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Author: Steve

I live and work in the Philadelphia area. I am an ETL software tester by profession but I also enjoy writing, tabletop gaming, reading and thinking about history, binge-watching Netflix, and traveling with my BFF. We especially like going to the Big Apple to catch a show.
My Board Game Biography

My Board Game Biography

Considering how much I love to play tabletop board games, it’s a little odd that I haven’t posted about the subject so much on this blog. That’s partly because I started In the Zeitgeist amidst the political turmoil of 2016-17, and stayed focused on generations-based political and social analysis. There was a lot going on in my personal life to post about as well. This blog was meant to be part commentary, part diary, and I had a lot to say about what was happening around me, just not about what board games I was playing.

But believe me, throughout all of the troubles and changes of these times, I have been playing lots of board games. It is one of my favorite hobbies, one that I’m passionate about, and it’s a wonderful form of escapism and distraction from the real world. I am a very imaginative person, and love to immerse myself in a game setting and just imagine that I’m off in another realm, playing some other role. And I really enjoy strategy games that make you think, and solve problems.

In this post I’ll relate my gamer biography.

I honestly couldn’t tell you when I started playing board games. It must have been when I was very young, in the 1970s. As a Gen X kid, I would have been exposed to the classic board games of postwar America. I mean games like Monopoly, Clue, Careers, The Game of Life. If you’re from my generation, you played them too. Then at some point I got into the more nerdy strategy board games that were available in that time period. A major company of that era was Avalon Hill, which made board games such as Titan, Diplomacy, and Civilization. I played all of those games with my nerdy high school friends.

When I started college at Virginia Tech, I joined a club called “The Wargamer’s Club.” I met a bunch more nerdy gamers there, some of whom I am still in touch with after all these years. We played games such as Illuminati, Nuclear War, and Cosmic Encounter. These are all games that could be considered “old school.” They had rules that were a bit more chaotic and luck-based than is the norm in board games today. There is actually a significant rift between the style of these older games from American companies and the modern style that began in Europe in the 1990s. More on that in a bit.

Another game that was very popular in my college and immediate post-college days was Axis & Allies, a World War II based wargame. Some friends of mine and I were so obsessed with this game that we ended up expanding it with extra rules and creating our own maps for it, so that we didn’t get bored playing the same game on the same map over and over. The game itself has a great system, and now there are a myriad of versions and variants with different maps, focusing on specific theaters or time periods of the war. But back in the late 1980s and early 1990s we didn’t have these new versions, so we had to make our own.

In the mid 1990s I was still in my college town, working at the University’s Computing Center. It was there that I was first introduced to Eurogames, by a work colleague who started a lunch game day (we played every Wednesday). He introduced some of us at work to a new wave of board games that was coming out of Germany. The first one we played was “Die Siedler von Catan,” which translates to “The Settlers of Catan.” You may know it today as simply “Catan.” It has become quite popular in the United States, and today’s young players weren’t even born when it first came out!

Me holding my 1st edition copy of Die Siedler von Catan

We played other games coming out of Germany in this time period, such as Entdecker, El Grande, and Modern Art. We ordered our copies through a web site called The Game Cabinet, downloading translations of the rules in English, since the games came from Germany and usually only had German rules in them. We all got hooked on these new titles, and would put in big combined orders to save on shipping. I still have all these old German editions of the games in my collection, too.

What was so appealing about these new board games? Well, they tended to have more carefully balanced and streamlined rules than the older ones. There was less luck involved, and more structured play that always took you to an end game in a reasonable amount of time. There was also no player elimination, so everyone got to play all the way to the end. You were trying to optimize your score versus that of the other players, not necessarily trying to tear down what they were building up in a bid to be the last one standing, as it used to be done. This was the beginning of what became known as “Eurogames,” to distinguish them from the American style of games we had been used to.

Over the years since, there has been a veritable explosion of board games in this style. The hobby has taken off worldwide to heights unimaginable back then, and there are so many thousands of titles it boggles the mind. You might call it a board game Renaissance, and even the mainstream media has caught onto it. If you know me on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen all kinds of interesting board game pictures in my posts.

But before we get to the state of board games today, more of my board gamer biography. I left Virginia in 1996, and after a bit of wandering ended up in North Carolina. I met more people there who liked tabletop gaming; I guess it’s just inevitable when you have a certain mindset that you will meet likeminded people wherever you go. One game I remember that we liked a lot back then was Twilight Imperium, which is an epic space exploration and empire game featuring massive space battles. It was really more in the older style of board game or wargame, with rigid turn orders and intense conflict, and it could also take a long time to play. I guess the old style still had its appeal.

At some point in the 2000s I stopped playing games much, and in fact entered a dark period in my life, where I fell into deep depression. I became a complete recluse, never leaving the house except for necessary errands, which included seeing a psychiatrist. My psychiatrist recommended reviving my social life, and suggested that I might have some hobby that could be a way to meet people. Board games was an obvious choice. So, with much personal effort, I got myself back out there and started going to a local game store (“FLGS” is the conventional term) and my board gaming life picked up again. This would have been around 2007.

I met new people, discovered new board games, and even started going to board game conventions in the area. These are gatherings (like any other convention) where all you do is play board games for days on end. There are even bigger game conventions (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) which include other kinds of games, panels and guests, cosplay contests and merchant dealers – they’ve got it all! I’ve been to a few of those, but honestly I prefer a smaller local convention which is mostly people who know one another, where it’s easier to find a game to play and to focus on the gaming itself.

The mid-2000s would have been about the time that the board game hobby was really taking off, as I already mentioned. Meanwhile, I recovered from my mental health issues, bought a house, and progressed in my career. It was like my personal life and the board gaming world were sharing a trajectory of rising growth and prosperity. There was an endlessly flowing cornucopia of new board game titles, and ample opportunity to play them with different gaming groups. My game collection grew and grew as I picked up copies of the new games that I liked the most. I was now heavily into modern style board gaming as a hobby, though I pretty much stopped playing wargames, which I do sometimes miss.

In 2013, I attended my 30th year high school reunion, where I met up with my dear old friend, Aileen. We reunited in life, and started travelling a lot together. Much to my delight, she also likes to play board games. In fact, we had played games together back when we knew each other in high school. She came to some of the gaming conventions that I was already attending, and we brought games with us when we travelled, playing in the hotel lobbies or suites where we were staying. In 2018, I sold my house in North Carolina and moved up to Pennsylvania, where she lives.

Then, in 2020 when the pandemic hit, I moved in with her. We combined our board game collections, which at this point consists of many hundreds of titles. I do my best to keep them organized, by theme and by type of game (for example, abstract or wargame), and by size of box (since they store more easily that way).

Aileen is ready for a game of Stratego

We continue to play board games when we can, though not so much at conventions or game stores since the pandemic began (but just last weekend, we did go to our first game convention in over two years). Mostly Aileen and I play two player games. We’ve even dug out some copies of games that we played back when we first met as teenagers. For example, not too long ago we played the old classic, Stratego. Yes, we have the same exact copy of the game that we played together in high school!

After careful deliberation, I make my move

I also play online sometimes with some of my North Carolina friends. A lot of board games, new and old, have digital implementations, easily accessible online. Sometimes you can play them for free, sometimes you have to buy them like any other computer program. I enjoy online play well enough, but much prefer sitting around the table, interacting in real life with people, and physically manipulating the components. There’s just something especially satisfying to me about that tactile and physical presence aspect of board gaming.

I’m very grateful to be living during this Golden Age of Board Gaming, even though I know I’ll never have the time for all the games that are out there. It’s enough to have time at all for the fleeting pleasures of life.

If you like board games, you probably should check out the web site BoardGameGeek, where you can learn about every board game ever made, and join an online community of board gamers who review, discuss, and share their experiences with board games. You can check out my user profile there to learn more about me, and even see our collection, which I maintain meticulously. I even made a GeekList (that’s a BGG thing) about that Axis & Allies variant that we played so much back in the early 90s. There’s a lot more I could write about my life of gaming, as this post hasn’t even touched on other kinds of games, such as tabletop roleplaying games or collectible card games, which I’ve also played a whole lot in my life. Who knows, they might be subjects of some future post.

A small sample of our board game collection, including some of my old German edition games

Mind Over Matter in a Game of Chance

Mind Over Matter in a Game of Chance

Last Christmas we got a cool new board game, called “The Quacks of Quedlinburg.” Its theme is brewing potions, and its primary game mechanic is drawing ingredients out of a bag, trying to draw as many as possible to score the most points. But some ingredients, if you draw too many of them, will cause your potion to explode, costing you points. You don’t want that! Tension comes from the fact that you need to keep drawing to get points, but you might go too far, and – BOOM!

Good game design requires some feature like this to generate tension, to keep the game interesting. This particular mechanic, in game design terminology, is called “push your luck,” and it is a pretty reliable way to do it. But there’s another thing about this mechanic that I wanted to bring up: apparently some people have more luck to push than others do. I say that because Aileen wins the game every time we play!

We must have played half a dozen games by now, and every time, when she is drawing her ingredients, they come out in a nice friendly order and she scores a lot of points, whereas I draw the dangerous, exploding ingredients and have to carefully consider whether to keep going (push my luck) or settle for fewer points. I end up falling behind in points, and then complain to Aileen, “this game has no catchup mechanism,” to which she usually replies, “you only say that because you always lose.”

Aileen offers an interesting explanation for the disparity in our luck. She says she does well because she doesn’t care what she draws out of her bag, whereas I am motivated by fear when I draw, and so my anxious energy is affecting my outcome. It’s poisoning the potion, so to speak.

Could this be? Could one’s attitude about a random event actually affect the random outcome? This has been studied scientifically, by the parapsychologist Helmut Schmidt. He conducted experiments on mental influence on the results of random number generators (recorded on computer disk), and found a statistically significant deviation from chance expectancy. What’s fascinating is that an effect is shown even with prerecorded events, providing no one inspects the record before the subject attempts to influence the results.

But how can this happen? An answer lies in the primacy of consciousness model of the universe. In this model, mental reality manifests in parallel with physical reality. Mental objects of experience – thoughts, intentions – are quantum objects just like the physical ones that surround us in the material world. They come into existence in the same way that the physical world does – by the collapse of the quantum wave function by unitive consciousness, which is the fundamental ground of all being.

Going back to my game of Quacks, when I draw from my bag, unitive consciousness simultaneously collapses the wave function of my mental experience (carefree or anxiety-ridden) and the wave function of my physical draw from the bag (favorable or unfavorable by the game rules). In my individual ego-consciousness, I experience either exultation at a fortuitous draw or frustration at an unfortuitous one.

But the quantum dynamics of my mental experience – the meaning ascribed by my mind to the outcome of the random draw – is tangled up with the quantum dynamics of the physical draw itself. By worrying about a bad draw, I am skewing the probability distribution of the physical event. My expectation is biasing the result! That is how this is a case of “mind over matter.” I need to learn to be chill when I’m drawing my potion ingredients, to open my mind up to more possibilities.

This model even explains Schmidt’s strange finding that mental influence can affect an already recorded (but not observed) random number generation. The collapse of the wave function (“state vector” as the experimenter puts it) occurs in the moment of conscious observation, and no sooner, as implied by the famous double slit experiment. In other words, until the record on the computer disk is observed, its state is undetermined, just like that of Schrödinger’s cat.

You might not give much credence to the work of Helmut Schmidt, since he was a “parapsychologist,” a field which is generally considered to be pseudoscience. But haven’t you ever been playing a game with dice rolling and experienced the right number (or wrong number) come up just when you needed it (or dreaded it) the most? Maybe in a table top roleplaying game, where the story meaning is particularly entwined with the dice outcomes, where the fate of a beloved character hinges on a critical hit or miss, or on making or failing a saving throw. I know I’ve experienced it.

I’m sure we’ll play Quacks again, and I will try to release my fear and let the flow of good luck come to me. But I will have to fight my own nature. My competitive edge and my ego-identification with the outcome of random draws from a bag is what tangles me up, even though there are no real stakes in the game other than whether or not we’re having fun.

Where do I get this stuff? If you’re interested in learning more about primacy of consciousness as a model of reality, a good place to start is the book “The Self-Aware Universe” by Amit Goswami.

The Crisis Era in Terms of Khaldun’s Theory of Dynasty Formation

The Crisis Era in Terms of Khaldun’s Theory of Dynasty Formation

I recently posted about The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun, a remarkable book on world history that was written in the 14th century, but has many ideas about political and social science that fit right in with modern philosophical views. In my post I couldn’t help but wonder what the author would say about the state of the world today, were he to somehow be here to observe it. He was a pretty successful guy in his time, as I understand it, and to time travel him to our mess of an era would probably be rude, but I guess if it was just for a consultation and then he got sent back home it would be OK.

So how he would describe the state of our civilization today? He would obviously be amazed at all the advanced technology, and at the population level and degree of urbanization across the planet, which he would have thought was unachievable because of the inherent limitations of “sedentary culture.” He also, I imagine, would be surprised by the prevalence of democratic government. While he mentions the Greeks and Romans in The Muqadimmah, I don’t recall that he ever acknowledges their systems of government in ancient times. He may not have even been aware of them.

If he actually was aware of the nature of ancient Greek and Roman government, he would certainly recognize them as the antecedents of our modern democratic systems. If not, their existence would be a real eye-opener for him. Either way, I think he could still find a way to frame his understanding of our government in terms of his theory of dynastic formation. He would say something to the effect that we had invested royal authority in a representative body by means of cleverly crafted laws. Assuming he had access to all the history between his time and now, he would also note that the laws were often found faulty and had to be revised, and sometimes broke down altogether in periods of incredibly destructive warfare. He might wonder if we really knew what we were doing.

He would probably be disappointed with the relative statuses of Christianity and Islam today. In The Muqaddimah he frequently refers to the European Christians as a people, but does not have much to say about them except to acknowledge that they live up to the north of the areas he is mainly interested in, which are Spain, North Africa and the Middle East (he uses different names), that is, the Muslim world. He is writing during the Islamic Golden Age, after all. If he were here today, he would have to face the reality that European Christians have successfully spread their culture to new lands across the seas and are generally richer and more powerful than the nations of the Islamic world.

Looking at the United States today, he would probably observe a decline in religious organization, and note that religion no longer acted as a restraining influence. He would then observe that the royal authority of the representative government was also in decline, and would probably attribute that to the generational distance from the time of the global war which had established the current dynasty. He would recognize the richness and diversity of our sedentary culture as a sign of a civilization in its final disintegrative phase.

Does it even make sense to describe the government of the U.S. as a “dynasty?” Well, it might, in order to shoehorn Khaldun’s theory into the modern era. The current dynasty in the U.S. could be understood as the institutional framework that came into existence in the aftermath of World War II, when there was strong group feeling in the country, and trust in big institutions. As the generations have passed that group feeling and trust have eroded, and the royal authority of the government has eroded accordingly. The dynasty (that is, institutional framework) founded four generations ago is now disintegrating; hence the reeling sense of chaos that pervades our society.

I think that the way Khaldun would describe our state is something like what follows. The absence of religion (shared values) as a restraining influence (ordering principle) means that royal authority (rule of law) is required to establish order. For a new dynasty (institutional framework) to form, a new faction must arise which has the group feeling (solidarity, consensus) and desert attitude (courage, willingness to sacrifice) to achieve superiority and establish its royal authority (recognized right to rule). Applying this model to the ongoing partisan conflict between the red zone and blue zone factions in our society, about which I’ve blogged a great deal, it’s clear that the winner of the conflict will be whichever faction most successfully marshals these qualities of solidarity and courage. That is, whichever faction has the strongest group feeling.

Seen in this light, that each faction has a social media bubble, where a consensus on facts and values is continuously reinforced, makes perfect sense. It’s an effort to sustain group feeling during the conflict, since losing that group feeling means granting superiority to the other faction. It’s really that simple.

Which faction is currently favored in the conflict? A few years back I would have speculated that the red zone faction, rallying around former President Trump, had a stronger group feeling. They really seemed to have a greater solidarity of purpose than the blue zone faction, split between its progressives and moderates. But after the failed coup attempt in early 2021, my sense is that the strength of their faction just wasn’t quite enough to achieve superiority, and now they are on the defensive. However, I would note, as Khaldun might put it, that the red zone has been more clever at manipulating the laws of royal authority to favor their faction.

I’d like to think that Ibn Khaldun would agree with my interpretation of modern events in light of his historical model. I bet that if we did snatch him out of time to come observe our era, he wouldn’t want to go back just yet – not until he saw how events in the rest of this phase of civilization unfold.

A Really Good History Book from about Six Hundred Years Ago

A Really Good History Book from about Six Hundred Years Ago

I recently finished The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun, a book which had been part of my tsundoku for some time and which I finally got around to reading in connection to generations theory research. Khaldun’s work is actually referenced in The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, in the chapter on archetypes in history. I might have remembered this, but it was only when I rediscovered the fact that I felt compelled to pull The Muqaddimah off my shelf to read it and find the connections.

Khaldun has his own theory of a generational cycle in politics, or at least a generational progression. It’s basically the idea that as the generations pass, the authority of a dynasty declines and eventually disappears altogether. The founding generation establishes and consolidates the authority, and the next generation continues to benefit from it while beginning the process of constricting it. The third generation is just living in the shadow of that authority, even as the dynasty is in its most materially prosperous phase. The fourth and last generation of the dynasty is dissolute and wastes the legacy of the previous generations; at that point the dynastic authority disintegrates.

The parallels to the turnings theory of Strauss & Howe, which also has a four-part cycle and theorizes four generational archetypes, are plain. There’s also a similarity to the cycles of government identified in ancient times by Polybius. It’s fascinating to think that Polybius was writing fifteen hundred years before Khaldun, and Khaldun was writing over six hundred years before our time, and yet these parallels are there, even with modern thinking. It’s like these different scholars writing in different eras are all discovering the same fundamental truths.

Khaldun’s work is comprehensive in its scope (he’s what you would call a polymath) and reminds me a bit of Aristotle, just in the breadth of what he covers and the systematic way he goes about categorizing and explaining things. His work is also reminiscent of Herodotus, in that he writes about historiography and the importance of applying a discerning intellect to the study of history, lest one simply repeat the misinformation that is frequently passed down as historical fact.

While he does echo these ancient Greek philosophers, he is also plainly a denizen of the medieval age. He takes for granted the validity of his religion, Islam, and believes in spiritual reality and supernatural powers (he has a whole section railing against sorcery and its danger to religion). His model of physics is based on the four elements, and his model of biology and medicine is the medieval one of the four humours corresponding to those elements. We might think of these views as scientifically backward, but he’s simply working with what was known in his time, before the advances of the modern era.

What’s truly remarkable about Khaldun’s work is his discourse on social and political science. He has this conceptual framework around which he constructs a theory of how and why civilization forms, and its sources in religious and dynastic authority. In his view, religion forms dynasty and dynasty forms civilization, which sort of marks him as a theocratic medievalist. But you could think of this view as simply the idea that government must be rooted in some kind of moral ground in order to establish its definition of justice.

In his treatise, Khaldun repeatedly invokes the same concepts as he describes civilization in general, and the difference between simple desert civilization and what he calls sedentary civilization with its wealth and cities, basically describing a rural-urban divide. Let’s see if I can do a good job summarizing his theory.

In order for humans to live together cooperatively in a society they need some sort of “restraining influence” to prevent them from simply predating on one another. This influence can come from religion or it can come from the “royal authority” of a ruler. The royal authority of a ruling dynasty derives from “group feeling,” which is like social cohesion within a population, creating mutual esteem and loyalty. At first a dynasty has “desert attitude,” meaning a simple way of life and qualities of toughness and courage. This enables it to prevail over its enemies and establish its rule. But subsequent generations of the dynasty lose the desert attitude as the dynasty develops “sedentary culture.” The dynasty prospers economically, its cities grow in wealth and population and become advanced in the sciences and crafts, but all of this is at the expense of group feeling. Eventually the dynasty falls to some other one which has the desert attitude and group feeling that enable it to achieve military superiority.

It’s clear why Strauss & Howe would have referenced Khaldun, since his analysis has similarities to their turnings theory. You can also see how Khaldun anticipates the future thinking of Western philosophers. While reading The Muqaddimah and encountering his ideas, it occurred to me that the Age of Enlightenment might as well be considered to be the time when Western philosophy finally caught up to Ibn Khaldun. Honestly, encountering these ideas in a book written in the 14th century makes me reconsider the whole concept of a rift between the “medieval” and “modern” ages. It also make me wonder how Khaldun would see our world today, if he were to somehow be here to observe it.

I found The Muqaddimah to be a very easy read. Khaldun writes with confident authority and with common sense, and his thinking is very clear. Credit must go to the translator, Franz Rosenthal, for transforming Khaldun’s Arabic into straightforward English. I’m very happy to add The Muqaddimah to my “Read” bookshelf, from where I’m sure I will keeping referring to it as I continue my studies of generations and history.

Living in the Land of the COVID

Living in the Land of the COVID

My partner is off this morning to work as a substitute teacher. She gets this sub work because the full-time teachers are always out…with COVID-19. But then school is probably where she caught the coronavirus. So this is where we’re at now in Pandemic Phase II: sending essential workers through a revolving door of exposure and contagion and 3-5 days of quarantine. Maybe for other workers it was like this in Phase I, but we were all lucky enough in our house to be in lockdown the whole time. I guess as a society we can’t stop doing this, because oh no, there might be a Recession!

Pandemic Phase II

Pandemic Phase II

Another housemate has caught the ‘rona. Amazingly, I am still testing negative (fingers crossed). Isolation protocols and masking indoors work. Now that we’ve reached this state in our household, when I go out with a face mask on I don’t feel so conspicuously out of place, even though I live in an area where 90% of the public is not masked. I realize that I need to mask because there is a chance I am an asymptomatic carrier.

When I’m out in public and the only one masked I’m not at all self-conscious; I just feel like I’m in on a secret. But it was never really a secret, was it?

With these new protocols in place – wearing the face mask in the house, taking a rapid antigen test before going out – it’s like we’re in a new phase of the pandemic. Are we riding out the next wave? Learning to live with endemic COVID? I don’t really know; I’m just telling my story here.

So You’ve Got The Coronavirus

So You’ve Got The Coronavirus

Well, it was probably inevitable. Aileen has tested positive for Covid-19. She was feeling a little sick, mostly a sore throat, so we got some rapid antigen tests at the drug store across the street. We had already used up our supply of tests that we had accumulated earlier (including the government ones) because Aileen routinely gets notifications about exposure from the school where she teaches. That’s why this isn’t really a surprise, seeing as schools are incubators of disease.

We each took a test, and her result was positive. Mine was negative, but one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time for me. We’re masking around the house, keeping our distance from one another, and have sent her son and the cat to go stay with his Dad. I’ll make sure to take a test before making any decision about leaving the house.

Meanwhile, I wrote this poem for the occasion:

An American With COVID

I know someone with COVID
and I love her just the same.
She only got the COVID
’cause she had to play the game.
She got her shot and wore her mask,
it’s really quite a shame.
She had to earn a paycheck
to have money to her name.
If you know someone with COVID
there’s no reason you should blame.
They’re just another person out there
trying to win the game.

Empowered Millennial Women

Empowered Millennial Women

Four years ago, a young woman gave a victim impact statement against a man convicted of criminal sexual conduct. It was a high profile case, because the criminal conduct had been ongoing for decades and involved hundreds of adolescent girls. The woman, Kyle Stephens, confronted her victimizer and made a powerful statement which included these resounding words: Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world. It was a landmark moment in the history of the #Me Too movement.

Stephens is a member of the Millennial generation, while the man she was confronting is from Generation X. Her statement was like a challenge to the men of older generations: you can’t get away with what you used to do. It was a sign of a new young adult era, with a new young generation on the rise – a generation with high expectations, and one that wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. A social movement was underway, and the careers of many prominent Boomer and Xer men who were guilty of sexual harassment or assault, even if it had been in the past, crashed and burned.

The Millennial generation had been the beneficiary of protection, regulation, and zero-tolerance policies throughout their childhood, and it was to be expected that this trend would follow them into young adulthood. With all that structure while being raised came boosts to self-esteem, along with pressure to achieve. This is how Millennials came of age with high expectations, which has caused older generations to complain that they are “entitled.” But how could older generations think that Millennials could – or should – settle for less, or be taken advantage of?

Millennial girls, in particular, were raised to believe in their specialness and in their capabilities. They were the high-achievement Lisa Simpsons, in contrast to the slacker older brother Bart Simpsons of my generation (Generation X). In popular kids’ entertainment their role models were empowered: Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls. The pop superstars of their adolescent years were GenX/Millennial cuspers like Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé – independent ladies singing about how they were in charge in their relationships with men, if they even wanted a man at all.

Small wonder that Millennial women have taken the adult world by storm, and asserted their rights within it. True to the spirit of Destiny’s Child and Independent Women, they may be the most financially successful generation of women in American history. They are faring better than their male counterparts in today’s job market, which is not surprising given that they also dominate college enrollments. In fact, one of their hurdles in life is finding a partner who is a good match, given these disparities.

That’s not to say that women don’t still face discrimination and harassment. Nor is it to justify anti-feminist backlash. But where such backlash exists because of the gap in outcomes between Millennial women and Millennial men, that is a problem. The solution is not to disempower women, but to find ways to empower men as well. Raising job prospects for those without a college degree would be a good start. Making life more affordable for the working class in general is also a good bet.

The #Me Too movement was actually started by a Gen Xer, a decade before it grew to prominence. It has come to the forefront of public consciousness at a time when Millennials are the rising young adult generation. In that sense it represents the demand of a new generation of women, raised in a sheltering social environment, that the adult social environment also be safe for them and respectful of them. Only then will they be empowered to achieve their destiny.

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson (b. 1966)

My last post, about the confirmation of KBJ to the Supreme Court, brought to my mind another African-American woman of my generation: NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson. I hope this doesn’t seem too weird, but I feel a connection to her, even though I don’t know her at all IRL. It’s because her birthday is very close to mine – both the year and the day. We are generational peers.

The fact that a black woman born at the same time as I was could have a successful career as an astronaut is a testament to how far our country has come toward the goals of racial and gender equality. It might not be perfect equality, but at least, for my generation, the opportunities have been there for achievement in any field, for anyone willing to put in the hard work. Seizing opportunity and excelling as an individual is quintessentially Gen X.

It’s also amusing to me to consider that as a boy, I likely dreamed of being an astronaut (and a firefighter, too, if I recall correctly). Clearly I made different life choices than Stephanie Wilson did, and ended up on a different path. Not to have any kind of Frank Grimes resentment energy about it, but most Gen Xers will not visit outer space in the lifetime of Generation X. But it’s inspiring to know that anyone born when I was born clearly could have, as one of my peers has proven. And that some Gen Xers have gone to space gives me a heartwarming feeling, a sense of pride, and a vicarious delight in the historical location and experience of my generation.

The Generational Shift in the Supreme Court

The Generational Shift in the Supreme Court

The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is being hailed as an historic event. From reactions on social media it is plain that partisan blue zoners are relieved that the latest replacement on the Court has occurred during a Democratic Presidency, and succeeded despite the partisan split in the Senate. No one could forget the Republican controlled Senate’s political tactics in 2016 that handed the nomination of Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement to a Republican President. That Jackson is the first black woman to serve on the Court is also rightfully being hailed as an important historic milestone. It reflects the long secular trend of the elevation of women and minorities as equals in our civil society. It is meaningful, in my opinion, that this historic moment occurred during the Presidency of Joseph Biden, who is from the generation of the civil rights movement – the Silent Generation. This moment is a fitting capstone to his generation’s legacy of fairness and inclusion in American life.

There has even been some notice of the fact that with Jackson’s appointment, the Supreme Court will, for the first time, have four women Justices serving on it. This reflects another secular trend of increasing gender equality on the Court. The first woman Justice was appointed in 1981 (O’Connor); this increased to two women Justices in 1993 (Ginsburg) and then to three in 2010 (Kagan following Sotomayor’s replacement of O’Connor). Ginsburg was also replaced by a woman (Barrett), suggesting that not even President Trump could bring himself to interrupt this historic progression.

When Justice Stephen Breyer (circled) vacates the Supreme Court, there will be no more Justices from the Silent Generation serving on it.

There’s another story that seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Take a look at the birth years of the current members of the Court. The Justice who is retiring and being replaced by Jackson is Stephen Breyer, born in 1938. He is the last remaining member of the Silent Generation to serve on the Court (the first was actually O’Connor; only six members of his generation have served on the Court). After Breyer’s retirement, all of the Justices will be either Boomers or Gen Xers. Jackson won’t just be the fourth woman on the Court, she will also be the fourth Gen Xer. This is another historic moment for the Supreme Court: the replacement of the Silent Generation by Generation X.

The other three Gen Xers on the Supreme Court were all appointed by President Trump. It is not surprising that Trump was able to find suitable red zone aligned jurists among this generation, which leans conservative and Republican. These three appointees may well be his administration’s most lasting legacy. They will steer the Court in a conservative direction for a long time to come. Even if, by some twist of fate, Biden should get the opportunity to replace another Justice, the Court will still be majority conservative (5-4 instead of 6-3). What does this new alignment, both generational and ideological, mean for the future of the Supreme Court?

I am not a legal scholar, so I can only speculate from the perspective of an educated layman. One thing I think is certain is that we will see breaks from precedent. This is already evident in the uncertain fate of Roe v. Wade – the dreaded (by blue zoners) overturning of that decision may be coming. One of the Gen X Justices, Gorsuch, reputedly disdains precedence and would prefer to craft his own conservative judicial philosophy. This sort of independence of thought is just what you would expect from Generation X.

Another trend I see is the continued success of the conservative mission to roll back the administrative state (a Silent Generation legacy) in favor of individual freedoms (a Generation X legacy). Case in point: the recent Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate. Given her background as a public defender (the first to be appointed to the Supreme Court), Jackson herself might be inclined to rule in that direction.

Once Breyer has retired this summer, only one Justice will remain on the Supreme Court who was appointed in the twentieth century: Clarence Thomas, who will be the oldest, in his mid-70s. No serving Justice will remain from a generation older than the Boomers, and there will be four from my generation, Generation X, all appointed in the past five years. It’s actually quite remarkable that all of the Supreme Court Justices will be younger than both the President and the Speaker of the House, and that their average age will be slightly lower than the average age of U.S. Senators.

You would think that the Judicial branch would be where the old wisdom of the country resided, but a move to pack the Supreme Court with conservative thinkers has put my generation there instead. This historic generational shift in the makeup of the Court will have repercussions for years to come. Long-standing legal precedents and regimes that have been taken for granted are clearly in for a significant upheaval.