Lowering the boom on Bibby

By  Bert Cambre, Catholic Register Special
  • April 26, 2007
{mosimage}The Boomer Factor by Reginald W. Bibby (Bastian Books, 246 pages, soft cover, $19.95).

If, as Reginald Bibby suggests, there has been a cultural shift from “we” to “me” which has accompanied the baby boomers, then is it not obvious that there would be negative social repercussions to such a shift? Bibby’s newest book, The Boomer Factor, proposes that the change has been mostly positive and does not offer sufficient explanation of the negative consequences.

Bibby offers some insightful observations based on a series of studies he conducted every five years from 1975 through 2005 known as the Project Canada surveys. In focusing on survey data that deals only with the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965) his purpose is to show the impact baby boomers have had, both positive and negative, on Canadian society in every area from family to television. His findings show a societal value shift, often portrayed in the media, which presumes society has turned away from family and faith is inaccurate. Quite the opposite is true, he argues.

{sa 0978055446}There is actually a much stronger desire for traditional family and greater interest in the meaning provided by a life of faith than the media care to show. With such heartening news, it’s unfortunate that the information Bibby focuses on does not show a complete picture of what Canada’s most famous generation is leaving behind. Bibby omits key aspects of Canadian culture, primarily by failing to discuss the status of First Nations people and key environmental issues.

Bibby documents six major shifts, from dominance to diversity, from “we” to “me,” from deference to discernment, from obligation to gratification, from tomorrow to today and from knowing too little to knowing too much. Based on the data, he makes claims as to what people desire with regards to quality of life such as family, for example. Finally, he concludes with what is still left to do. While this organization is effective in making the book engaging, one wonders how crucial topics such as Canadian pluralism can be discussed without mentioning the negative attitudes that still persist towards native people. When Bibby points out the negative effects of baby boomers, he does not mention the enduring crisis of discrimination against the very people who founded much of our heritage.

If 26 per cent of Canadians perceived aboriginals as a group who have too much power in Canadian life, then aren’t contributions to society by aboriginal baby boomers and the issues specific to them worthy of significant attention?

If, as Bibby suggests, we should congratulate ourselves as Canadians on our ability to live in harmony with people of other languages and cultures, we must include in our picture our attitude and treatment of aboriginal people. There are good reasons to believe we Canadians have come to accept a kind of apartheid that separates native and non-native peoples. Clean water, housing and education are issues for native people, not for white, middle-class Canadians.

Apart from an inaccurate picture of Canadian pluralism, Bibby points out the attitude shift from we to me but does not offer sufficient criticism of the change. He makes little effort to show how such an attitude of selfishness has caused severe damage to the environment — which the media are only recently treating as an urgent issue. On the other hand Bibby is complimentary of baby boomers when he says:

“: we owe a debt to baby boomers. They have occupied a majority of key positions in Canadian life during the acceleration of our market economy and the emergence of market-model-driven institutions — schools and universities, hospitals and social services, government departments, not-for-profit organizations. These institutions in turn have been contributing significantly to our societal shift from decision-making based on obligation to decision-making based on gratification.”

I disagree with Bibby and submit that the legacy of this shift in baby boomer decision-making is less than ideal. The aftermath of focusing on gratification is forcing key political decision makers to now make decisions based on obligation, especially with regards to the environment. That global warming is currently a hot topic shows that decision makers are slowly waking up to the environmental damage resulting from a cultural emphasis on gratification. Priority environmental issues in Canada include climate change, protection of human health and of nature, air and water quality, wastewater collection and waste disposal. Our record in these areas has improved but for Bibby not to mention these variables in the things that are left to do for post-boomers is disappointing.

Ultimately, the baby boomer self-centred shift has left deep marks in Canadian society not mentioned in the book. The rich are very much still getting richer and the poor poorer. The results of free trade, reduced taxation and increased productivity have found their way into increased profits that benefited the rich, making the gap between rich and poor wider. That is the true legacy of the baby boomers’ shift to gratification as the decision-making criterion.

Bibby finishes his observations by commenting that when it comes to what people want, freedom and relationships are still highly valued. It is interesting and to some degree contradictory then that his portrayal of diversity is not only incomplete, but treats the ways we destroy life and family, such as abortion and divorce, as neutral or even progressive. If being loved and family life is what boomers desire, violence and life-destroying trends must be seen in a negative light.

(Cambre is the director of deacons for the archdiocese of Toronto.)

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