Ironically, one of the tasks for those who succeed the baby boomers is to restore idealism. The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust and autonomy.— David Brooks, The Death of Idealism, New York Times, September 30, 2016
These words by David Brooks at once attract and repel me. The notion that the task at hand belongs to those who succeed me is offensive to me and, from my perspective as a 68-year old, an inaccurate and biased view of aged people. While the rest of Mr. Brooks excellent opinion piece does not harp at the futility of putting the experience, talent, and intelligence of old people to work on the big job ahead for our nation and world, he lets this sit there, unrefuted: old people cannot and will not be up to the task of rebinding us to one another. In so doing, Brooks falls prey to the very insidious nature of capitalism that he himself decries — the greed that keeps giving. He discards those of us in the baby boom as past it and devoid of the requisite humanity to pick up the cause.
Still, I am attracted to his words. Our great challenge is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation. This challenge is decades old. I started my old non-profit organization in part to bind people to one another — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to one another; heterosexual people to LGBT people. I convened a board for myself to investigate what was to be my encore career. I have written scores of blog posts and hosted dozens of meetings with the central theme of community and our interpersonal relationships. I lecture to my students at the University about the importance of permanence, even coaching them never to discard a boyfriend or girlfriend. All of this is in response to what I fear is a profound and dangerous disconnectedness among us humans. These fractures allow killing, violence, inhumanity, and incivility to flourish.
I get Brooks’ point. If as a cohort we really understood and valued solidarity, neighborliness, community, and relationships, we’d be working on it much more than we appear to do.
However, I do not believe that it is our generation that is the source of the disconnect. Rather, I would point to those who most profited from our conversion to greed — those 10 years our senior. They found us a profitable cohort, the group that would spur construction, manufacturing, education, health care, and leisure. When we became a commodity, we learned to commodify everything.