August 20, 2010

Millennials, the second Silent Generation

I've never read Time's original 1951 sketch of the Silent Generation until now, and it's striking (although not surprising to me) how contemporary it sounds. When it was written, middle-aged people were cooler than young people, just like today.

It was also written when crime had been falling for 18 years, just as we've seen since crime peaked in the early '90s. Recall that the crime rate soared from at least 1900 (maybe even back through the "Gay Nineties") up through 1933, after which it plummeted throughout most of the 1950s. Another crime wave began in 1959 and ended around 1992, when it started falling once again.

People who have years of memories of wild times -- especially if those were during their coming-of-age years -- are basically a different species of human from those whose memories are only of tame times. Too many people focus on "defining events" like wars, economic booms or busts, but these are all pretty minor in shaping generations. The rate of violent and property crime is a lot more influential, simply because that's what the human mind has been the most tuned into for most of our species' history -- there were no labor markets or World Wars until pretty recently. There's always been violence, so that's the cue we zoom in on.

I'll go back later and pick out some good quotes and draw the parallel in case some of them aren't obvious. It's not long, so read the whole thing. For now I'll just mention the "I-don't-give-a-damn-ism" attitude of both periods of rising crime (clear during the '60s through the '80s, but most people today have no idea how wild the '20s were), and something I suspected based on current trends but had never seen any evidence for before -- "The young American male is increasingly bewildered and confused by the aggressive, coarse, dominant attitudes and behavior of his women." Those super-soft, estrogen-dripping honey babies of the '60s, '70s, and '80s were not there during the '40s, '50s, and probably most of the '30s. And during that earlier period of tame times, young dudes were just as blindsided by the shift to bossy man-women, LOL. No more true sex symbols like you saw during the Jazz Age.

God I wish I could've been there for the Roaring Twenties! At least my mother's parents were (one born in 1914, the other in 1920), and I got to see a lot of them growing up. As with Baby Boomers today, they remained carefree and rambunctious even into old age (my grandmother is still an incorrigible prank-player). Once you get so much exposure to a wild-times environment, you shape yourself to fit in there, and that sticks more or less for life -- like learning a language. This huge effort of birth cohort can lead to the bizarre situation where it's the middle-aged who are exciting to play with and the young who are dull killjoys.

3 comments:

  1. Recall that the crime rate soared from at least 1900 (maybe even back through the "Gay Nineties") up through 1933

    This was also a time period when male homosexuality was inflated. I think there is another pattern in there. Millennials appear to have a record low rate of male homosexuality.

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  2. I'm 45, my son is 13, I witness this dynamic first-hand. In mammoth doses.

    Is it really any surprise?
    My generation represents the most frightened, helpless, obsessively paranoid group of control freaks (parents) ever. A response to our own reckless youth?

    Our children represent the complementary residue of our fixations. Music concerts have degenerated into phone texting-limited, non-smoking anarchy and cutting edge movies dare for a PG-13 rating.

    Tame indeed.

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  3. Right now, the millennial generation is being saddled with the results of the baby boomer's decades long 'fun loving' hedonistic binge just as it comes of age.

    As baby boomers reach retirement en masse, guess who's going to have to pay all the money to take care of them in old age?

    Baby boomers are the parents who relentlessly stifled and micro-managed their kid's development at every stage.

    Baby boomers are the generation who engaged in the final abandonment of religion, tradition, community, and family failing to pass on any meaningful sense of cultural identity to their children.

    Why might millennials be so serious and sober in comparison to their elders? Maybe because they've got a lot of cleaning up to do after their parents had a big, messy frat party.

    Actually, I suppose that any generation would end up nearly the same way under the same social stressors. Thus it profits more to focus on the stressors than any intrinsic collective character of the people. But I just want to illustrate here that dismissing a young generation as silent, weak, and effeminate is a bit presumptuous when your generation has left the world a royal mess, just like most others before it.

    I do suppose the millennial generation will succeed yours admirably in this regard. This is an increasingly messy, chaotic world, not a tame one.
    Not since Mutually Assured Destruction became possible has there been such a heavy and pervasive sense of impending end times.

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