entirely to personality accessories as might be found in a professional biography alongside enjoying hiking and having three cats.
Generation X saw no future. We had the best of everything, in our ensconced first-world lives, and yet we saw the slow, inexorable progress of downfall. The sleepy, functional America of the years before 1968 was eroding away like a chalk mural in the rain. The twin pincers of social liberalism and consumerism/careerism had us pinned because both consisted of the oldest of shopkeeper values: make pleasant fictions for the customer and induce them to buy. Public opinion always supported one or the other, but never rejected both, bouncing us between a civil rights-crazed Left wing and a sycophantic, business-centric Right wing. We endured the hidden disorder of our parents: scars from alcohol-fueled beatings, self-esteem gouged by hateful words said for purposes of control, and the knowledge that we were to our parents – like a new car or expensive vacation – something to make them look good to their peers and nothing more. What may have been more damaging was the knowledge that our parents saw the coming apocalypse and looked upon us with the kind of disinterested pity a driver on an overpass has for a bum down below: too bad for him, so glad it’s not me.
Most of all, we feared becoming infected by this world and turned into zombies like the people around us who kept repeating that we never had it better, as if to assuage their own fears. Our society demanded we ignore so many lies and failures each day that we became alien to our own knowing, and even ideas like “truth” and “moral good” became vapid concepts blown in the wind like so many election flyers. Why was no one doing anything? The abyss yawned wide when we saw how mass public opinion made any effective action impossible, and how most people were like sleepwalkers drugged on the lies. They kept repeating them, marching forward to work ten hour days and then catalog shop all weekend, afraid to stop because then we all might drown with no one to wake us. My generation saw entire legions of men reduced to living for their hobbies while their wives became increasingly neurotic, flailing through life as if hoping that a white knight would catch them, and one never did.
If humanity survives into the future, it will describe this era as like being in a Norwegian jail. The clever Scandinavians reformed their prison system to the point where jails resemble country clubs and prisoners are treated better than ordinary citizens. Many convicts fear this condition more than the violent, AIDS-riddled battlegrounds of American prisons because there, at least, a struggle for survival exists, and in that, meaning and purpose. In Norwegian jails, there is nothing to do but choke down some vegan curry and watch more “positive” television, fully aware of how your life is passing by, wasted, with your impotence to do anything about it as clear as the smiling clinical faces who are “rehabilitating” you. The post-1980s world is a Norwegian jail, but until Generation X could dig deep enough to scoop under all the lies and find their root, we had no chance of ever even naming the source of our doom so as to put warnings on our tombstones.
The downfall of the illusion started with two important thinkers and a musical movement. Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, wrote a treatise called “Industrial Society and Its Future” in which he identified technology as the primary enemy of humanity, but also illustrated in clear Nietzschean terms the pernicious influence of Leftism and liberalism through their common origin in egalitarianism. He analyzed them through psychology, not ideology, which helped dig deeper toward the source of our decline. Michel Houellebecq wrote a book in 1997 called Whatever that simultaneously revealed the insanity of liberalism, the inanity of today’s style of work, and the empty misery of modern sex lives, also digging into the psychology of modern life rather than taking Leftist ideas at face value. The musical movement of “black metal,” a type of violent, alienated heavy metal, reversed the psychology of rock music which described itself as “good” in order to defend the callow pursuit of individual desires and karmic drama. The rock approach was both hedonistic and based in “protest songs” or declarations of the victimhood of the individual, cruelly forced to submit to social order, standards, values, and anything else which stood in the way of self-gratification, echoing the egalitarian ideal of liberalism.
Black metal turned its back on “good”; it aspired to “evil” and rejected all that was popular, human, and based in the individual in favor of a naturalistic wildness and feral self-interest like one might find in a Jack London novel. Where rock music assuaged the fears of teenagers that they would be inadequate in some Darwinian contest, black metal affirmed the need for war, death, and competition to restore the strength, honesty, and appreciation for natural beauty in humanity. In doing so, it transcended the individual, and while much has been written about its tendencies toward Satanism, the real drive behind the occult leanings of black metal seems to have been a rejection of the moral binary that made people believe that “good” came from flattering individuals with equal validity granted to all their desires. In rock, the individual and the social group become one; in black metal, the social impulse and the individualistic are together rejected. The morally obedient shopkeeper is replaced by the feral and lawless warrior, artist, and adventurer.
These rising ideas came only a few years after Francis Fukuyama penned his famous (and now partially retracted) The End of History and the Last Man, which posited a final evolution of humanity into liberal democracy, state-subsidized consumerism, and multiculturalism. Some conservative writers explicitly rejected this notion, most notably Samuel Huntington with his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, in which he argued that history was very much alive and continuing through conflict between civilizations, which were formed of ethnic, cultural, and moral commonality more than by political and economic ties. This not only threw out the thesis that human history possessed a linear scale of progress, but also added the idea that similarity of ability and values unites societies more than ideology. This in turn ratified older notions of nationalism, the importance of religion, and the idea that, contrary to the egalitarian concept, society could not function without individuals participating in some form of group identity and values system. Within the same time frame, Robert Putnam published his Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, 2000, which he expanded over the next seven years into more finite conclusions. His research showed that greater diversity created lower trust in communities, causing people to become withdrawn and less invested in social order. As an arc of a developing idea, these writers and musicians showed a resistance to egalitarianism beginning just as the post-war liberal democratic order reached its peak in the late 1980s as Communism faded.
Taken together, these developments showed Generation X where to strike at the root: egalitarianism, or the psychology of Leftism and liberalism. Leftism has defined the post-war West and is responsible for all of its errors, including those we ascribe to capitalism but are actually the result of Leftist-instigated public opinion shifts from the useful to the trivial; only a trivial society produces junk food, Coca-Cola, cable with 500 channels, and Facebook. Capitalism in its raw form rewards productivity; state-subsidized Keynesian welfare societies produce consumers who, like citizens under Communism, have no obligation to be effective. The resulting havoc creates the horrors of cubicle jobs designed for mental midgets, grotesque cities, and mass culture. Public opinion is at the root of both Leftism and consumerism, and like all human mob activities, consists of individuals using the power of the group to force society to grant what the individuals desire, which is a lack of accountability to seemingly Darwinian real-world results. In addition, democracy – a necessary byproduct of egalitarianism – leads to “committee-style” thinking which inevitably ends in compromise and a desire for “safety,” which means shying away from any opinions which contradict the crowd or take a risk by doing something other than what the rest of the sheep are doing. The modern hell had its origins in the best intentions of The Enlightenment.™
Once on the road to Leftism, there are no other forks in the path. Leftism is a spectrum from liberalism through Communism that inevitably drifts toward the further extreme as individual Leftists try to one-up each another by being more egalitarian than everyone else. Demonstrating possession of a cause (or by a cause) is easily achieved by finding some group which is not equal enough, or “marginalized” in the squeaky-clean political language of the ’90s, and raising it up with the help of your White, middle-class, presumably non-neurotic privilege. It transforms the average nobody into a hero; the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa, and Karl Marx all at the same time.
Although it contradicts the public narrative of our success in the West, we must admit that egalitarianism was our wrong turn. Egalitarianism hates shared social standards – including culture, values, religion, and the archetype of the family itself – which are necessary for maintaining a civilization. Generation X, as the children of the generation which brought Leftism to its greatest peak and widest acceptance in the West in 1968, are those who saw first-hand the destruction wrought and what was lost. The question remains whether the West will awaken in time to the fact of its wrong turn and be able to retrace its steps back to it and choose another direction.