Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, by Neil Howe, William Strauss
Charles Hugh Smith (oftwominds.com) has written a rather provocative lament, or complaint, on the lack of the "heroism" on the part of the Millenial generation, expected and "predicted" by Neil Howe and William Strauss. Of course you should go read the whole thing.
It has been many years since I read Strauss & Howe's book, and I don't have a copy on hand, so what I have to say here is strictly from my own best recall.
Basically, the authors identified a cycle of four "types" of generations, with some very good explanations as to why each generation more or less reliably "creates" the following one (the caveat here is that a robust mass communication must exist for a characteristic zeitgeist to emerge.) I will borrow Mr. Hugh Smith's summary:
Prophet/Idealist. (Baby Boomers) A Prophet (or Idealist) generation is born during a High, spends its rising adult years during an Awakening, spends midlife during an Unraveling, and spends old age in a Crisis. Prophetic leaders have been cerebral and principled, summoners of human sacrifice, wagers of righteous wars. Early in life, few saw combat in uniform; late in life, most come to be revered as much for their words as for their deeds.In summary, the Hero/Civic/Gen Y/Millenial generation (those born between 1982-2000) are coming of age, and their expected heroic traits seem to be a tad, er, repressed, as Hugh Smith points out (after listing a litany of character indictments:)
Nomad/Reactive. (Gen X) A Nomad (or Reactive) generation is born during an Awakening, spends its rising adult years during an Unraveling, spends midlife during a Crisis, and spends old age in a new High. Nomadic leaders have been cunning, hard-to-fool realists, taciturn warriors who prefer to meet problems and adversaries one-on-one.
Hero/Civic. (Gen Y) A Hero (or Civic) generation is born during an Unraveling, spends its rising adult years during a Crisis, spends midlife during a High, and spends old age in an Awakening. Heroic leaders are considered to have been vigorous and rational institution-builders, busy and competent in old age. All of them entering midlife were aggressive advocates of technological progress, economic prosperity, social harmony, and public optimism.
Artist/Adaptive. An Artist (or Adaptive) generation is born during a Crisis, spends its rising adult years in a new High, spends midlife in an Awakening, and spends old age in an Unraveling. Artistic leaders have been advocates of fairness and the politics of inclusion, irrepressible in the wake of failure.
I am sorry if I offend anyone's tender sensibilities, but I am quite tired of hearing about another 20-something living at home or sucking off Mommy and Daddy for his/her rent, car insurance, medical insurance, travel costs, beer money, etc. Please don't cite the recession; there were also deep recessions in 1973-75 and 1980-82. Yes, perhaps not as systemic as today, but unemployment matched or topped today's numbers.Well, while my tender sensibilities are not offended (I'm of the reviled Boomer generation, after all), nonetheless I wish to take up the mantle for this shiftless "Facebook generation."
Where is the greatness in that dependency?...
First, I recommend reading Generations, and their follow-up, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. The authors do an amazing job of contextualizing history according to their insightful frame, and in the first book they audaciously extend the history into the future. Written in 1992, one catches one's breath at the events of September 11th. Read the book to understand this statement.
As regards the "Heroic" generations, we are on the third cycle since the Civil War. That 19th century generation was literally decimated because of the war, so there was no "heroic" recovery at all, just a malaise-filled "reconstruction" era that was also a time when the elites were in open plunder of resources and industry (sound familiar?) The "successful" Heroic generation became the "Greatest Generation" because of the peculiar circumstances of the world-wide energy glut, in which all things seemed possible.
Like post-Civil War, not so much today.
What is a Millenial to do?
As I emailed the very good friend who alerted me to this article:
Recall what Strauss and Howe said about the Civil War - an event that cycled in on the same "season" as 9/11. It's the whole crisis/opportunity thing - whether or not things turn out well (like they did in the interim cycle post WWII), hinges on how well the opportunity is seized from the crisis. While that 19th century "Heroic" generation was literally physically decimated in the war, preventing their "zeitgeist" from fully forming, I would submit that our current generation of "heroics" are under enormous pressure because of the specter of global collapse - which they surely sense. At the same time, the "comfort foods" of social networking and consumerism are ever-beckoning, and with the hopes of overcoming a vast and dedicated cabal of global elites being so narrow, I sympathize with these kids. Their disenfranchisement may not be the result of the more "personal" insults suffered by Gen-X, but the current insults are just as gloom-inducing, IMO.And that is my take.
Yes, the Boomers are more involved in the politics of the day, but what Hugh Smith seems to forget is a) It is that very involvement by that psychically damaged generation - Nixon/Carter/Reagan - that is causing much of the muckup, and b) At least the Boomers had an early experience of some successes (civil rights/war protests/taking Nixon out.) Hence they (we) still hold illusions of political power from the people, so they keep hacking away in their quixotic way.
The kids are probably under no such illusions. And just as well. Because it's time to ignore the big players and hunker down to take care of the local community(s).