Directions for the Silent Generation

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) are leaving the stage in the upcoming crisis. Will their last act have a positive outcome?

In 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?),  Generation X (born 1961-1981) and the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960). The script for Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) is shown below (emphasis, items in italics and links mine). “Artist” refers to the archetype of the Silent Generation.

Having witnessed the last Crisis as an anxious child, the Artist will approach the next one as an anxious elder. He will see its catalyst and feel its mood shift but will probably pass away before learning how it turns out. In the Fourth Turning, therefore, the Artist must disengage and refrain from interfering as other archetypes do their necessary work. In an Unraveling (the Culture Wars from 1984-2005) , the old Artist sees little of his own empathic quality in the Nomad (Generation X in this case) who (he fears) will ignorantly shatter his own achievements. The Artist may even worry that refinement and sensitivity are themselves dying with him. He is unaware that a new Artist archetype is soon to be reborn in the Fourth Turning, nurtured by the Nomad to possess exactly the traits the old Artist wishes to preserve.
In the Fourth Turning, the Silent will be fading from power, with less chance to act than to veto (or, as always, to entangle) the actions of others. Their vestigial powers will reside mainly in courtrooms. If they block the Next New Deal, Silent jurists would follow in the Crisis-aggravating saecular footsteps of Roger Taney in the 1850’s and the “nine old men” in the 1930s. They should avoid intruding on the moral judgments of Boomer legislatures and avoid using detail, complexity, and delay to stifle the recrudescence of civic authority. Crisis-era antagonisms will not be amenable to being smoothed over, and warring sides will refuse mediation. Decisions will not be improved by adding new layers of procedure, and urgent problems will not await further study. The Silent should defer to the X’er view that experts can be dead wrong, that professional elites can stumble over simple choices, and that kind intentions do not always produce kind results. As the Crisis deepens, X’er-style survivalism will trump Silent-style procedural democracy every time.
Through the remainder of the Unraveling, however, a Silent dose of what the Progressive Generation’s Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “just the art of being kind” could usefully help America prepare for the challenges ahead. With measured checks and balances, the Silent can artfully deflect Boomer anger and challenge X’er apathy, preventing those two generations from imprudently plunging America into dangerous rapids before the Fourth Turning arrives. At the turn of the Millennium, the election of an empathic Silent president might stretch out the Unraveling era just long enough to restrain Boomers and X’ers from engaging their worst instincts until both have had a chance to mature further. Once the Crisis catalyzes, however, the time for Silent leadership will expire.
Though eager to mentor youth personally, the Silent should realize that Millennials are not like X’ers and are even less like Boomers. The rising generation will not want to expand the frontier of individualism and introspection. They will want the opposite—teamwork and construction. The child’s world is just now recovering from what Silent parents, educators, and pop-culture leaders did to it back in the Awakening in the name of reform. Millennial nurture depends on this change continuing. The kindest thing the Silent can do for Millennials is to be the helpmate. Perhaps, by dint of their smaller numbers, the Silent can sneak through unnoticed with a GI-style elder reward. Rut by acceding gracefully to requests that they relinquish some of their late-life public reward, the Silent could prove that good intentions can make a difference, that nice people can alter history.
If the Silent play their script badly, they will end their lives like Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, fearing that the national greatness hoisted by others in their childhood will pass away with them. If they apply their script well, however, they can go into history’s good night like those who reached their eighties in the Great Depression, old Progressives like Louis Brandeis and John Dewey, who (in the latter’s words) remained “committed to an end that is at once enduring and flexible.”

Silents are certainly stepping aside now (see my post on the makeup of the legislature). Unfortunately the Silent Generation did not get it’s president at the turn of the Millennium – we got another Boomer (George W. Bush), which did seem to push us further into crisis. And that last item I highlighted is why Generation X will always be cynical about the role of parents, educators and pop-culture leaders.

Which Generation is Responsible for the Crisis?

There is a lot of debate about who is to blame for our current economic woes, the likely culprit is probably not an individual or organization, but rather an entire generation.

Generations span 20 or more birth years and each has a different character. Some certainly blame the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) while others place the blame on Generation X (born 1961-1981). For a brief overview of generational research see my “start here” page. But what generation is most responsible for our current crisis?

The Baby Boomers were born during a cultural “High”, a time when the American Dream seemed attainable and the upward path of the country seemed Manifest Destiny. They were doted on during their youth and encouraged to be independent thinkers by their parents (many of whom were of the GI Generation, born 1901-1924). By the time they reached young adulthood in the late 1960’s they started to rebel against the established culture of the GI’s by protesting against an ugly war and cultural values they did not agree with. Through the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s the Baby Boomer generation managed to tear down most of the social institutions and norms that had been created by the GI Generation. Although the Boomers were adept at challenging the establishment, they were not nearly as capable at building a new society.

It was in this cultural storm that Generation X came of age. Because of the battles being waged by the Boomers against the established GI’s the young Gen X’ers were mostly ignored during their youth. They became the alienated young adults in the 80’s and 90’s who had to figure out how to get by on their own. As a generation they are extremely independent and pragmatic, but also given to cynicism and selfishness.

It’s easy to say that the Boomers started the downfall with their expectation of extravagant lifestyles and their anti-civic nature. It’s also easy to blame the Gen X’ers, who don’t really seem to care much about the direction society is headed as long as they can protect themselves. But there is another possible culprit in this scenario, and it’s not the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) that came after the GI’s and before the Boomers. They were the “go along to get along” types that provided little leadership or direction (as a group), but also should not shoulder much blame.

No, the generation most responsible for our current crisis is Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation, the GI’s who built our unsustainable American Dream in the first place. The Boomers were right when they called out their elders and stated that the American Dream was shallow and unattainable for a majority of the people. That did not stop the GI’s from continuing to lead as if it could go on forever. A long series of Presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr.) along with a vast majority of the legislature and corporate leaders all hailed from the GI Generation, and they mostly believed that our good times could carry on forever, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. This is part of the reason that the various politicians in the late 60’s and early 70’s were so stunned by the Boomer reactions to their leadership. Didn’t everyone agree that the American Dream was the perfect ideal? Well, no, said the Baby Boomers, but unfortunately they did not have a singular viable alternative.

Although the GI Generation might suggest prudence and wagged a finger at our excesses in the last 20 years, they were the ones that chose the direction and got the ball rolling. Yes, they won a war against an evil enemy. Yes, they bolstered a society to have pride in its amazing accomplishments. But the Greatest Generation definitely suffered from the hubris of not knowing when to say when.

This is also a cautionary tale for the young Millennial Generation (born 1981-200?). You have been given all the tools to succeed by your parents, and will face many daunting challenges. I am confident that the Millennials will see us through these difficult times and come out victorious. But there are already early signs of the hubris that the GI’s had that may lead to yet another false ideal and another turn in the cycle of generations. Is it possible for this generation to be both strong and humble? Will they have the strength of character to see that the values that pull us out of a crisis are not necessarily the right foundations for a healthy society? Only time will tell.

Neil Howe talks about Generations

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:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Part 10:

Part 11:

Part 12:

Defend the Honor of Generation X!

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:

X Losers

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:

where are the great x'ers?

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:

Category Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3 Candidate 4 Candidate 5
Thinker Malcolm Gladwell Mark Kingwell
Poet Christian Bok
Philosopher Sam Harris
Leader Barack Obama Rachel Maddow Todd Beamer
Writer Jonathan Franzen David Foster Wallace Michael Chabon Will Ferguson JK Rowling
Actor Don Cheadle Robert Downey Jr. Jodie Foster Ralph Fiennes Natasha Richardson
Comedian Eddie Izzard Jon Stewart Dave Chapelle Seth McFarlane Eddie Murphy
Statesman Barack Obama
Glamor Queen Princess Diana Julia Roberts
Sculptor Douglas Coupland
Architect David Adjaye
Fashion Designer Alexander Wang
Artist Matthew Barney Shepard Fairey
Film Director Sophia Coppola Quentin Tarantino Steven Soderbergh Guy Ritchie Andy Wachowski
Enviromentalist Julia Butterfly Hill
Politician Bernard Lord George Stephanopoulos Jim Thune
Social Visionary Arundhati Roy Shane Claiborne
Labor Leader Naomi Klein Lois Jenson
Musician Andrew Bird Garth Brooks
Athlete Barry Bonds Tiger Woods Wayne Gretsky Michael Jordan Steve Young

Is the Millennial Generation a bunch of Cylons?

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?

Millennial Generation: Smartest or Dumbest?

Is the Millennial Generation the smartest or dumbest generation? Two short videos debate the topic.

I came upon this video debate between Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe on Youtube:

Mark Bauerlein:

Neil Howe:

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 Millennial Generation’s Rebellion

The Millennial generation is rebelling from it’s parents and society, just like every generation before. But the form this rebellion takes is unique and has not been seen in over 85 years. Learn how the cycle of generations predicts what will come next in our society

In this webinar posted on Slideshare, I discuss how the Millennial generation is rejecting and rebelling against the values and ideals of it’s elders. This will shape our society in surprising ways in the next 15 years. Watch the slideshow with audio below to learn more:

Does Generation Jones Exist?

A recent article in USA Today has popularized the concept of a “Generation Jones” born between 1954 and 1965. The idea is that there is a generation between The Boomers (born 1943-1960) and Generation X (born 1961-1981) that has traits of both but does not really feel it belongs to either. Although the concept is gaining in popularity as many people born during the Jones timeframe feel it resonates with them, I wonder if the concept really has much value.
The dates I mention on this blog for the timing of generations is drawn from the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, who are well known for their work on generations. Their landmark book “The Fourth Turning” gives clear definitions of the cycle of generations and how they have evolved in the US over the last 500 years (going back to England). The value of their research is partially in understanding our personal roots (“Oh, now I understand why my Boomer friend acts like that…”) but more importantly in understanding the direction of our society overall. My question about Generation Jones (and other divisions) is whether it helps in that effort or just confuses.
Here is a chart showing the roll of generations since 1900 (click on it for a bigger version):
According to Howe and Strauss, the marks between each generation are very clear and are based on their surveys of people born in these years. Each generation has a specific character, and these are shown on the chart by the various colors (the “archetype” for each of these generations is shown in the legend on the right). The concept is that, for the most part, each generation is about 20 years (give or take) and they follow each other in a specific pattern (Hero, Artist, Prophet, Nomad and so on). This pattern has (mostly) held true for the last 500 years of history, although some of the timeframes vary by a few years. If you accept this theory, at least in part, it allows you to extrapolate into the future based on the ages and attitudes of the generations that will be alive. I go into this concept further in my two presentations on turnings and generations (Part 1 and Part 2).
But it does seem fairly unlikely that EVERYONE born in 1961 would have an “X” attitude when compared with EVERYONE born in 1960, who would have a “Boomer” attitude. But I don’t think that is the point. Let’s look at an analogy.
In 1984 Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory in the race for the Presidency against Walter Mondale. Mondale got only 13 Electoral votes vs. 525 for Reagan, in what, I believe was the most lopsided victory in US History. But what was the Popular vote? The result was around 59% to 41%. Again a strong majority, but it does mean that over 37 Million people wanted Mondale to be president. Without going into how silly our electoral system is, I think there is a parallel to how we perceive the change in generations.
Let’s look at that chart again, but this time with Generation Jones put on top to show the span of years.
It falls fairly neatly in the span between Boomer and X’ers on Howe and Strauss’ system. There are probably many people in this period that feel like they favor either Boomer or X’er attitudes, or perhaps feel like they combine both. But the important thing is that a balance point is reached where over 50% of people would favor the attitude of one generation or the other. Just like in the 1984 elections, when grouped together this slight shift in the balance can have large effects on our overall society.
Perhaps the more accurate chart should look something like this:
With a gradual shift from one generation to the next, but a “tipping point” that results in a large perceived shift in generational attitude. This would explain the “Generation Jones” effect (along with other theories that break the generations down even further), as the period of transition lines up with that proposed generation:
I am a Gen-X’er (born 1966), and I fit the generational stereotype in that I am very pragmatic. The value I see in this generational research is in understanding where, as a society, we are going based on where we have been. Breaking down the system into smaller parts may make many feel they can identify with the roles more clearly, but I am not sure if it helps our predictive ability. So its not that I doubt that many people born between 1954 and 1965 feel they are caught between generations, its just that I am not sure that clarifies where our country is going in the future.