In The Better Angels of Our Nature Steven Pinker writes, “the baby boomers were unusual … in sharing an emboldening sense of solidarity, as if their generation were an ethnic group or nation.” Pinker explains that the baby boomers were the first, and perhaps only, generation to grow up as the largest demographic group in the nation and as a connected and unified age bracket. Nationwide technology was developing to bring instantaneous television and radio directly to the people. There were limited shows and channels, but everyone could listen and watch at the same time. And everyone could know that everyone else was watching the same few tv channels or listening to the same few songs on the radio. This brought the baby boomers together in a way that never happened before, and might not be able to happen again in our hyper specialized and individualized media environment that current generations are growing up within.
The Better Angels of our Nature is a book that explores the ways in which humans and our societies have become less violent over time. The baby boomers, Pinker explains, in some ways have contributed to the trend of reduced violence while in other ways have been a counter trend to reduced rates of violence. A large group of 15 to 30 year-olds who are emboldened and socially connected is a recipe for increased crime. Most crimes are committed by men in this age bracket, and when the baby boomers hit this age bracket, there was a lot of potential for crime in the United States simply because there were a lot of men living in their most crime prone years. Baby boomers reached this age bracket in the 1970s, a time when drug usage spiked and crime rose. However, a group of hyper connected hippies wasn’t exactly the most aggressive group of individuals of all time. While baby boomers may have created a crime bump in the United States, they opposed war in Vietnam in large numbers. Baby boomer opposition to the war likely played a role in decreasing the overall violence of that conflict (not to say there was not a ton of violence in Vietnam). Baby boomers continued the trend of being less violent, so even though there were record numbers of them and record levels of solidarity, their outlets and beliefs were less violent overall.
I think it is interesting to think about the baby boomers and their relationships with violence. Having large numbers of youth always creates the potential for violence, and we have seen this with different generations. The baby boomers also show us how emerging technologies can shift mindsets and change the way people think about social norms which may be tied to crime, drug use, relationships, and international security. Baby boomer solidarity, and a sense that they were the first generation in history to have such a sense of solidarity, created a unique moment in history where one generation could have such a dramatic impact on society, crime, and politics. That impact though, was hard to predict and had differing effects that didn’t always seem to fit together, like a pacifying influence on international war while simultaneously contributing to more crime within the United States.