May 1, 2000
Washington, DC – Complacency is a complex social condition. It is not easy to qualify, but you know it when you see it. For example, you know what constitutes complacency about your health. When you finally get that inevitable prostate cancer, it has already spread to the hair follicles on the top of your head and your doctor gives you 14 minutes to live. “Yes, son, that’s not much time, but try to make the most of it. Sign the bill.”
Complacency is subtle in its effect and a frequent component of sci-fi works, e.g., Zardoz and The Time Machine. Futurists have a sense of dread about this phenomenon, believing an over stimulated, satiated human race is destined to fall into it with fatal consequences. They could be right.
Presently the American people are going through a protracted complacent period that has lasted a full generation, having begun around 1975. There is deep suspicion that somehow disco is responsible for this.
If it were only that simple. The social theorists have attempted to carve the last 75 years into three distinct groupings. The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brocaw has come to call it, is birthed in the roaring twenties, weathers great hardship and goes on to defeat the Axis powers. Not wishing to stand on that accomplishment, in their middle age they wage the Cold War for twenty-five years and set the foundation for its successful outcome – just about the least complacent generation of humans the world has ever seen.
The third grouping is the Do-the-Dew Xer’s we have come to know and love, who have the natural complacency of youth, and appropriately so. Everyone deserves some time to just “be,” and their time is up.
But this column is about the Xers’ parents – wistfully called the “Baby Boomers.” Oh, what a world-wide splash they have made. This author is one of them, part of a sub-set which might be titled the “nuclear children.” The word went out to drop the atomic bomb in Japan. Bomb drops, Japan surrenders, troops are gathered in transition zones, then mustered out, Dad sails home from Australia, travels by rail to the East Coast, meets up with Mom, and nine months later, voilà. No bomb, war takes a little longer, Dad gets back a little later, and some other squiggly rounds third for home. It is somewhat disconcerting to owe one’s existence to a bomb (“I am Shiva, destroyer of worlds.”)
Tens of millions of soldiers came back from war and set off a population tidal wave like none before it. This writer wasn’t just part it, he was riding the front of that wave, hanging ten over the nose, racing hell bent for the 21st Century, screaming like a banshee, drenched in fear, loathing and total confusion. If that sounds familiar, you were born between July 1946 and January 1947. Howdy brother.
The Vietnam War messed with our lives, the sexual revolution messed with our glands, the drug explosion messed with our minds and the economic boom messed with our values. Our minds closed, we got fat, we got rich, we got on the net, and oh yeah, we got complacent. Just why will be the subject of some very thick books you are never going to read but will somehow have a great deal to do with the fact that along the way you lost the ability to distinguish the difference between real life and what you witnessed on a device born the same time as you – television.
There was a time when you had to be complacent for a couple hundred years for something really bad to happen. Now it takes a decade, tops. A virus turns up in Haiti among some young male tourists. Not to worry. It’s a gay thing, it’s a third world thing, play it cool. Next thing you know half of southern Africa is infected and millions of Americans have three letters and a arithmetic symbol after their name.
Last year the Central Intelligence Agency announced it was creating a venture capital fund based in Silicon Valley in order to cash in on the high-tech start-up boom and get closer access to all that geeky talent they badly need. A simple concept, they would use your tax dollars to buy in on the ground floor. It would be called In-Q-It.
Articles appeared in the Washington Post, NY Times, Wall Street Journal. Brocaw, Rather and Jennings reported this splendid idea with bemused enthusiasm. Finally, the government is wising up and going private. More bang for the buck.
The idea that the nation’s leading intelligence agency would be a founding stock player in the world of clipper chips, backdoor software portals, telcom interfacing and God knows what else created nary a blink of the eye. Exactly who would oversee the disposition of future capital gains and the influence of the agency on the management of potentially critical new technology companies was not even of mild concern.
One can only imagine the consternation on the faces of NSA managers as they looked around and sorrowfully bleated, “Where’s our venture capital fund?”
George Orwell would understand this, of course, but he’s dead. You’re not. Think of In-Q-It as a tumor you just found in your armpit. It’s the size of a golf ball, and you might consider moseying on down to the old HMO and checking that puppy out. Or you could go on a six-month surfing vacation to Maui. How complacent do you feel?
Your neighbors are either working very, very hard to pay for the new Lexus or watching their internet stocks go up and down until their eyes dribble like ping pong balls. You, on the other hand, have been following the UFO/ET issue for years and are well acquainted with the whole need-to-know, if-I-tell-you-that-I’ll-have-to-kill-you, don’t-ask-don’t tell, military industrial complex thing. You trust no one.
Think about letting your friendly, innovating Central Intelligence Agency know you would prefer they kept to the spying business and left the venture capital business to the Gordon Geckos of this world – very greedy, ambitious men and women who don’t have their own surveillance satellite system. You might also tell the press to reconsider their thumbs up review of this new release.
It is just possible the CIA would come to understand, after taking the time to re-intuit In-Q-It, they blew it.