Neil Howe spoke about his book “The Fourth Turning” on a radio show in October of 2008. The show is up on Youtube for your listening pleasure.
Neil Howe spoke about Generational cycles in a radio show in October 2008. It’s a total of about two hours, and well worth a listen of at least the first few segments (it’s divided into 10 minute segments because of Youtube limitations). All are below:
Generation X (born 1961-1981) has taken a lot of grief over the years, but never more than from the “I Hate Gen X” site. It’s time to defend the honor of our generation.
Yesterday I came upon this site titled “I Hate Gen X (and Y)“. The site has pictures and bios of various Gen X’ers who are, in the authors view, despicable:
Many of the pictures are linked to bios that describe the awful things that these generation X’ers have done and how they have ruined society. There is also a page on the voting history of Generation X (and quite a bit of Generation Y). Much of the thesis of the site is that X’ers are bad citizens because they don’t turn out to vote in high numbers:
Perhaps the site is tongue-in-cheek (it is pretty funny, really), but I need readers help in coming up with content as a rebuttal to this:
The site has this image and asks the question: Name one great Generation X’er.
So this is where I need your help. Can you name great examples under the categories listed above? Generation X is defined as anyone born between 1961-1981. So that includes Barack Obama right off the bat, but we need more, many more. Jeff Gordinier took a shot with his book, “X Saves the World“, which I highly recommend, but I think a comprehensive list would be powerful.
C’mon Gen X’ers, do us proud!
While you are at it, pass this post around to other Gen X’ers you know on Twitter and Facebook
I will amend this post with the top candidates for each category:
Battlestar Galactica is a modern myth, in the vein of the original Star Wars. Each generation is represented in the series, including the Millennials.
Spoiler alert: If you have not watched any of Battlestar Galactica, or have only watched the first season, there are plot spoilers to follow.
“The cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan”
I was watching the first few episodes of Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica last night and got to the point where they find the “map” to Earth in the form of the 12 zodiacal constellations. Until that point I had been seeing the story as a myth that portrayed the Cylons as the believers in the “One True God” (e.g. Christians) vs. the humans who believe in a multi-pantheon (e.g. New Age Spiritualists). Others have said that the humans represent the United States and the Cylons represent modern terrorists. But last night I realized it might be a more subconscious modern myth that symbolizes the current living generations.
Science fiction has a history of taking on social concepts, from Star Trek with it’s strong social themes to Star Wars which was profiled by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell as the modern telling of the Hero’s Journey. Thinking in those terms, of the mythical meaning of the Battlestar Galactica, (which is produced and directed by Boomers and X’ers), I couldn’t help but wonder if the battle going on right now between the generations is represented in the story.
Let’s look at the current living generations and then compare with some of the characters.
Silent Generation: Born 1925-1942. This group is starting to fade from prominence right now, but they had a reputation as being an expert, if overly conservative generation.
Boomer Generation: Born 1943-1960. Moving into elder leadership now, this generation represents the “Prophets” who have a strong vision of the future and will argue their opinions to the death.
Generation X: Born 1961-1981. Moving into midlife right now, this generation is practical and pragmatic, but often cynical. They are individualistic and do not particularly care for large institutions or dogmatic leadership.
Millennial Generation: Born 1982-200?. Moving into young adulthood now, this generation is optimistic, empowered, team-oriented and at times a bit arrogant about what they will accomplish.
For those of you that are fans, can you see the connection between the various characters now? The Silents are not well represented, but the other groups are definitely in there.
For example, Bill Adama, commander of the Battlestar and President Laura Roslin are both of the elder generation, similar to the Boomers. They are highly opinionated and have their unshakable vision in what needs to be done. The President literally believes that she is a prophet, destined to take the human race to a new and better future. Adama is driven by a desire for honor and order as prescribed by his military background. Both are willing to attack each other to defend their view and control of the future. That, in a nutshell, is the attitude of the Boomer/Prophet generation. Strong opinions, a visionary view and and a righteousness in the face of adversity.
The Commanders’s son, Lee Adama, whose call sign is Apollo, as well as Starbuck (and many more of the crew) are all much more pragmatic in their approach. Although they will take sides if forced to, they judge everything by it’s practical implications. Starbuck is a loner, alienated from most of those around her. Even though Apollo is the golden boy son (hence his call sign) of the Captain, he refuses to believe in the Commander’s ideals. This is very much in character with Generation X, a generation that is practical, pragmatic and don’t really care about ideology or following rules. They are the nomad generation.
So that leaves the Millennials. They are represented by the evil Cyclons. The Cylons believe in “One True God”, one perfect ideal that they must create. They are literally “of one mind”, having a serious case of group think. There are only a few models of Cylon, and that means that they mostly think alike. They work together flawlessly as a team and are moving towards creating a world based on their singular vision. They are optimistic (perhaps overly so) about their future and see their success as pre-ordained. This represents the stereotype of the Millennial generation quite well. Millennials are generally seen as having a strong civic nature, a desire to rebuild society based on their ideals. They also work together very well and tend to be optimistic and at times arrogant about the likelihood of their success. They are the “Hero” generation, but clearly not portrayed in that light in the series.
The interesting thing to note if you buy that characterization is that the Cylons are considered EVIL and are out to destroy the entire human race! What does that say about the Millennials? It actually says a lot more about the Gen X/Boomer bunch that created Battlestar Galactica than it does about the Millennials. Although even by the start of season two there are some humans who are starting to sympathize with the Cylons, they are still very much considered the enemy. The same can be said for the attitude of many Gen X’ers and Boomers towards Millennials. There are a few of the older generations that believe in the positive qualities of the Millennials, but most are pretty put off by what they believe is a sense of entitlement and brazenness. Books like “Dumbest Generation” and “Generation Me” point towards a belief that “kids today ain’t no damned good”. The other parallel is the idea of the Cylons being machines that look like humans. The Millennial generation is also categorized as being the “digital” generation, networked to each other through their devices and constantly in communication with each other.
I think that Battlestar Galactica is a good example of the sort of modern myth that Cambpell and Moyers identified years ago in Star Wars. The first Star Wars series was really about the path of the Boomers (think Luke Skywalker) overthrowing the GI Generation (think Darth and the empire). Like all myths it was probably not consciously made with this connection to the current social forces, but they were embedded in subconsciously.
Should we trust the Cylon/Millennials? Like the characters in Battlestar Galactica we probably don’t have much choice in the matter. And unlike the Cylons, the Millennials ARE going to take over the world eventually (unless Boomers and X’ers figure out a way to magically extend their lives). So perhaps it is time to figure out how we can work together to build something better. Boomers and X’ers control pop culture right now and trying to feed a message to society based on their values. The Millennials have a different take and that makes those in control uncomfortable. But make no mistake, Boomers and X’ers, the Millennials will win this battle (eventually) and treating them like they are babies, less than, or unimportant will not help matters.
I haven’t seen this comparison anywhere else on the Internets. There is a book on the philosophy of BSG. There are also several analysis of the cylons as an analogy for modern terrorists, here, here and here.
I would love to hear people’s comments on the concept, but I have one request: don’t spoil the rest of the series for me by giving away plot lines beyond the first few episodes of the second season. Also, any of you generation types out there have a guess as to who represents the Silents in the series?
Disclaimer: I like Neil Howe’s work and have read most of his books. I have not read Bauerlein’s but probably will soon.
This video is very short, but I don’t find Mark’s argument compelling. For example, he says:
“Teen to teen contact is crowding out the voices of teachers, parents, ministers and other mentors in in their lives”.
Sounds like the Boomers (born 1943-1960) are getting some payback on this one. They certainly did not listen to any of their teachers, parents, ministers or other mentors in their youth. They had a similar “echo chamber” amongst their peers, and they used it to preach to each other and then tear down the society built by the GI Generation (born 1901-1924). But unlike the Boomers, this is a generation of people who DO more than they SAY and want to build up something new rather than tear something down.
“They don’t read books” and “In 1982, 18-24 year-olds formed the most avid readers in our country. In 2002 they became the least active reading group”
Equating reading books with intelligence is, well, an out-dated concept. I am Gen X and I read a ton, but I have lots of VERY smart peers and friends who don’t read much. Should we really judge intelligence by the size of a person’s bookshelf? Is complex thought only possible after reading a book?
Although I personally place high value on reading, it is worth noting that it is a very passive activity. Sure, some might say you use your imagination when reading, but in comparison to having an active conversation or debate with another person it is pretty passive. Should we judge those conversations harshly because they happen online instead of face-to-face?
It is particularly ironic that Baurelein subtitled his book, “Don’t trust anyone under 30”. It is a reference back to the 60’s statement “Don’t trust anyone over 30“. The message here from a Boomer is that we shouldn’t trust anyone older than a Boomer, and probably should discount anyone younger than a Boomer as well!
Bauerlein’s whole argument seems to be very, “Kids today! They have no respect for their elders”. It’s a tired argument that does not apply. It applied to Gen X (born 1961-1981) and Boomers(born 1943-1960), but not to Millennials. Time to get past that myth. Listen Howe’s brief statement. It has a LOT better facts backing it and paints a much clearer picture of what this generation is about.
Note: I can see the argument that the “multi-tasking” that afflicts most people today (of almost all ages) is destrimental to coherent thought processes, but doesn’t make Millennials stupid as a generation. I may do a future post on this distraction/multi-tasking topic in the future.
The cycles of our society are similar to all natural cycles. Understanding them gives insight into our future direction.
One of the things about the Generational cycles described by Howe and Strauss is that they point to cycles within cycles. As I mentioned in my previous post, they suggest that there are four “turnings” or parts of a cycle related to generations. These four turnings together total between 85 and 100 years, the length of a long human life. Of course, there are other natural cycles that occur inside of these turnings. The most obvious is the cycle of years, with the four seasons. Recently I heard Obama referring to this time of crisis as our “Winter of our Hardship” and he is right on with that. Each year has a natural cycle (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) and the turnings of the generations line up with these as well (High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis). One way to look at all this is a sort of “fractal” made up of ever smaller cycles. If you consider my overview of the generations chart (click on any of these images to enlarge):
You can see the red line that goes up and down with each portion of the turnings (shown on the top). This line describes the overall “gestalt” of society at that time. But there is another cycle inside of that cycle, represented by the “maginification” chart below:
The high and low represented in this chart are the actual seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. Those fit inside of the generational cycle and are shown in the “magnified” portion of the chart. The point is that there are cycles within cycles.
That’s one way to look at the way cycles are nested inside each other, but a much better approach is to create a circular chart. For example, if we consider the High and Low portion of a day (Noon and Midnight) respectively, we get a circle like this:
This shows the 24 hours of the day, with high noon at the top, and Midnight at the bottom. The red line in the center represents the “high” (Noon) and “low” (Midnight) of the day. When the red line meets the outer circle it is the high point of the day, and when it hits the middle of the circle it is the low. It is interesting how this cycle turns into a heart shape on a circular chart (I think there is some name given to that type of shape on a circle).
We can represent other natural cycles with this same shape. The Lunar cycle can be shown like this:
If we start at the top we have the Full moon, then the Waning moon, New moon, Waxing moon and then returning to the Full moon. Again the red line represents the “high” and the “low” of the cycle.
Next would be the yearly cycle, with the seasons:
The cycle that Strauss and Howe propose is outside of that is the “Saeculum” which is the 85-100 year cycle that defines the high and low of society:
As we can see, this pattern can repeat multiple times as we go further and further out. These are all natural cycles that definitely affect even our modern society (most people do sleep at night and get outside more in the Summer). Often we don’t realize just how much these cycles affect us (see my post on linear thinking), but they that does not lessen their effect. The turnings are a natural cycle as well because they are based on a natural phenomenon (a human lifetime).
We can put all those cycles onto one chart and they look like this:
So here is the big question I get out of this chart. If there is some relationship between the natural cycles (day, month, year, turning) then what is the larger cycle outside of the saeculum? I have some ideas about this that I will put in another post, but I would love to hear readers thoughts and comments.
Also, I am not sure that I got the cycles lined up properly. Spring goes with the Saecular High, but does that correspond to the Full Moon, and Noon?
One thing I have noticed when I show this circular chart to people is that they are often puzzled by what it represents. Unlike the linear chart above, which makes sense to most Western thinkers, the use of a circular chart can be confusing, even though it shows the information in a much more coherent way. That is part of our linear thinking as well, and something I still struggle with. I still need to make the linear charts first before I can put them in a circle. I have several other circular charts that I will describe in later posts.
The cycle of generations in the US shows us the patterns of history. And those patterns predict that the crisis we are in will not be over until around 2025.
One of the most significant aspects of generational research for me is its predictive ability. The cycle of generations described by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their books (starting with “Generations“) has an amazing predictive ability. Their book “The Fourth Turning“, written in 1997, predicts many of the events we have seen in the last few years with amazing accuracy. But this is not astrology or soothsaying. The predictions are based in strong social science that shows how the character of generations creates specific changes in society. Information about turnings can also be found on the Lifecourse Website.
Howe and Strauss point out that there are four cycles in history, that they call “turnings”, which are very similar to the four seasons of the year. It begins with the “High”, similar to Spring, a period in which life is growing, the days are getting longer and optimism abounds. The last High in the US was between 1946 and 1964. The next turning is the “Awakening” which is like the Summer, a period where life flourishes in many forms, perhaps to the point that things are a bit out of control. Our last Awakening the Consciousness Revolution from 1995-1985 when everything our society was based on during the High was questioned. The third turning is the “Unraveling”, similar to the Fall, when life dies back, the days shorten and things feel chaotic and uncontrolled. The last Unraveling in the US were the Culture Wars from 1986-2005, when society fell apart as it answered the questions from the Consciousness Revolution. The fourth turning is the “Crisis” which is most like Winter. During the Crisis the seeds that have been planted in the fall must survive through the short, cold days and life is bleak and unforgiving. We are in the Crisis now, and it will likely last until 2025. Those that survive the Crisis will enjoy warmth and promise of the coming Spring/High.
The chart above shows the turnings since 1900 (click on the image to enlarge). The red line represents the “High” and “Low” of the cycle. At the top of the curve, there is maximum unity in society as well as a simple worldview. At the bottom there is maximum discord and a complex worldview.
Just like the cycles of the seasons, the turning are of a specific length. Most vary from 20-25 years in duration. Just like the seasons in nature, it is difficult to change the timing of the turnings because they are guided by a natural force. The natural force in play is the length of an average long human lifetime, 85 – 100 years (also known as a saeculum). This period is significant because it is the amount of time required for us to forget the lessons of previous generational cycles. The cycle makes a full revolution from the High through the Crisis (and then repeats).
So while it is possible financial crisis we are in will end soon, perhaps in the next few years, the larger crisis will last for at least 10-15 years (until 2025 or perhaps as early as 2020). Think back to our most recent historical example, the Crisis turning from 1929-1945. It began with the Great Depression. By the time that the Depression was “over” (in the late 1930’s) Europe was already marching toward WWII. Think of what the outlook must have seemed like in the late 1930’s. If you had managed to survive the Depression you were wary and protective. Although the economy was improving, there were much bigger storm clouds gathering on the horizon. And by 1939 it was clear that the Great Depression was nothing in comparison to what was coming in the War. The world looked very bleak indeed (just like the middle of winter), and few would have predicted the glory that was in store in 1945. We are in a similar period now, and we are building towards that climax which is still 10-15 years away.
The climax will be the final reconciliation of the Boomer (born 1943-1960) generation who play the role of prophets in our current cycle. The ideological battle for how society should look will be debated by the Boomers and fought by the Millennials (born 1982-200?). This was true in the last cycle when the Missionary generation led (Stalin and FDR) and the GI Generation fought (all the war heroes). Does this climax need to be a war? No, but the climax has always been a major war historically (WWII, Civil War, American Revolution, Glorious Revolution, etc..)
I see this coming war taking one of two shapes. It will either be a war against Global Warming/Peak Oil/Water Shortage and other threats to our living environment, or it will be a battle against another nation or group of nations (Arab or Chinese being most likely). I would prefer the former, but as a Generation X’er I have little influence. Fortunately, there is one person in my generation does have some influence on this direction, and his name is Barack Obama (no guarantee that he will have the answer either).
The good news is that society will pull together during this crisis and we will forge a new direction for our entire country (and perhaps world) before it is over. That is how the next High will arise, but it will be a long time before it arrives. Although our situation may seem dire, it will be useful to be aware of the fundamental changes happening in our society as we face this immense struggle. And, as I have said many times, it will require a huge effort from all the living generations who must work together despite their different views.
If you want a primer on the research of William Strauss and Neil Howe, see my “start here” section.
A review of the new book from William Strauss and Neil Howe, “Millennials and K–12 Schools: Educational Strategies for a New Generation” about how to deal with the shift in generations in K-12 education.
A couple months back I purchased the book “Millennials and K–12 Schools: Educational Strategies for a New Generation” by Neil Howe and William Strauss. It was part of my research on generations, but I also was motivated because of issues I was seeing at our kids’ school. I found the book to be a really enjoyable and informative read, and it is currently making the rounds amongst the teachers and administrators at the school. I have put together a short video that serves as a preview/review of the book. It will give you an idea of the concepts in the book and, perhaps, an understanding of why this research is so valuable.