Generations


Our parents’ generation were born at a time of strife and poverty, but after that things got better and better for them. However, the picture for our generation is much more complex.

I was therefore very interested when I found a book from 1991 (“Generations” by Strauss and Howe), which claims that there are types of generations, and that these types are repeated in a cycle.

In that way, Phyllis and I are part of a generation which in many ways has more in common with the people born between 1883 and 1900 (that is, those who were hit by the Great Depression when they were between 28 and 46 and for whom WWII ended when they were between 45 and 62).

And to Phyllis and me, the following quote sounds very modern: “We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, in education, in travel, in fortune – in everything. I feel unutterable anxiety.” However, it was uttered by John Adams (1735-1826), a member of our generation, just three cycles earlier.

Of course, this generational cycle idea cannot be proven, but the fact that the book is nearly twenty years old makes it more powerful, because it sounds spookily prophetic in places.

For instance, the book discusses how different generations would handle a terror attack, and bear in mind that George W. Bush was a baby-boomer (“Boomer” in this book’s terminology):

Finally, suppose the terrorists were to strike during the upcoming Crisis constellation […]. Boomer leaders […] would neither hide nor ponder the rumor; instead, they would exaggerate the threat […] and tie it to a larger sense of global crisis. Unifying the nation as a community, these leaders would define the enemy broadly and demand its total defeat – regardless of the human and economic sacrifices required. (p. 375)

This following looks pretty prophetic, too:

By the late 1990s, […] [pay] will be increasingly market-driven […]. Year-to-year results will be rewarded more than lifetime achievement. The stars who can win, show Ruthian bravado, and fill arenas will make fantastic sums (enhanced by international bidding).

[…]

Looking for a lightning strike at success, 13ers will dart from job to job. Their mobility will discourage employers from investing in job training – or from offering pensions to new hires.

I’m not saying the book is correct in all its predictions, but it’s definitely worth a read.

I’ve not finished reading it yet, so I might blog more about it later.

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