The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Sep 292010
 

I have missed (first-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960), radical feminist) Camille Paglia.  She’s so pungent, so smart.  And now I see this: Her total put-down of Lady Gaga and her entire generation—by extension, we would have to say, of her entire Millennial (born 1982-200?).

Paglia’s emphasis on Gaga’s essential a-sexuality reminds me of that famous Rolling Stone expose of the Millennial libido a few years ago, “The Young and Sexless.”  Gaga doesn’t  say a lot that’s interesting or coherent, but she has commented several times that young people can be happy with or without sex.  She is, as Paglia observes, simply indifferent to the question.

What rankles many Boomers like Paglia is the fundamental sense that Millennials show no evidence of experiencing life with the same clarity, passion, depth, authenticity, and desire to break through and outrage as older generations once did.  Paglia is especially bothered by Gaga’s inability to articulate a single coherent feeling or idea—and her fans’ total comfort with that.  Note Paglia uses Madonna (b. 1958) as the positive Boomer foil.

Critics compare her to the outrageous staging of “glam rock” bands like David Bowie in the ‘70s.  But I don’t really see much resemblance.

Anyone care to guess what role, if any, Gaga will play in defining Millennial pop culture?

Sep 242010
 

Glenn Beck has quickly become just about the most polarizing figure in America today.  If Obama has come to represent America’s left brain, Glenn Beck is auditioning to become its right brain.  (I mean that in both senses.)  In a Third Turning (Unraveling), this would be cause for entertainment.  In a Fourth Turning (Crisis), this development takes on a darker, more sinister hue.

The red zone widely reveres Beck—not for who he is (no one really knows that much about the guy), but simply for what he says.  The blue zone widely reviles him—not for who he is or what he says, but rather for what he reflects about what is happening in America today.  The Obama election already seems distant.  For the literati, Glenn Beck is William Butler Yeats’ “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.”  See this cute Youtube video from NYC (“Glenn Beck Scares Me”).

He sends the prophets of the secular left into such apoplectic rage that, like Kunstler, they simply shout themselves into incoherence.  The dominant theme of Kunstler’s piece is that prayer “is what people resort to when they don’t understand what is happening to them.”  I’d love to hear Kunstler’s take on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original 1963 speech.

Kunstler is on firmer footing when he says that Obama’s caution often stems from the fear that any precipitous policy change may trigger a catastrophe.  In 4T-land, one is tempted to walk on tiptoes.  You are on the brink.  Don’t you dare throw the shadow-bank CEOs into prison.  Or raise tax rates on the rich.  Or shove cap-and-trade down the throats of big energy.  Or close down Gitmo.  Or offend Putin.  Or vaporize Ahmadinejad’s new reactors.  The economy may implode (again).  That dreaded WMD may finally be unleashed.   And *then* what will everyone think of your presidency?

True, by behaving (in Kunstler’s unplugged words) “like a weenie,” Obama may end up encouraging the very riptides of history he is trying to evade.  On the other hand, by behaving as Kunstler would urge, we would almost certainly end up in the midst of a crisis  Though perhaps, Kunstler would argue, it would be a crisis we could survive rather than one that we could not—logic that only makes sense to an Ayatollah like Kunstler.  Maybe what really burns Kunstler up about Beck is that they both share the same turning-yearning.

I offer  here two other more even-tempered reflections on the Beck “honor” rally from the Washington Post.

The first, by Kathleen Parker, makes the interesting point that everything about Beck’s message stems from the 12-step recovery program—with a  riveting emphasis on the utter worthlessness and depravity of the speaker.  Glenn Beck, a first-wave Xer (born in 1964), does this with grandiose self loathing:

“Hi. My name is Glenn, and I’m messed up.”

“You know, we all have our inner demons. I, for one — I can’t speak for you, but I’m on the verge of moral collapse at any time. It can happen by the end of the show.”

“You can get rich making fun of me. I know. I’ve made a lot of money making fun of me.”

And some of his lines are just funny, showing that he didn’t become a radio star for nothing.  Parker quotes one of them.  Not coincidentally, it extends the addiction metaphor in a new direction:

“It is still morning in America. It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding, hung-over, vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America.”

The second, by Ruth Marcus, points out that Beck’s rhetoric has found a way to unite the two sides of GOP—the libertarian (business) side with the moral (evangelical) side.  The tea party has never enjoyed such solidarity, with its “black robe regiment” (an allusion to the [Prophets] archetype during the American Revolution) blasting away from the pulpits.

And to accomplish this, only a cross-over Boomer-Xer voice seems to work.  Beck is Boomer (born 1943-1960) in his bombastic moralism, yet also Generation X (born 1961-1981) in his pessimism about human nature, his fear that everything around us is vulnerable and at risk, his historical revanchism, and his in-your-face bluntness.  His opening lines, announcing that today we talk too much about America’s “scars” and not what makes America “good” is very Xer.  Only a kid who was born the year after MLK’s speech and who grew up in the 1970s would say that.

Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin remind us of the un-pretty side of the Gen-X role in history.  Let me offer a prediction we made in The Fourth Turning(1997):

“By the middle 2020s, the archetypal constellation will change, as each generation begins entering a new phase of life. If the Crisis ends badly, very old Boomers could be truly despised. Generation X might provide the demagogues, authoritarians, even the tribal warlords who try to pick up the pieces.”

If any of this comes to pass, I have no doubt that many of the Xers who fill the role described here will remind us of Beck and Palin.

The original MLK (Artist archetype) appealed to our super-ego.  In front of the Lincoln Memorial, his lofty, grandiloquent words appealed to principle on the eve of an era of economic and aspirational inflation.   In front of the Lincoln Memorial, he was the right man for his time.  Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (Nomad archetype) appeal to our id.  In front of the Lincoln Memorial, their blunt, sardonic words appeal to honor on the eve of an era of economic and aspirational deflation.  Are they (gulp!) the ineluctable duo for our time?

Aug 162010
 

In no sphere of social life did the brassy me-firstism of America’s Third Turning (Unraveling) manifest itself so conspicuously as in professional sports.  The Nike swoosh, the vast signing and performance bonuses, the limousine loge seats, the intimidating tattoos, the brute physicality and in-your-face attitude, even the very term “free agent”— all of these became iconic symbols, in a celebrity carnival kind of way, of a fundamental mood shift that began in the mid-1980s.  Even the Olympics, which had never before made anybody rich, began generating huge profits.  (Thanks, Peter Ueberroth, for letting McDonald’s start a nifty new game the LA games in 1984: “When the U.S. wins, you win!”)

Now, some twenty-odd years later, it seems that another attitude shift is under way, once again with some of the most interesting signals coming from professional sports.  The tide is beginning to turn on the fighting, the profanity, the performance drugs, the super-lux seats, and the renting of stadium names.  And, as this story shows, pro teams everywhere (though this story in mainly about the DC area) are starting to focus a lot more on how they can give back to the community.

Quote:

“It has changed dramatically,” said Greg Johnson, executive director of the Sports Philanthropy Project, a nonprofit group that studies the impact of charity efforts in the multibillion-dollar industry. “Now it’s a central part of the business model of most franchises.”

Sure, you can say it’s hypocritical and just another way for the franchises to win the popularity of local crowds and national audiences.  But I’m sure many of the athletes and managers are sincere, and in any case why wasn’t this a formula for winning over crowds and audiences ten or twenty years ago?  You could also say it’s just the impact of the Great Recession.  People are tapped out, they don’t want to be reminded of things they can’t afford, and they are aware their communities have bigger needs but smaller public resources to handle them.  This is also true.  But it’s got to be more than that.  Nothing much changed in pro sports during the recession of 1991 or during the slow recovery thereafter.  If anything, the violence and drugs and attitude all got amped up: The overall U.S. rate of violent crime peaked in 1994, while ‘roid use kept spreading to more athletes and bad-ass black jerseys (a color proven to provoke aggression in sports and in war) kept spreading to more franchises.

What’s different, I submit, is that this recession is accompanying a shift from a Third to Fourth Turning (Crisis) mood—with palpable changes in the role the public wants pro athletes to play in their lives and in the way pro teams see themselves.

As Boomer (born 1943-1960) move into the ranks of senior managers/executives, they find it easier than the Silent (born 1925-1942) to “discover” authentic social issues and to promote their teams through involvement in passionate cause marketing.  They are also setting up many of the community foundations and philanthropic service firms that make it easy for wealthy athletes to start their own charities.  Silent executives, who were big-institution professionals, never really understood the personalization of philanthropy.

As Generation X (born 1961-1981) become the successful senior athletes and recently retired veterans, many of them are looking for ways to settle down, get serious, drop anchor in their neighborhood, and do something lasting.  For years, they’ve wanted to spend more time with their kids—and now they can, just at the ages (grade school) at which their kids most need them.  Nothing dovetails better with their rediscovery of family than wanting to spend more time with their kid’s friends, with other kids, with their families, with their friends, and so on.

Meanwhile, year by year, young Millennial (born 1982-200?) fans and players are transforming the audience-athlete interaction.  It’s not just that risk-averse Millennials are less turned-on by the violent and aggressive side of pro sports.  They are also less thrilled by the money-and-business dimension, which was big for Xers.  Millennials want to see more about athletes who can be good parents, neighbors, citizens, and good Samaritans.  Last spring, a Washington Post story about NHL player Brooks Laich (born 1983) stopping on the beltway to help a mother-with-kids change a flat tire—just an hour or so after his team had lost their final playoff game—ranked as this region’s most read and discussed sports story of the year.

Aug 022010
 

This piece in the WP by the “unconditional parenting” guru Alfie Kohn does attack the Twenge thesis.  But it doesn’t put any other thesis in its place, except for the suggestion that we know very little about changes in child raising over time and the implication that nothing much ever happens generationally.  But if this were true, then the substantive criticisms leveled by older people against youth would always be the same.  And of course they are not the same.  Today’s Millennial (born 1982-200?) are put down for being overly sheltered and helicopter-mommed.  But no one was saying that back in the 1970s and 1980s.  They were saying the reverse: That parents were spending no time with kids and letting them grow up on their own, producing a generation of undersocialized savages.  Back then, child psychologists and social policy experts pleaded for more parental involvement.

btw, we quoted heavily from the 1911 Atlantic Monthly letter exchange between the “older” and “younger” generations in our Atlantic cover story back in 1992.  The exchange sounded very much like conversations between Boomer (born 1943-1960) and Generation X (born 1961-1981) back in the mid-1990s… but nothing like exchanges between Xers and Millennials today.

Jul 172010
 

Last week there was a NYT feature story about a 24-year-old Millennial (born 1982-200?), a recent grad of Colgate University with a stellar academic record, who has been living with his parents (and grandfather) over the last six months sending resumes and looking for a job.  He wants an executive track corporate position.  A couple of months ago, he was turned down by an insurance company for the job he applied for—but was offered a lesser job as an insurance adjustor for $40K.  The Millennial turned it down, saying that the company made clear it was at least ten levels below the job he wanted.  The author interlaced the story with statistics on the severity of the current “Great Recession” for young adults.

The story lit up a firestorm of reader responses: no less than 1,487 comments thus far, and much larger echoes on the blogosphere.  Many of the commenters lambasted the NYT for suggesting that this privileged young man’s experience (he lives in a nice suburban home and his dad is president of a small manufacturing company) is in any way representative of the employment hardships most youth are facing today.  Even more excoriated the young man for turning down the $40K offer—and the family for letting him live at home while turning down such offers.  The most vicious remarks seemed to come from older (Generation X (born 1961-1981) and Boomer (born 1943-1960)) readers, who often cited their own tough, low-salary beginnings.  Apparently, they disapprove of this generation’s tendency to hold fast to long-term plans and dreams.  Be realistic, they insist.  Eat humble pie.  It will be good for you (to repeat what older Chinese now tell the rising “Little Emperor” generation) to “taste bitterness.”

Wow.  Stern stuff.  What’s surprising about all this indignation is just how vague these critics are about just what is *wrong* about what is going on in this story:

  • The Millennial himself is not complaining.  There is no whininess.  He disavows any legitimate comparison between his own situation and what the unemployed faced, say, during the Great Depression.  He’s looking forward to a happy ending–as are most unemployed Millennials (something we know from data from Pew and others).
  • The parents are not complaining.  The son gets along very well with his  (Boomer) parents and (G.I.) grandpa and runs errands for them.  The marginal dollar cost of the son living at home seems trivial and doesn’t really bother anyone—though admittedly the older folks worry sometimes about the young man’s career.  This is also typical.  The survey data indicate that today’s Millennials and Boomers get along much better in the same home than young Boomers and their own parents did 35 or 40 years ago—when many young Boomers report that they left home in anger… or that their parents simply kicked them out.  Take this trend (closer inter-generational households) and extrapolate it out over the next couple decades and you could be looking at a win-win solution to our unaffordable Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid liabilities, a solution predicated on greater mutual dependence within families.  Our number one fiscal nightmare solved.  And this is a *bad* thing?
  • There is no evidence that this Millennial is selfish or anti-community.  In fact, he expected to enter officer training with the Marine Corps but was barred at the last moment due to childhood asthma.
  • The guy is clearly keeping busy, volunteering for the fire department, working for neighbors.  By the end of the article, the reader learns that he is no longer actually living at home at all, but living with brother (a guy who did get the $75 opening corporate job) to sub for a roommate who just moved out.  He is planning to temp for local eateries while there.  Totally “temp” work—as opposed to quasi-permanent “careers” that the young person does not really want—is also a typical Millennial strategy.
  • There is, finally, widespread agreement among labor market economists that taking a lower initial salary, while certainly a doable and often successful strategy for long-term success, is not the only strategy.  On average, it is likely to result in a lower salary trajectory for many years to come.  Millennials plan ahead and have long time horizons.  If an executive track is important to them tomorrow, they will plan accordingly today.

So let’s move to the bottom line here.

Should we feel sorry for this young man?  No, but then again he’s not asking for that.

Did he make an irrevocable career mistake by not accepting the $40K position?  Not as far as I can see.

Is it unfair that, over the course of the business cycle, youth who graduate into a severe recession are disadvantaged in their career paths relative to those who graduate into a boom?  Yes, it’s unfair, but no more so than a lot of the other vicissitudes of fortune that hit some people and not others.  Besides, the effects of these “cohort timing” differences, while long lasting, gradually fade over time.  As Glen Elder showed, the Great Depression’s impact on the young adults of the 1930s was largely forgotten by the time this cohort reached its peak lifetime earnings years in the late 1960s.  (By then, their salaries didn’t concern most of them nearly so much as their kids’ music!).

Would America be a better place if today’s young Millennials were eager to leave their parents at all cost, even if it meant taking a job they hate?  You’ll have to explain to me why.

To be sure, one might reasonably argue that not everyone, not even everyone with excellent college credentials, can hold out for a $75K salary.  True enough.  But not everyone wants to hold out for a high salary.  And many of those who do will ultimately change their mind.  Maybe even this young man.  So?

My question is: Why do the sober-minded, future-oriented career choices of today’s Millennials make so many Boomers and Xers jump up and down in agitated condemnation?

Jul 072010
 

Creativity, risk, deception: These are the tools without which no Generation X (born 1961-1981) can get the job done right.  The conflict between this Boomer (flag officer) versus Gen Xer (field-grade officer) is something I have seen before.  This article simply offers another example of what the argument is about.  Sooner or later, thanks to generational replacement, Xers will win this argument.

Michael Oates, btw, is a late-wave Boomer.  But he speaks for his junior fellow officers.  No more than General George Patton or Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, this is not a generation that cares much about the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Speaking of Patton, I think everyone who saw the movie recalls that Patton himself was used (against his will) to deceive the Germans on several occasions, including the ruse of invading Greece rather than Sicily, which is mentioned in this article.

Jun 042010
 

This article got me thinking about how psychological studies apply to generational theory. When assessing the direction of a very general personality trend—like empathy, or idealism, or trust, or whatever–you can always come up with some survey instrument that says anything you want it to say.  How are they measuring empathy?  In what sense and in what context?  I don’t know.  I discuss the actual survey further down.

When it comes to empathy as a desire and willingness “to help those in need,” the Millennial (born 1982-200?) score higher (per the UCLA survey) than any earlier group of college freshmen measured.  They’re also volunteering more.  The Millennials are indeed focused more on actions than on feelings, so maybe the study faults today’s kids for not “feeling” as strongly.  It’s also true that Millennials have been surrounded by a lot edgier media at an earlier age than older generations, so maybe this has emotionally inured them to disturbing images—and maybe this gets them labeled as less empathic.  I just don’t know.

But I do strongly disapprove of taking one rifle-shot survey instrument (Twenge does the same) and using that to characterize the fundamental personality of a generation.  You need to look  at lots evidence, behavioral and attitudinal, across many disciplines and across many social situations, before arriving at any sweeping verdict.

As for the actual survey, this is what I found after a few minutes of googling.  Although I believe the study is not yet published, its basic results were presented and discussed at the APS annual meeting and a nice summary of its method and conclusions can be found here: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/skonrath/files/empathy_decline.pdf

A few comments.  First, these findings are entirely based on survey questions from something called the “Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index,” and, more particularly, on a subset of questions from that survey called “Empathic Concern” questions.  Second, this is a “metastudy,” meaning that the authors did not actually give this survey to anyone.  Rather, they collected and aggregated the results of many other surveys over the years as reported in published articles.  The advantage of a metastudy is that it allows comparisons over time and increases the number of observations (the “n”), allowing for better statistical accuracy.  The disadvantage is that, by aggregating lots of different studies with different subjects and using different procedures etc., it often mixes apples with oranges, introduces biases over time, and makes it impossible to apply “controls” to the findings.  We have no idea, for example, whether the more recent studies were focusing on somewhat different issues than the earlier studies.  Remember, we are mixing the results of surveys conducted at different times by different researchers.  And finally, Jean Twenge’s fingerprints are all over this metastudy.  For background on the “hypotheses” being tested here, a list of articles is cited.  Twenge is the author or co-author of just about every article.

Finally, what exactly is the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity (DIR) Index?  Well, for a full history and explanation, you can read the article by Davis (1980) here: http://www.eckerd.edu/academics/psychology/files/Davis_1980.pdf.  I have appended (below) a full printout of the DIR survey, with all of the “Empathic Concern” questions marked in red.

A couple of important questions I would ask.  To begin with, Davis constructed the DIR Index primarily to distinguish between different kinds of individuals at any one time.  The underlying assumption is that all of the people surveyed have been shaped similarly by history, the media, IT, cultural mores, and so on.  With the DIR Index, in other words, you can sort people into meaningful categories because the social context for all of them is the same (the index is probably even more meaningful if you restrict its use to one generation at any one time).  Davis does not seem to have contemplated using this measure to determine population-wide changes over time.  Is this trend-over-time use legitimate at all?

Twenge does this a lot in her own work.  She uses a “narcissism” index whose statistical robustness etc has been demonstrated on studies at one time and then uses that index to point out trends over decades.  Many famous psychometric exams show this problem, btw.  While they work well at one time, they generate weird and anomalous results when trended over time.  The most famous example are the IQ tests (Wechsler, Stanford, just about all of them), which show a strong genetic component during any one testing year (roughly 0.5 correlation) but also show a steady population-wide rise decade over decade (the so-called “Flynn Effect”).  The positive trend over time is so steep that IQ tests would demonstrate, if they were valid over time, that today’s population as a whole could not possibly be genetically related to our grandparents as a group.  So what explains the paradox?  Undoubtedly, the steady shift over time toward a more urbanized, literate, test-oriented, media- and IT-rich social environment.  This shift enables today’s youth, though endowed with the same “natural intelligence” (whatever that is), to perform much better on these tests than yesterday’s youth.

Why might this be important?  I think it’s plausible, or at least possible, that today’s kids, being immersed in a media and cultural environment that literally bathes them in world news 24/7, may give different answers to some of the Empathy Questions listed below.  I don’t know.  Just a thought.

The other feature of these Empathy questions worth pointing out is that they all reflect youth people’s *feelings* about others rather than what people would actually *do* for others.  Indeed, this is the whole purpose of the measure as Davis designed it: to focus purely on subjective response.  In other words, these questions are expressly designed to be touchy-feely.  As many of us have suggested, such questions naturally put Millennials at a disadvantage.  This generation pays more attention to collective outcomes than personal reactions, to results over motives, to “works” over “faith.”  If their empathy profile were identical to that of Boomer (born 1943-1960), they probably would have voted for Hillary rather than Obama in the 2008 primary.

Actually, the more I look at the Empathy questions below, the more I sympathize with Millennials for not responding well to them.  Am I the only one who finds them cloying and annoying?  I’m sure if Davis looked at my responses, he’d call me a sociopath.

Here’s a shortened version of the survey questions:

INTERPERSONAL REACTIVITY INDEX

The following statements inquire about your thoughts and feelings in a variety of situations.  For each item, indicate how well it describes you by choosing the appropriate letter on the scale at the top of the page:  A, B, C, D, or E.  When you have decided on your answer, fill in the letter on the answer sheet next to the item number.  READ EACH ITEM CAREFULLY BEFORE RESPONDING.  Answer as honestly as you can.  Thank you.

ANSWER SCALE:

A               B               C               D               E

DOES NOT                                                     DESCRIBES ME

DESCRIBE ME                                              VERY

WELL                                                               WELL

1.  I daydream and fantasize, with some regularity, about things that might happen to me. (FS)

2.  I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me. (EC)

3.  I sometimes find it difficult to see things from the “other guy’s” point of view. (PT) (-)

4.  Sometimes I don’t feel very sorry for other people when they are having problems. (EC) (-)

5.  I really get involved with the feelings of the characters in a novel. (FS)

6.  In emergency situations, I feel apprehensive and ill-at-ease. (PD)

7.      I am usually objective when I watch a movie or play, and I don’t often get completely caught up in it. (FS) (-)

8.  I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision. (PT)

9.  When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them. (EC)

10.  I sometimes feel helpless when I am in the middle of a very emotional situation. (PD)

11.      I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their

perspective. (PT)

12.  Becoming extremely involved in a good book or movie is somewhat rare for me. (FS) (-)

13.  When I see someone get hurt, I tend to remain calm. (PD) (-)

14.  Other people’s misfortunes do not usually disturb me a great deal. (EC) (-)

15.      If I’m sure I’m right about something, I don’t waste much time listening to other people’s

arguments. (PT) (-)

16.  After seeing a play or movie, I have felt as though I were one of the characters. (FS)

17.  Being in a tense emotional situation scares me. (PD)

18. When I see someone being treated unfairly, I sometimes don’t feel very much pity for them.

(EC) (-)

19.  I am usually pretty effective in dealing with emergencies. (PD) (-)

20.  I am often quite touched by things that I see happen. (EC)

21.  I believe that there are two sides to every question and try to look at them both. (PT)

22.  I would describe myself as a pretty soft-hearted person. (EC)

23.  When I watch a good movie, I can very easily put myself in the place of a leading

character. (FS)

24.  I tend to lose control during emergencies. (PD)

25.  When I’m upset at someone, I usually try to “put myself in his shoes” for a while. (PT)

26.     When I am reading an interesting story or novel, I imagine how I would feel if the events in the story were happening to me. (FS)

27.  When I see someone who badly needs help in an emergency, I go to pieces. (PD)

28.  Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place. (PT)

NOTE:            (-) denotes item to be scored in reverse fashion

PT = perspective-taking scale

FS = fantasy scale

EC = empathic concern scale

PD = personal distress scale

A = 0

B = 1

C = 2

D = 3

E = 4

Except for reversed-scored items, which are scored:

A = 4

B = 3

C = 2

D = 1

E = 0

May 132010
 

As Bill and I pointed out in Generations and The Fourth Turning, every generation approaches life’s major passages with its own distinctive style.  And that certainly includes death.  In recent years, most of the media attention has focused on how the Silent (born 1925-1942) are choosing to negotiate the final passage—e.g., with warmly humanized nursing homes and hospices (like the “Eden Alternative”) and movies like “The Bucket List.”  (In his final moments, apparently, Jack Nicholson will be carefully crossing the last of 27 items off his agenda.)  The G.I. (born 1901-1924) exit style—emphasizing social largesse and institutional pomp—is already fast fading.  The Silent style is kinder, gentler, more personal, and, as always with this generation, touched by ironic humor.

Yet we Boomer (born 1943-1960) are also getting older.  And if you look carefully, you can already catch glimpses of how Boomers will do it (and are doing it) differently.  With Boomers, the nursing homes will be gone entirely, replaced by “elective communities” and NORC’s (naturally occurring retirement communities—meaning, I go nowhere; I will get some Generation X (born 1961-1981) contractor to bring services to me!).  As for all those lists, I think many Boomers will throw away the pen and the lined paper… and opt for an experience more interior, more mythical, more transcendent.  And will mind-altering drugs play a role?  For many Boomers, you bet.  They came in handy in our youth, and many of us will revisit them, like a familiar friend, at the end.

It is in this sober and reflective spirit that I offer the following AP story about a 1943-cohort woman who, worried about the grave prognosis for her cancer, enrolled in one of a burgeoning number of programs that offer psychedelic drugs to terminal patients.  In her case, the experience was very positive—as it has also been, it seems, for many others.  The story received an amazing 337 comments.  It took me back to Carlos Castaneda, “the teachings of Don Juan,” certain mushrooms, and the deserts of the southwest.  If you’re not a Boomer, you wouldn’t understand.

May 102010
 

A very nice piece by Morley Winograd and Mike Hais.  If you look at surveys over time, you will notice that Boomer (born 1943-1960) have *always* been relatively partial to the ideal of rural/wilderness living; and Generation X (born 1961-1981) to the ideal of creative and diverse urban living (now called new urbanism, mixed use, infill paradise, what have you).  Millennial (born 1982-200?) show a partiality to the small town and the suburb—yes, the suburb: take that all you apocalyptic Boomers who have always expressed such hatred for the brave new world your parents built!  Keep in mind, though, that for single Millennials this remains their ideal for their stable, married, familied future, not necessarily for the present.  The favorite destination for single Millennials remains big and busy (and now safer) cities.  NYC tops the list.

btw, when NCLB was legislated back in 2001, no provision was bitterly resisted by teachers unions and the majority of Democratic leaders as the rule that school children in persistently failing districts eventually be given the right to choose new schools.  Go back and look at the record.  This was a Bush monstrosity that would unravel the very fabric of our public school system, etc., etc.  Now this principle is accepted across the political spectrum, and even the unions are conceding.  Reason, imo, is the rapidly growing impact over the last ten years of Gen-X parents.  Districts everywhere in America are now wooing parents with slogans about how they want to “be their choice” of schools.   What a sea change!

May 072010
 

I have a lot of respect for Ronald Lee.  He’s a big-name demographer/economist.  But I just can’t fathom how he can arrive at his conclusions because the differences in the magnitude of spending are so large.  This year, all levels of government spent around $150 billion on higher ed—but around $1.2 trillion on transfers to the elderly.  Keep in mind too that all generations are taxed to support higher ed, and that higher ed has current benefits (discoveries, R&D) benefitting all generations, whereas the majority of the transfers to elderly go strictly from younger people’s payrolls and pay exclusively for the personal consumption of the elderly.  If he includes all levels of education, the quantitative comparison is less lopsided, of course, but then I find it harder to interpret his comment about the earliest generations who “did not receive public eduction.”  And I’d like to know how he deals with the interesting question of how to calculate the enormous implicit subsidy K-12 education received in the early decades when talented women had few other places to work, and thus could be hired by schools at very low salaries.  Up until the 1970s, you could say, adult women were collectively “taxed” for the collective benefit of children.