Pelosi and Eugenics: 1932 or 2009?

The clash of ideologies predicted by William Strauss and Neil Howe in “The Fourth Turning” is certainly hitting it’s stride now. I found an article that is particularly telling with regards to how these ideological battles are being fought. The article is supposedly about ridiculous spending items in the stimulus plan, but it has an interesting undercurrent.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. (a Generation X’er born between 1961 and 1981) writes about the “pork” in the plan here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/02/navarrette.stimulus/index.html
His commentary is mainly focused on Nancy Pelosi (who is part of the Silent Generation, born 1925-1942) and how she wanted to get birth control into the plan and had an extremely weak argument about why this should be in the plan. Navarrette draws a fascinating parallel to Margaret Sanger who was the founder of what became Planned Parenthood. Sanger was a controversial figure because she was in favor of Eugenics, which was a policy adopted by the Nazis to control racial makeup of society.
The interesting part of this is that he quotes a statement from Sanger from 1932:

“the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race such as … [those] barred by the immigration laws of 1924.”

Here’s the generational connection: according to the turning of generations we are at the beginning of the crisis (started in about 2005), perhaps only a few years in. If we look just a few years into the start of the previous crisis (started in 1929) we would come up with the year 1932. It is interesting that Navarrette would use an argument from that period to go after Pelosi. The similarity to that period is that there was a huge ideological clash going on and there was a battle for control of public perception, just like today. Like in my previous posting where Gore was accused of trying to brainwash kids like Nazi youth, I think we will see more and more of this sort of reference over the next few years. Each side in the ideological battle will try to paint the other as the absolute enemy, and referring back to the enemy in our last major crisis (the Axis) will be a favorite tactic. Watch for it.
(if you are curious to learn more about the basics of generational research, go to “Start Here“. It includes links to Strauss and Howe’s original works as well as my interpretations).

Gore figures out how to upset Gen-X Parents

Want to know how to really upset parents of Millennials? Ask Al Gore, who managed to do just that by suggesting that teenagers not listen to their parents.
This video from Glenn Beck’s show, which was recorded by one of the kids at the conference, and her father (probably a Gen X’er) was upset enough to go on the show and talk about it. This has been making the rounds at lots of conservative blogs, many of which are comparing Gore’s statements with indoctrination of Nazi youth. As a die-hard liberal, I don’t buy the politics here, but I think the generational aspects are fascinating.
It’s not surprising that a Boomer (Gore) would suggest that kids rebel against their parents. That was the approach of the entire generation – knock down the institutions built by their parents (the GI Generation). But he made a HUGE mistake in thinking that this generation of kids (Millennials) and their parents (Gen-X and some Boomers) would react well to trying to divide them. Gore could definitely use some generational coaching.
This is very much part of the battle that will unfold over the next 10 to 15 years as various Boomers try to convince the Millennials to follow their particular ideology. Asking them to rebel against their parents is unlikely to work (as the Millennials are generally very close to their parents), but that won’t stop Boomers from trying. The reaction of the Gen X parent is very typical as we tend to be a fairly over-protective bunch and don’t want representatives of institutions telling us how to parent.
How could Gore have changed his approach to make it more likely to be heard? He could have appealed to the kids sense of purpose and tendency to want to work together. By saying something like, “We are all counting on you, the young people, to help change the world for the better. Your parents are counting on you. I am counting on you. The problems are big, but if we work together we will overcome them. And all of you will be a big part of that success.” By putting a positive message and tying their parents into the equation, he could have really gotten them on board. But, instead, he’s being accused of being an evil Nazi overlord.

Here’s the actual video:

Presidential Precedence: Obama is most like…

I did not follow the Presidential race/inauguration/early days very closely, but I did hear a few things that made me think about the generational aspects of President Obama. Leading up to the inauguration there were many references to former presidents, particularly FDR and Abraham Lincoln. There are some similarities between Obama, FDR and Lincoln, but they have little to do with leadership style. The similarities are in the character of the time that they came into power.
According to Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book “The Fourth Turning“, there are specific cycles in time which repeat on a regular basis. They work like this:

  • The First Turning is a High. After prevailing through a massive crisis, society is united and feels strong. An example of this period is the American High, 1946-1964
  • The Second Turning is an Awakening. Young people start to question the established values of the society. An example of this is the Conciousness Revolution, 1965-1984
  • The Third Turning is an Unraveling. Society starts to pull apart as the old establishment is broken down and values become fragmented. An example of this is the Culture Wars, 1985-2005
  • The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. Society is challenged by a massive crisis that requires everyone pull together to survive. An example of this is the Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1946. We are in a Crisis turning now as well (started in about 2005) and will probably remain so until about 2025 when it will come to a climax.

The similarity between Lincoln, FDR and Obama is that they all came into power during a crisis. But that is where the similarity ends, and another surprising relationship begins. Lincoln and FDR were both part of a generational archetype that was known as the “Prophet” generations, similar in character to the Baby Boomers. Lincoln was part of the Transcendental Generation and FDR was part of the Missionary Generation, both of which fit the Prophet archetype. Prophets are described as:

A Prophet generation grows up as increasingly indulged post-Crisis children, comes of age as the narcissistic young crusaders of an Awakening, cultivates principle as moralistic midlifers, and emerges as wise elders guiding the next Crisis. (from http://www.lifecourse.com)

Obama is not part of a Prophet Generation. Born in 1961, he is Generation X, which is a Nomad Generation:

A Nomad generation grows up as under protected children during an Awakening, comes of age as the alienated young adults of a post-Awakening world, mellows into pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and ages into tough post-Crisis elders

So when is the last time we had a pragmatic Nomad leading the country during a crisis? Take a look at this chart that shows the various generations and turnings visually (click on it to see a bigger version):

president-chart-052

The colors represent the archetypes of each generation, Yellow for Hero (GI Generation, Millennials), Green for Nomads (Lost, Gen X), Blue for Prophet (Missionary, Boomer) and Orange for Artist (Progressive, Silent). On the far left is the founding of the nation with George Washington as president, and on the far right is the current day, extrapolating Obama out for four years. I have more detailed versions of this data that I will put up in a future post, but this diagram gives an overview of the presidential generations through our brief history.
There are lots of things you might pick up from this chart, but if you look for the crisis periods (1940’s and 1860’s, WWII and Civil Wars respectively), you will see the previous two have mainly blue bars, meaning they were Prophet Generations (Lincoln and FDR). The previous crisis was The American Revolution (way over on the left side of the chart) and it had a green (Nomad) leader: George Washington.
So who does Obama most resemble in terms of generational character combined with social cycle? He is Generation X, which is a Nomad generation (green in the chart), leading during a crisis. The last time we saw that combination was our first president, George Washington, a Nomad leader during the crisis (American Revolution). What does this mean for his potential in office? Having a practical leader who pushes getting things done during a national crisis is something our country has not seen in over 200 years. I may examine that in a future post.

You can download a high-res PDF of this chart

How Generations Predict The Future

Part of understanding the cycle of generations is being able to see how the unique character of each generation varies as they pass through the stages of life.
I created a chart recently to describe the attitudes of various generations as they passed through time. In this webinar I describe the chart, piece by piece, to give a better understanding of the cycles involved. You may want to view Part 1 of Understanding Generations first. You can download the hi-res PDF version of the chart.

Generations Overview

A while back I created a slideshow that described the generations of the last 100 years. I used a chart in that presentation that helps visually represent the cycles, but I did not post the actual chart. So here it is in high resolution PDF. You can watch this slideshow to fully understand the chart:

GenX: Pragmatic or Disillusioned?

Gen-X’ers (born 1961 – 1980) had a relatively tough go of it when compared with other generations. In our early childhood we were either ignored or reviled (60’s and 70’s), and once we got to young adulthood, we were alienated and generally dismissed.
By the time we hit midlife (in just the last few years for the first Gen X’ers) we were a pretty jaded bunch. But we also had something unique from all those years attending the school of hard knocks: pragmatism. This generation, more than any other, does not have any illusions about the way the world is. We know what we need to do to get by in the world and we generally set about doing it. For the most part we don’t have high ideals or visions of world peace, but we understand how to get things done.
Barack Obama is an excellent example of this ethic. Although he talks often of ideas, hope and vision, these are more of a marketing effort to get the Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Millennials (born 1981 – 2005) to get on board with the direction. That, in itself, is a very pragmatic move. Rather than grabbing onto an ideology (as a Boomer might) he focuses instead on the goal and considers everything he needs to get done to get to the goal. Gen-X’ers are generally great marketers because they can craft the message to meet their market. I realize that there is some argument about whether Obama is Generation-X or not – more on that in a future post.
Individualism is also a hallmark of Generation-X. From our early years we had to go it alone, and most of us got pretty good at it. Later in life some of us are discovering that it can get pretty lonely without a cohesive peer group, and we are reaching out for community (see my previous article on Gen-X community). That, I believe, is the beginning of the disillusionment that also seems to nag our generation.

No Illusions lead to Disillusioned

The world that Gen-X grew up on was not desperate, not when you compare it with earlier cycles, such as the period between the Great Depression and the end of WWII. It was, however, a time of great discord and chaos. Institutions crumbled, and opinions became more varied and oppositional. It was near impossible to have a cohesive world-view, and the only one that worked well was Machiavellian: The ends justify the means. Gen-X knew better than to harbor any illusions about what was coming next, and that has led to a general sense of disillusionment.
In my own life I have played out this cycle in many ways. As a youth I was fired up about politics and ideology, but it quickly became apparent that the world had enough ideologists, and making a living should be my priority. After paying my own way through college and graduating at the age of 26, I started looking for job. My degree was in Fermentation Science, and I had several years of winemaking experience. But there were no jobs in winemaking up in Oregon where I was living, and the future started to look pretty bleak. What other skills did I have? Even with a college degree that was very vocational, my prospects were limited.
Eventually I found a position at a local brewpub that was starting up, and I became the head brewer for the place. It was a great job, and fit perfectly with my background, but I found that after just two years I was getting restless and bored with the work. By this point I had started a family (Caleb was born in 1996) and I knew I was going to be the main provider.
Thinking back through the early portion of my career I am struck by how on my own I was professionally. There was no institution or organization helping me find my way, and I am not sure if I would have accepted help from one anyway. Like most in my generation, I was used to going it alone. I certainly had lots of individuals that helped me along the way, but I never had the feeling of a team moving through life together (for more on this topic, see my post on Generational networks).
Fast-forward to today. I am 42 years old, with a wife and two kids (ages 8 and 12). I have worked for various companies over the years, taken time off, traveled the world with my family and found my own way for the most part. My career has been varied, from winemaking, brewing, teaching, programming, managing, selling and marketing. I am comfortable in many disciplines and work very independently, but I still don’t have a sense of belonging to a group with a greater purpose. Although some might think this is the perfect recipe for finding religion (and I did get laid off in January), I don’t think that is in the cards for me either.
Disillusionment is the obvious reaction to all of this. It’s not like some institution is going to fly in and save the day for me or anyone else in my generation. Depending on their needs there are companies out there who could really use my skills, but it won’t be about community. After many years of playing the market, I have not developed anywhere else to play. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
I won’t personally go the direction of disillusionment. It’s not in my nature. I see disillusionment as the combination of pragmatism and pessimism. It is a great source of depression really. My attitude is a combination of pragmatism and optimism, and always has been. Have a positive outlook, but look at everything with a clear eye. That is the gift that our generation has to offer.

Talkin’bout My Generation

I have been doing a fair bit of research into the effects of generations lately. The result of this research has been several charts and illustrations that give the big picture about where American generations (and society) are headed. This work is based primarily on the book “The Fourth Turning” by Neil Howe and William Strauss. The following slideshow (with accompanying audio) explains the first chart I created to explain the generational turnings.