Directions for Generation X

In Strauss and Howe’s book “The Fourth Turning” the describe the roles of each generation during the various “Turnings“.  At the end of the book there are “scripts” for each of the generation in the Crisis (aka “Fourth Turning”) that represents the next 10-15 years in American history. Each script describes how the generation in question should act for a positive outcome from the Crisis. I already posted the script for the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?) a few days ago. The script for Generation X (born 1961-1981)  is shown below (emphasis and links mine). “Nomad” refers to the archetype of Generation X.

Survival skills are what a society needs most in a Fourth Turning, and those are precisely what the most criticized archetype—the Nomad—possesses in abundance. Through the natural corrective force of the saeculum, the Nomad was raised to excel in exactly those skills that history will require from him in midlife at a time of real public danger. His challenge will be to stop dispersing these skills for scattered purposes and start gathering them for one larger purpose. Through the Unraveling, the Nomad has been able to withdraw from civic life, but come the Crisis he cannot. It will be his duty to ensure that whatever choices society makes will work as intended. In public life, the Nomad must cut through the paralytic residue once built by his shadow, the old Artist. In private life, he must rebuild the family and community rituals once discarded by the old Artist. As he does this, the Nomad will nurture the new child Artist.
The Fourth Turning will find other generations with lives either mostly in the past or mostly in the future, but it will catch X’ers in “prime time,” right at the midpoint of their adult years. They must step forward as the saeculum’s repair generation, the one stuck with fixing the messes and cleaning up the debris left by others. Every tool X’ers acquired during a hardened childhood and individualist youth will be put to maximum test. If X’ers apply these tools for community purpose, they will become antidotes to pathologies remembered from their own Awakening-era childhood— from divorce and latchkeys to public debt and cultural decay.
The X’ers gravest Fourth Tuning duty will be their society’s most important pre-seasonal task: to ensure that there can indeed be a new High, a new golden age of hope and prosperity. For the Crisis to end well, X’ers must keep Boomers from wreaking needless destruction and Millennials from marching too mindlessly under their elders’ banner. They will not find it easy to restrain an older generation that will consider itself far wiser than they, and a younger one that will consider itself more deserving. For this, X’ers will require a keen eye, a deft touch, and a rejection of the wild risk taking associated with their youth.
From now through the end of the Fourth Turning, X’ers will constantly rise in power. From 1998 until around the Crisis climax, they will be America’s largest potential generational voting block. As the years pass, their civic contributions will become increasingly essential to their nation’s survival. They will have to vote more and participate more, if they want to contain the Boomers’ zealotry. They will have that chance. Their own elected officials will surge into Congress as the Crisis catalyzes, eclipse Boomers around its climax, and totally dominate them by the time it resolves.
As they go one-on-one with history, X’ers should remember that history is counting on them to do whatever hard jobs may be necessary. If X’ers play their script weakly, old Boomers could wreak a horrible apocalypse, and X’ers demagogues could impose a mind-numbing authoritarianism—or both. If X’ers play their script cleverly but safely, however, a new golden age will be their hard-won reward. As they age, X’ers should remember Hemingway’s words: “Old men do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

This was written in 1997 and I am personally amazed at how true it holds today. Us X’ers have a tough and thankless job ahead of us (just like our tough and thankless childhood/young adulthood). But perhaps knowing how critical our role is in this transition will bolster our morale.

11 thoughts on “Directions for Generation X”

  1. fantasitico, dave! loved it. how is the list of famous gen xers going? did i miss it? i remembered another – the intellect Jonathon Turley – top 100 public opinion makers in the U.S. Born in 1961. He was #38 on the list.

  2. I was thinking about the X identity as “Nomad”, and also about a couple of books that I’ve read on indigenous peoples and their environmental impact. Frequently, indigenous peoples are nomads, they migrate to where the weather/economic opportunities are most advantageous. In our society, being “homeless” or “rootless” is often seen as bad or dangerous or at the very least reckless. Maybe one role of Gen X is to institutionalize and approve of mass societal migrations – maybe this is the only real way that we can deal with the coming energy crunch – retired people already do this, but there must be some way to do this to accomodate work, while preserving personal space. Just a thought.

    1. @Susan*5 – That is an interesting observation – will our society become more migratory or less in the coming years? What will the re-formed society (after the crisis) look like? Will it be more local or more global? More transient geographically or more stable? I think we need to look to the values of the rising generation (the Millennials, born 1982-200?) to determine what it will look like. But I also think it is too early to tell whether which X’er or Boomer values they will adopt.

  3. Boomers currently dominate the corporate world, the courts, legislative bodies and those surrounding the executive branch. They have mainstreamed 1960s utopianism – big government, apologia for past US foreign policy, environmental extremism, women's / gay / fill-in-grievance group rights, etc. They do nothing to prepare for real war – in that respect they repeat what those in power during the 1930s did wrong. The unraveling will, IMO, feature world war. The war will not be "started" by the West – the West will invite it via weakness, and will incur surprise attack, just as was the case at the end of the 1930s.

  4. One problem I can see with this as an Xer (born late 1969). Is that our generation is very very unused to having power or influence. This is reflected in our culture (Tarantino, South Park, etc.) which takes the view that its OK to be outrageous because no one is paying attention or taking us seriously.

    I know it was a bit of a culture shock for me when I started teaching college intro courses and had to deal with being the center of attention and having people actually listen to me.

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