11.19.18 | Intergenerational Embrace

One personal life regret was my failure to pay closer attention at the family holiday dinner table sixty years ago. What I would give today for the opportunity to ask my maternal grandfather -- just one more time (promise, I'll pay attention!) -- about his life, his background, the stories of his Austro-Hungarian birthplace, his Parisian dress designer father, 1901 emigration to America, dealing with all the hardships. And the same goes with other relatives -- all of whom, at the time, seemed to fit into one category i.e. old.

Threshold question: whence comes a generation? Take the so-called Greatest Generation -- born 1910-1924, coming of age amidst the crushing jaws of the Depression, only to emerge from the dust to plant the flag at Iwo Jima -- and one wonders whether such greatness is somehow innate or is forged by circumstances. Imagine that the same gene pool had instead been born in the 1946-1964 era only then to act out in the same overprivileged, Spock-coddled, pretentious, self-important way (as some would have it) of the baby boomer generation.

The interaction of generations and circumstances, subject of The Fourth Turning, was the focus of a previous discussion (MM 3/20/17) to explain historic cycles over the last five centuries of Anglo-American history. The real lesson of history, we learn, is that four generational archetypes arrive in a fixed pattern, as life phases intersect with events. Generations, even neighboring generations, thus can have remarkably different attitudes, behaviors, and self-identity. History creates generations, just as generations create history.

Member Monday (11/19/18) starts with the (rebuttable) presumption that people are people i.e. each generation represents a Gaussian curve of aptitudes, talents, and interests which collectively respond to their respective environments. As such, no generation can rightfully be deemed (say) inherently lazy, self-centered, or greedy (just as another be deemed inherently great). Any such label is as much a comment on the generation that spawned it or, for that matter, the generation(s) before which spawned the previous one(s). There is a reason why history is said to rhyme.

Lesson one: the young embrace the old. Transmission of culture depends upon it. Otherwise, culture would be but one generation deep. Yet, all that begs an important question i.e. what cultural attributes are worthy of transmission. The cultural memes here flow in both directions.

Lesson two: the old embrace the young. Culture is necessarily dynamic. The Sixties were hardly unique in terms of generational awakening. On this First World War centenary we might reflect on Walter Weyl, leader back then of the Progressive movement, and his post-mortem on the "tired radicals" of that era, "Adolescence is the true day of revolt, the day when obscure forces, as mysterious as growth, push us, trembling out of our narrow lives, into the wide throbbing life beyond self." What throbbing life does the child, father of man, encounter today?

Well, how about climate change reckoning? We previously discussed (MM,10/8/18) the filing by twenty-five youths of the landmark climate lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon alleging the federal government has violated the constitutional rights of the youngest generation to life, liberty, and property through its promotion of fossil fuels. Solicitor General Francisco sniffed, "they seek nothing less than a complete transformation of the American energy system." OK, Mr. Francisco, how about the track we (all) are on now.

The point is that perhaps certain immutable truths are worthy of fresh eyes.. (Building Bridges Across the Generational Divide - WSJ)

Steve SmithComment