Arab Spring: Crisis or Awakening?

I have been thinking quite a bit about the “Arab Spring” recently. Back in 2007 our family spent three weeks traveling around Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, the White Desert, Luxor and Hagarda) and we feel an affinity for the area because of our time there.

Strauss and Howe have pointed out that the Arab world (and Europe for that matter) lag behind the US in their generational cycle by about 5 years or so. But the changes going on in the Middle East seem a lot more like the Third Turning (Unraveling) of the 1960’s rather than a Fourth Turning (Crisis). But that may just be on the surface. The “agitators” in the Arab Spring sound a lot like our Millennial (born 1982-2004) rather than Boomer (born 1943-1960). The establishment they are forcing out or protesting against are Silent (born 1925-1942) in many cases – which is different than our leadership in the US (we have never had a Silent Generation president and probably never will). This article from CNN implies that the Arab youth are like the Freedom Riders of the 60’s.

I do wonder whether they are on an entirely different cycle than the US. The outcome of the Arab Spring will be telling in that regard. If it continues to escalate and results in a remaking of the institutions in the next 10-15 years, then they are part of the same Crisis cycle we are in. If it degenerates into social chaos and prolonged instability then they are headed where we were in 70’s and 80’s. I certainly hope for the former.

A New Arab Generation Finds Its Voice – Video Feature –

Between Young and Old, a Political Collision –

Although this recent article in the NY Times describes it as a collision between “Young and Old” I believe the Medicare debate is going to be about Boomer (born 1943-1960) vs. [X]. X’ers probably don’t expect to get much out of Social Security or Medicare (even though we will probably be the biggest contributors to the programs in our lifetime). Some of the proposals about cuts suggested a cutoff age of 55. If those measures were to pass in a couple years it would pretty much affect only Gen X’ers. No big surprise there, but interesting that the split would be so generational.

I am not sure if the Millennial (born 1982-2004) would really fight the battle against Boomers in the same way that X’ers would. I have a feeling that the Millennials might see it more of their duty to provide for their elders.

Boomers and the Washington War of Ideas

This article in the NY Times is an apt description of the challenges we are facing because of our predominantly Boomer (born 1943-1960) leadership:

Washington War of Ideas Overshadows Need for Jobs –

I think we are still early on in the Fourth Turning (Crisis) so this sort of bickering can still hold sway. The Boomers would still rather debate ideology than simply get things done. Contrast that with [X] leaders like Paul Ryan or Barack Obama who seem to be more focused on just coming up with a solution that will allow us to survive. I am not saying I agree with either Ryan or Obama or their proposals, but there is an interesting difference in the pragmatism you see from X’ers in leadership vs. the Boomers. The leaders mentioned in the story are Boomers (and one Silent (born 1925-1942)) who are willing to argue and debate endlessly.

BTW, if you are curious about the generational makeup of our current leadership, take a look at the American Leadership Database on the Lifecourse site. You can view all sorts of stuff under the analysis section, including the breakdown of generations of the current congress (click on it for a larger view):

Millennial Handholding Continues: Y Combinator

The Millennial (born 1982-2004) has recieved the guidance and support of older generations (Boomer (born 1943-1960) in particular) throughout their youth. It started with the “Baby on Board” stickers in Volvos everywhere in the early 80’s. It continued with Soccer Moms and loads of after-school activities. They have been coached, guided and supported in ways that are really unique to their generation.

The Y Combinator group is a great example of the next step. They guide would-be entrepreneurs through a boot camp that ends in presentations to VC’s that are eager to invest. Compare this with the experience of most Boomer and [X] entrepreneurs who had to fight it out on their own. Other than paying  huge sum of cash to get an MBA there wasn’t really any way to get support for creating an online venture until recently. I realize that its just part of the generational cycle that means that Millennials will be given every chance to succeed in reaching their goals. I suppose I could be bitter about it but I can’t really picture myself (or many of my fellow X’ers) really wanting to go through the Y Combinator Boot Camp:

Y Combinator Is Boot Camp for Startups

Millennials and Online Filter Bubbles

Eli Pariser recently spoke at TED about how social media, search sites and other online entities are creating “filter bubbles” that remove opposing views from users results. As a [X] I agree that this is worrisome, but I wonder if Millennial (born 1982-2004) will agree. The Millennial generation is much more willing to participate in group-think and less worried about individualism. Eli’s first quote is from a famous Millennial: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While it may concern Gen X’ers (and Boomer (born 1943-1960)) that people might tend to polarize around ideals, that fits right in with what the Millennials are all about: picking an ideal for the group and sticking with it. After all, isn’t that what they were taught by Barney for all those early years?

Gen X and the Eat, Pray Love Effect

This recent article in the Christian Science Monitor got me to thinking about the way us Gen X’er go about parenting. Back in 2006 our family did just what the article mentioned: we sold a house, our cars, pulled the kids from school and traveled around the world for 6 months (see the stories about our travels here if you are interested). Now I had never heard of Eat, Pray, Love at that time, but I can see why people would make a connection. The thing is that the character in the book was a single woman, not a family. So how do you explain that families (who have a LOT more ties to the ordinary life) are the ones described leaving the rat race? I realize it is just an article is more about anecdotal evidence, but it does seem to be a leap to think that someone with two kids and a house in ‘burbs would be inspired by it and pack their bags.

I think a better explanation is that [X] parents are sigk of running on the treadmill of life (designed by previous generations) and don’t really trust anyone else to educate their kids (as any grade school teacher about this if you don’t believe me). So they decide to do it their own way. Gen X’ers are the ultimate individualists, willing to go it alone and damn the perceptions.

I can’t tell you how many times before, during and after our travels that we got asked, “What did you do for the kids educations?”. My answer depended on my mood at the time. Sometimes I would mention that they went to school in Australia for part of the trip (true, but they both didn’t learn a thing at that particular school). Other times I would answer that they were only in 4th grade and kindergarten respectively, so they really didn’t miss that much. Most of the time I would go with the cheeky answer by stating, “I already mentioned we traveled the World for six months!” After all, Caleb (who was ten at the time) learned a fair bit of Thai and even some Arabic on our travels. When we returned home he was a behind in one subject: violin (which he never really caught up in after that).

I suspect our reasons for dropping everything and traveling were much like our fellow Gen X’ers: We just wanted to do something different and didn’t really care what anyone else thought.

BTW, if you ask our Millennial (born 1982-2004) kids whether they would do the trip again now, they both reply “No Way!”. We hit it at a great age but they are not interesting in doing it again now…

Nomads and Commanders

I just read this very interesting article about generations from the Society for American Archaeology. The author, Lawrence E. Moore does an excellent job of describing [X] role in society at this time. It provides a great overview of the generational cycles and the specifics of Generation X. I also like the “mythical characters” table – a fun way to describe the archetypes.

This paragraph is particularly instructive:

Reactives [Generation X] are best understood as Nomads and Commanders with keen analytical, management, and writing skills. Nomads wander geography, but also the mind, the soul, and the heart. As they have no cultural agenda other than survival they are not wedded to any theory or methodology. Nomads will pursue concepts that are productive toward planned goals; they will even abandon useful concepts in the desire to experiment with others.
Previous reactive scientists include biologists Alfred Wallace, Thomas Huxley, Julian Huxley, and Francis Galton, economists Friedrich Hayek and Karl Polanyi, and geographer Carl Sauer. There is nothing wrong with being classified with these thinkers even as some of them pursued concepts that are generally unacceptable today (Social Darwinism, eugenics). More than other generations, nomads explore all corners of life, its wonderful pleasures (Mae West) and its darkest powers (Adolf Hitler).

Watch out Teachers: Gen X is gunning for you…

Our kids have attended Waldorf Schools since they were kindergarten and because of my involvement at the schools I have been noticing a troubling shift in the parent body. As more [X] parents arrive at the school, replacing Boomer (born 1943-1960) parents, the demands placed on teachers are become more extreme.

I will write something specific to Waldorf schools soon, but for now I want to mention a trend I am seeing at several schools and ask whether this is something going on in other school systems. As Gen X’ers start to make up the majority of the parent body (which is happening in 7th or 8th grade and below right now) they are placing very individualistic demands on teachers. This seems to crop up most in 5th or 6th grade when kids are starting to assert their independence (perhaps this happens earlier in public schools?) and can start complaining to their parents about their school experience. This is when I have seen the Gen X parents getting aggravated with the teacher (and the school administration) if their child’s “needs” are not addressed to their satisfaction. Parents may recruit other parents to their cause and may apply pressure in many ways, ranging from talking in the parking lot to suing the school.

I have written before about Gen X parents, and the reasons for our challenging nature have to do with how we were raised. Generation X were the original “Latchkey kids“, raised during times when the focus was on adult issues (such as civil rights, womens rights, nuclear proliferation, etc…) and we bear the scars of having to fend for ourselves. Many Gen X’ers have promised themselves that this won’t happen to their kids and are over-protective of them as a result. We were also failed by institutions (which were crumbling during much of our youth) and have a deep mistrust of them as a result. That means we hold individuals accountable instead of organizations (which we figure will probably just screw up anyway). So we tend to blame individuals (teachers or administrators in this case) and we expect the institutions to fail in resolving issues.

The results of these actions is that teachers are under intense pressure to perform. In many cases teachers may be forced out of schools by a small band of Gen X parents. This trend has been so consistent in several schools I am associated with that I wondered if it was a larger trend. I want to hear from readers on their experience. Have you seen this sort of pressure placed on elementary school teachers recently? Have teachers in your school district been forced out?

If you are new to generational research, go to my “start here” page for a primer.