The Tribal Politics of Baby Boomers

On this eve of Election Day here in the U.S., we citizens have a fundamental choice between continuing the social modernization of our country or creating political and domestic chaos with a racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon. That the racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon is even a consideration, much less a contender for the most powerful office in the world, is mind-boggling to those of us not mired in the extreme right. Just as mind-boggling is that there are enough persons supporting the racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon to become a contender. It is genuinely hard to fathom what these people are thinking by supporting him.

I’m not a sociologist or psychologist, and plenty of more knowledgeable people than I have analyzed the Trump phenomenon beyond the point where I could add anything meaningful to the discussion. But I do think it worthwhile to take in a much bigger picture of the Trump movement, with a view backwards into history and to other movements around the world.

The rise of Trump has been compared to the Brexit shock in the U.K., and other nationalistic movements in Europe. I would also contend that it should be compared to the fracturing of the Middle East into armed tribal sectors, and to the backward slide of Russia under Putin. Nations in Africa have also devolved into tribal factions asserting themselves violently. And make no mistake: the Trump faction is violent.

Note that word, “tribal,” because I think it underscores this time of unrest and unease. We don’t think of ourselves in the U.S. as tribes, but our social constructs are very much tribal. We identify ourselves by race, economic status, politics, sexual orientation, affectations, and through social connections such as religion. Here in the U.S., we even fracture into camps over what smartphone manufacturer we prefer! These groupings are usually loose, and don’t always lead to a narrowed point-of-view, but for many they do. So just as one identifies with Sunni or Shiite in the Middle East, so to here in the U.S. we are more and more falling into “liberal progressive” or “conservative right/evangelical” tribes – the moderate middle shrinking – with the same deadly, narrow, point-of-view failings that fuels violence and hatred in the Middle East.

Why are these trends becoming more amplified now? Technology and communications, and the aging Baby Boomer generation. Regarding the latter, that is especially true here in the U.S. The Baby Boomer generation has been a catastrophic failure – and please know that I am included in that demographic.

The Baby Boomers certainly did cause social revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the late 1960’s this was primarily due to seizing momentum from the civil rights movement and applying it to the Vietnam War; when enough white baby boomer teens and twentysomethings started coming back in body bags, that caused the youth backlash against the war effort. (Not that the Vietnam War was even remotely justified; it was a needless war too.) That power derived from derailing citizen support for the Vietnam War unfortunately mutated into a me-first mentality: the Me Decade/sexual revolution (1970’s), “Greed is Good” (Reagan’s 1980’s) and the S&L bank failures, the tech entrepreneurial boom (Clinton’s 1990’s), the housing boom (Bush’s 2000’s) leading to the 2008 recession … all are the result of the Baby Boomer generation asserting their pleonectic tendencies on our society. Trump – a Baby Boomer – is the nadir of that sociological mindset, and represents one end of the extremes of the generation; the tribe of the aging Boomers that aren’t civic minded, and want what they falsely assume the Greatest Generation promised them: unlimited prosperity, freedom from responsibility, freedom from diverse thought, freedom from living with minorities, and prestige.

On the other side is the far left tribe, with aging Boomers sinking into a Luddite mentality that rejects scientific and economic progress as evil conspiracies trying to pollute their precious bodily fluids and minds, and that all political processes must result in absolute equality and a social propriety as defined by them.

Neither tribe feels any civic duty to cooperate or compromise with the other, causing the current decay of our political institutions. Technology and communications allow tribal members to communicate with other like-minded members regardless of location, and can also filter out diverse points-of-view, creating echo chambers for themselves to further convince one another of their pre-ordained opinions. It can isolate their thinking to the point where they can justify de-legitimizing those with other opinions to the point of dehumanizing them. That is when viciousness and violence can enter.

This is no different than the other points of unrest around the world. The Middle East was a bottled-up volcano of tribal unrest restricted by artificial national boundaries and brutal dictators and monarchs supported by economic and military super-powers focused on their own empirical goals. When those dictators and monarchs fell due to technology and communications, the tribes erupted and are in the process of erasing those artificial national boundaries – and each other.

The real question though, is why now. Technology and communications have opened up societies to each other as never before in the history of man. That immediate connection and transparency has a real positive benefit: it allows repressed or minority groups to communicate and organize into social movements that legitimizes them. It can deconstruct our rationales for narrow tribal mentalities, fostering a more open, just, and equal society. It can transmit those benefits and movements directly to the phone in our pockets, making it hard to ignore the natural cultural evolution of our societies. To those in more socially repressed societies, it can show by example what they can strive for.

That is an anathema to ascendant tribes trying to maintain their way of life and thought. Being part of a tribe connotes that your group is superior in some way to others; otherwise why would it exist? Yet an open, contemporary, multi-cultural society does not place preeminence on one group over another.

After centuries of industrial, economic, technological, and sociological progress, the genie is not going back into the lantern, and that is threatening the last gasps of the Baby Boomer tribes around the globe. This is their last play to maintain a social order that never existed naturally, and this is applicable around the world. It is disheartening to witness the Trump movement, watch Russia slide back into Stalinism, and IS slaughter anyone that isn’t IS. But the forward movement of human civilization facilitates the diminishing of these tribal forces, especially as the Baby Boomers die off. Those born today are being born into a world where a connected mankind is slowly evolving civilization towards equality, justice, and individual freedoms for all. Technology is greasing the wheels of that evolution. It won’t come in one generation or two, but it is coming: a global social order that is more equal, peaceful, free, and just, and much less tribal.

Unless Trump wins, our planet’s environment collapses due to climate change, or Skynet nukes us because we are nothing more than a mess of bickering tribes killing each other continuously. Then we had it coming to us.

Post-script: Trump has won, and the last gasp of the aging, white, middle-class and rich Baby Boomers intend to set the U.S. society back 70 years. The Greatest Generation has been subsumed by the Greediest Generation, and the supposed liberal bent of the Baby Boomers is just a sad myth; their feelings of societal entitlement will result in the suppression and repression of the growing cultural groups that had asserted themselves through the Obama presidency. Over the next few years we will likely witness more violent clashes – in words and actions – between the extreme right and the progressive left, with the political moderates caught between the cross-fire. Us Baby Boomers cannot die off fast enough in order to allow the next generations to build a true, equal, multi-cultural society.

Posted in Music Opinion

iPhone 7: Another Brick in the Wall

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have been announced to great fanfare and controversy; the latter over the removal of the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack port from the phone. That leaves only Apple’s proprietary lightning port as the sole, physical, input/output port on the phone. This is not a move that upgrades the music experience on the iPhone 7s.

I am not an Apple user. Their products are excellent, and in many cases physically beautiful. I lusted after an iPod when they were first announced, as I had bought the Diamond Rio MP3 player when it came out (still have it, too) and was embracing the digital music revolution. But I could never justify buying an Apple product back then, because they were always more expensive than other, and of equal capability gadgets.

So I’m not down on Apple gadgets, but nowadays I cannot abide the forced user lock-in that comes with any of their products (possibly excluding a Mac desktop) – that famed walled garden. I don’t deny that they have a right to try and lock users into buying more and more of their equipment and software; they’re a company out to make profit. As a user, I don’t like the feeling of being so dependent on a company that it might one day be an issue if that company stumbles and goes out of business. Like Palm: I did buy into Palm, and frantically tried to free my digital calendar and contacts as that company went kaput. Palm didn’t help their users leave, either.

I use Windows, Android, and Linux, spreading my risk by sticking to companies that support all three platforms and allow me to move my data at will. I also favor open-source software, especially if it runs on Windows, Linux, and even Android and Mac.

What annoys me about the iPhone 7 jack-less debate is the artificial nature of it. Pundits on both sides argue the merits of Apple’s decision, but never comment on the obvious reason it was excluded: control. I know a LOT about marketing, and all of the debates are over Apple’s marketing spin about why they took it out: the wireless future, waterproofing the phone, higher quality sound, more internal room, better user experience. All of that is marketing bullsh*t. It is another brick in their walled-off garden of user lock-in.

Another Brick in Apple's Wall

Another Brick in Apple’s Wall

I’m not a techie, but I’ve read enough to know that the standard headphone jack is capable of high-quality music output, and currently superior to Bluetooth according to most audio experts. I also know enough that, even when the music starts out as digital, at some point it is converted to analog because, you know, sound waves are pretty analog. There is no digital binary audio input into the brain; sound still has to go through those darned analog ears. So whether the digital analog converter (DAC) is in the phone or in the headphones, there has to be one. With the standard jack it is in the phone.

Yes, the standard jack and DAC take up some space. It is another open port into the phone. Both of those reasons for eliminating it are really superfluous; the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is waterproof with a headphone jack, and is 7.9 mm thick. The iPhone 7 Plus is 7.3 mm thick; 0.6 mm is almost negligible. The iPhone 7s are not significantly smaller than the 6s phones; Apple used the extra space to add battery capacity (and that was a very nice thing for Apple to do).

If cords were the issue (and you can use Bluetooth headphones with a phone that has a headphone jack), then why didn’t Apple make the iPhone 7s charge wirelessly, and eliminate all ports? A lot of buyers would be turned off because they would have to buy wireless chargers, and carry one with them always (car, travel, etc.). The inconvenience would’ve been astronomical; still, Apple pundits seem to dismiss the large inconvenience of having to use Bluetooth headphones, use an adapter, or buy headphones with Apple’s proprietary lightning jack. At this moment the majority of people don’t own that stuff, yet the pundits insist that buyers should put up with any hassle because, you know, the future and all of that. Hey, shouldn’t they also have to grin-and-bear it with wireless charging for, you know, the future and all of that?

I suspect Apple hasn’t gone with wireless charging because they don’t have a proprietary protocol yet. They won’t adopt the current standards, because those are standards being used by other companies. And yes, I think even Apple engineers and designers know it is too soon for such a move.

Apple does have a proprietary protocol for digital output: their lightning port. They also added a proprietary “W1” chip to make their Bluetooth headphones work “better” than other, run-of-the-mill Bluetooth headphones with the iPhone 7s. Sure, you can use other manufacturers’ wireless cans, but you won’t get the full Apple experience. All of you Bluetooth headphone owners with older iPhones will – gosh! – just have to upgrade those too.

Since the iPod, Apple has been about the Apple experience, making it so that using other products with theirs is more and more difficult. The iPod had to have iTunes; and they still use iTunes to control what data goes into your device if you connect it with wires. Apple has become more and more controlling over the years; even iOS is more locked down and locked in than macOS, which is why they are so focused on developing it. The 3.5 mm jack was a standard they did not, and could not control.

Pundits point to other past Apple moves: eliminating the floppy disk drive, CD/DVD drives, right mouse buttons, etc., etc., and how that changed the industry. With floppy disk drives, Apple was right on time, not ahead; CDs and DVDs were widely available and had much more capacity. On the others – sorry, there are a lot of PCs and laptops out there that have optical disk drives, and other operating systems use the right-mouse button systemically. My PC has a DVD drive and I need it, and my mouse is a standard two-button with a wheel – and I use its capabilities to the fullest extent. I’ve had to buy an external DVD drive for my family, because their laptops don’t have them, but old photos, some programs, and even some music are still to be found only on CDs or DVDs. Ditto SD card drives and USB ports. Apple (and copycat manufacturers) just inconvenienced their customers in the name of building for the future when they removed that stuff.

There aren’t better technological solutions in the market over wired headphones that have equal or better audio. None, zero, zip, nada. The near total majority of audio equipment on the market today has the 3.5 mm jack, and the iPhone 7s are now incompatible with all of them. Almost no audio equipment has a lightning jack. Removing the 3.5 mm port and forcing a proprietary port in its place is not the equivalent of replacing the floppy disk drive with the optical disk drive; the latter move was because optical disk drives were universally better, used by other manufacturers, and readily available. iPhone 7 users have to use more stuff to get an equal or inferior audio experience – that is not progress. It will be fun to see all of those Square users trying to swipe cards while the unit dangles helplessly off of an adapter dongle.

Apple now controls the sole port on their phones, and how it will be used. That is what this move is about. They will exert that control in the future to make it so one must buy even more Apple stuff to have a good experience. Yeah, they have that right. I’m just not going to buy into it; wired headphones and speakers are just too convenient, and the option of using them is nice, without having to worry what jack is on them.

I will wait for the wireless future that improves my experience and is more convenient. Removing the 3.5 mm headphone jack was just another brick in their wall.

Posted in Cultural Musings, Music Opinion | Tagged , , ,