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The Memorial At The Site Of The Shooting Where Route 100 Meets Route 202

The Memorial At The Site Of The Shooting Where Route 100 Meets Route 202

On the drive from my BFF’s home to my apartment in West Chester, Pennsylvania, I come down Route 100 South to where it merges into Route 202 South. Just before the merge there is a chokepoint where the two lanes of Route 100 converge into one, and the lead up to this point is so long that vehicles often race one another to the first place position. This can get messy when traffic is heavy.

There’s something about being behind the wheel of a vehicle that can bring out the worst in people. Part of it is anonymity – when you are driving you are unable to see the other drivers, to look them in the eye. It is the same phenomenon that turns people into jerks on the Internet. Part of it is the way being in a vehicle insulates you from the reality of your situation and the danger you are in. It can’t be worth all the energy and risk put into aggressive driving to save a few seconds or jockey for position, but people do it anyway, as though unaware that the real stakes are not their status but their very lives. This is all covered in a fascinating and illuminating book called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do which I recommend to anybody.

In July 2017 two vehicles met at the convergence point on Route 100 South and in the ensuing struggle to merge a tragedy unfolded. One of the drivers shot a handgun into the other driver’s car, killing her. The details of the case read like an awful convergence of today’s troubling social issues, an absurd outcome of our exaltation of individual rights, an ominous sign of the undercurrent of conflict beneath our civil society. Or it could just be the story of one person making a very poor choice.

At the site of the shooting there is a roadside memorial. The choice of the sign – HATE HAS NO PLACE HERE – aligns the message in the current political environment. It’s as if to say: please stop killing us.

There is some consolation, I suppose, in knowing that authorities have placed highway signs in honor of the victim. Just a few weeks ago, the perpetrator pleaded guilty in court to third-degree murder, and will receive his sentence by the beginning of next year.

This is Amish Country

This is Amish Country

My BFF lives in central Pennsylvania, amidst lovely rolling farmland in Amish country. It’s quite beautiful to drive through. Occasionally you will have to slow down for a horse and buggy.

The Amish in the United States are an interesting group, because they represent how it is possible for a social group to retain an older moral code and still remain a part of modern society. They keep to their ways, and we moderns go to their stores to buy their furniture and food (both of excellent quality).

But we are not completely insulated apart from one another. The Amish do vote, as this road sign from Amish PAC reminds us. Amish PAC is really just a former Amishman who gets out the vote without using either the Internet or television. The sign is on route 23 near the border of Berks and Lancaster counties.

 

Generation X at the Turning Point

Generation X at the Turning Point

Let’s take that list of what to expect of the living generations in the current social era – the Crisis Era in Strauss & Howe terms – and look at the expectations for my generation, Generation X. My generation is in mid-life now, between the ages of 36 and 57, in the phase of life where we will reach the peak of our career achievement and financial earnings. Having already sorted ourselves into winners and losers in the Unraveling Era, and then weathered the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession, for many us this peak won’t amount to much. Many of us will be lucky if we can retire with even a modicum of comfort.

A tiny minority of us have become the wildly successful and wealthy techno-utopians who have reformatted the economy. The billionaires at the very top of the heap even have their own space programs. But most of us are just muddling along, without a grand plan, as we have all of our lives. Despite economic recovery, we are anxious about what disruptions will come in the remaining few decades that we will be able to earn a living. We haven’t all been materially ruined – yet – but the Crisis Era is not over, and our President has decided to start a Trade War (insert eye roll emoji here).

It is plain that Generation X is ambivalent about the emerging new order. On social media we confront the current political crisis with posts that range in tenor from mocking to incredulous to anguished. It is unclear where we are headed, so ambivalence is perhaps inevitable. What is clear is that the old Culture Wars of the previous era have come to a head – and while some of us have picked our faction, many of us remain on the sidelines.

Gen X may be overshadowed by older generations, which have retained power at the highest echelons of government. For the most part we are ignored in the media, obsessed as it is with the generation that came after us. But we’ve quietly taken over managerial leadership positions in both the private and public sectors, where we can make a difference behind the scenes. Our generation’s archetype is known for its pragmatism and resolve in solving the issues of the Crisis Era, and with the unfolding future comes our chance to live up to the expectation.

The Spotlight on Millennials

The Spotlight on Millennials

I’m going to return to looking at the list of patterns to expect for the living generations in the current social era, the Crisis Era in Strauss & Howe terms, picking up where I left off a few months back.

Let’s look at the remaining items on the list of predictions about the Millennial generation – that Millennials will heroically rise to political challenge, that they will develop a sense of generational community, and that they will benefit from a new focus on the young-adult world. For evidence, I will simply consider the kinds of news stories that have been prevalent on social media and the web in the past decade. So let’s start with the last item on the list.

In the Millennial generation’s childhood era, which began way back in the 1980s, children benefited from a new focus on child-rearing. A wave of social change in the direction of increased child protection came in the form of mandatory safety rules, zero tolerance policies, and laws named after child victims (for example, Megan’s Law). I wrote about this on my old blog nearly twenty years ago.

Now that we are in the Millennial young adulthood era, the impetus for social change has shifted to the adult sphere of life. Political change may be stymied by partisanship, but a wave of social movements has risen in response to long-standing problems. These problems were tolerated when they affected previous generations – but no more.

A prominent example which can be thought of as zero tolerance policies reaching the workplace is the Me Too movement and its effects. This took off last year as a viral social media hashtag when a prominent Hollywood producer was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment. Since then, a flood of accusations has led to the downfall of many men in high places. Sexual harassment in the workplace has long been covered up by HR departments and endured by female employees, but in the Millennial era this may not be possible, or desirable, any more.

A less politically charged example is the new concern over reducing concussions to football players in the National Football League. The research into the problem began in the Gen-X era, but it was only ten years ago that the U.S. Congress compelled the NFL to act.  An enormous settlement was agreed upon, which has benefited retired Gen-X players, but only after they sustained the injuries in the first place. For Millennials, a protocol is coming into place to reduce the prevalence of injuries in the first place.

Not that there isn’t a politically charged example connected to the NFL, by which I mean the Black Lives Matter movement. Football players kneeling during the national anthem are in solidarity with this movement, protesting police shootings of unarmed young black men. Though rates of violence have been declining for a generation, police killings still disproportionately affect minorities. In the past this may have been a topic for moralistic commentary in academia and the arts, but today it is the focus of a stubbornly persistent and controversial activist movement.

Another famous movement that seems to have come and gone is Occupy Wall Street, which protested income inequality and the corruption in government and finance that was brought into stark relief by the financial crisis and bailouts in 2008. The protests on the street may have ended, but they continue in the online world. On today’s Internet feeds there are endless posts about the difficulties faced today by Millennials trying to get by in the current economy – the burden of student debt, the impossibility of surviving on minimum wage, the need to delay life events like home buying or marriage until financial stability is achieved.

All of these difficulties were faced by previous generations, but now that Millennials face them there is a greater sense of urgency. Will these problems be addressed by drastic measure while Millennials are still young adults? Will student debt be discharged, and higher education be payed for by taxpayers, like primary and secondary education? Will the minimum wage be raised significantly?

This ties into the first item on the list of what to expect from Millennials – that they will heroically rise to political challenge. There is less evidence of this. Youth voting rates have increased slightly since their nadir in the Gen-X era, but have not come anywhere close to that of the great era of civic participation of the mid-twentieth century. Older generations still have a lock on government, which partisanship has rendered contentious and barely functioning. But time favors the young generation, and they will eventually make their voices heard.

All that is discussed above connects to the remaining item on the list – that Millennials will develop a sense of generational community. Just that fact the their generation’s name – originally coined by Strauss & Howe as part of an academic theory – has become a household word, and that news about them has become so prominent, shows how they are in the forefront of social awareness. Everyone is familiar, for example, with stories about how they are reshaping the economy. With the spotlight shining on them, it is hard to imagine this generation doesn’t have a strong self-awareness. If they can combine that awareness with an enforceable political consensus, they could reshape our society, and truly bring about a Millennial era.

The Millennial Counter Argument

The Millennial Counter Argument

Since the streaming video era began, a new kind of content from the Millennial generation has become prevalent. It consists of episodes of commentary that dissects cultural phenomena, common sense knowledge or received history to get at hidden or unrepresented truth.

A famous example is Adam Ruins Everything, which began as a series on the CollegeHumor web site and then became a television show on truTV. An example you may have seen on Facebook is Racist History. Other examples abound on YouTube, in the form of named channels such as Counter Arguments, CaptainDisillusion, Knowing Better, Loose Canon by Lindsay Ellis (though I think she might have dropped that name), and Hilarious Helmet History from the web site Cracked (which itself fits this description).

With Spock-like logic and more than a little snark, the Millennial creatives who produce this content challenge assumptions and rewrite the narrative of conventional wisdom. Unsentimental and hyperrational, they seek to shine a cold, hard light on reality and reveal stark facts, repudiating the hysterics and oversaturation with meaning that characterize the Boomer outlook.

It’s like they seek to jettison all of the histrionic cultural baggage of the Boomer era, and rebuild a world based on reason and accuracy, in keeping with that Millennial mantra, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Here is a great example of what I mean:

 

Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

When we went to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., just after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, we took the metro into the city. The station and the train were crammed with protesters and their signs. I remember one woman on the train, older than us, who was holding a sign that read “THIS ABOMINATION WILL NOT STAND.” I believe she was from the Baby Boomer generation, the generation that came before mine and that shook American culture apart in the Sixties, in a wave of youth protest. And here she was, elderly and still protesting, fifty years later, which is as long as I have been alive.

The abomination to which her sign referred was the election to the highest office in the nation of a man who stands for everything which she had fought against her whole life. A man who epitomizes entitled, obnoxious, and abusive white male power. A self-confessed serial sexual predator who thinks women should be grabbable at a rich man’s whim. A racist whose instinct is to treat non-whites like criminals – or worse. A lying corporate crony motivated by profits over people.

And yet here he was, propelled into the Presidency by the support of millions of ordinary Americans who were duped by his demagoguery and worshipped him as their savior. It was the raging apotheosis of the backlash against the Sixties that was behind the rise of the Republican party, a backlash by people resentful of an America that was more open, diverse and tolerant. More non-white and non-Christian. The backlash had just put into power a man the same age as this protesting woman, but an ignorant and crass bully – the worst of her generation, empowered by madness.

When we arrived in the city the station was so crowded that it took an hour to get to the street. A huge mass of sign-carrying people slowly made its way through the turnstiles to exit the metro, and finally we were in the open air. We found our way to the mall and suddenly were swept up into a throng of protesters, streaming from where the speeches had been made (speeches we had missed, since it took so long for us to reach the city) towards the White House. The chanting, roaring energy was indomitable. It was the backlash against the backlash.

But would it last? As of this writing, more than nineteen months have passed. Trump has proven to be as awful a President as anyone predicted – corrupt, cruel, a threat to the republic. His supporters are entrenched in their belief in his legitimacy; they voted for him, and his faults seem invisible to them. Meanwhile, the President’s opponents have adopted the language of resistance, like freedom fighters in an occupied nation.

Trump has captured the reactionary right because he is the champion of their agenda: to keep out the Hispanics and the Asians and the Muslims, to stop free trade with China, to restore America to its pre-Sixties greatness. In their minds, this agenda is a much-needed course correction after decades of American decline. And undeniably it is motivated by fear, a fear summarized by one simple headline: Fewer Births Than Deaths Among Whites in Majority of U.S. States.

It is sad that fear has overtaken a large minority, and that they have rallied around an unworthy man. But he was the one who spoke their language. As I write, his fortune is crumbling, and his supporters will no doubt stand by him to the bitter end.  But in the long run majoritarian opinion and demographic pressures favor the resisters. The blue wave may have hit a red wall, but it can become a blue tsunami and take that wall down. We just have to stay resolved.

On the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, we marched down the mall in the nation’s capital, until the streaming throng took us to the White House. There the crowd thinned out, as some people left, while others lingered. Some tables were set up and people held signs urging or promising the impeachment of a President who had been in office for all of one day. It was like a court being held, condemning him on his own front lawn. This was the site of the Boomer generation’s last stand, and they were as riotous, and as judgmental, and as destructive as ever. And this was where they had finally led us.

What is of this era

What is of this era

Assuming that the Fourth Turning began in 2008 with the Global Financial Crisis, what are some things that belong wholly to this era? Here are some which I can think of.

  1. Smartphones. Specifically, the large touchscreen form factor smartphone that made its famous debut with the first iPhone in the summer of 2007. I remember seeing people that summer that had one. They were few and far between, but they looked like the happiest people I had ever seen, delighted beyond belief with their shiny black rectangles. I got my black mirror in 2014 and I can’t imagine life without it.
  2. Social media. Yes, there were social media sites back in the early 2000s. I am willing to admit that I had a MySpace page. But the big wave of near universal adoption began when Facebook became open to all adults in 2006. It was 2008 when I noticed everyone around me was joining, and I jumped right on that bandwagon. With smartphones making it ever easier to share immediate experiences, there are now multiple services in widespread use.
  3. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one belongs squarely in the current era, as Iron Man was released in 2008. Only a few months later, the leaders of the free world were struggling to prevent global economic collapse. Things keep getting messier and messier in the real world, but in the MCU films the good guys always manage to avert catastrophe. At least until the after-credits sequence sets up the next plot twist.
Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Millennials as Consensus-builders on Social Media

Looking at the GenerationsI recently posted a list of patterns to look for among the living generations in the current social era, based on Strauss & Howe generational theory. I wanted to take a closer look at some of the items on that list in a series of posts, and I’ll start with one under that most talked about of generations – the Millennials.

The item in particular is the second one in the Crisis era box – “look for the Millennial generation to enforce, among peers, a code of good conduct.” You can see this happening in that ubiquitous phenomenon that is defining the times – social media.

The rise of social media is part of the story of the maturation of the Internet, which first came into the public eye at a time when computer networks were the province of a small minority of socially outcast nerds. As adoption grew through the “you’ve got mail” era and into the dawn of today’s tech giants like Amazon and Google, going online became more and more mainstream.

Then, just around the start of the Crisis in 2008, came a new kind of computer that made being online essentially effortless – the smartphone. With it came an explosion of participation on Internet sites designed to promote social networking and interaction. Now, ten years later, what we call social media platforms dominate as a source of information and news.

The term “media” refers to an era’s primary means of mass communication. Adding the qualifier “social” suggests that a socializing role has been added to that of communicating, and perhaps that control of mass communication has been transferred from media elites (who are now mistrusted) to society at large.

The socializing role is evident in the familiar features of promoting posts (“liking” and “sharing”). Popular opinions rise to the top of feeds and are seen by the most viewers. Unpopular opinions are quashed. The consensus is reinforced through the use of signal-boosting hashtags like #metoo.

Another form of enforcement involves calling out bad behavior. A post demonstrates a transgression of social mores, which may, unfortunately for the transgressor, be taken out of context. Then a blast of comments shames the person. In extreme cases, the person may be identified in real life – called “doxxing” – which can be ruinous.

Perhaps the exemplary case in point is the store owner who posts an anti-gay sign, and then finds his or her business boycotted after a picture of the sign goes viral on social media. But how far might the phenomenon go? Blogger John Robb speculates about “weaponized social networks” and imagines their full potenital.

As for the people being in charge of mass communication now, the “democratization of the media” if you will – that has proven fraught with challenges. Social networks are vulnerable to infiltration, and social engineering has swayed elections. Social media sharing makes the dissemination of false information much too easy, and so the term “fake news” has come into the zeitgeist.

There is also the question of whose consensus is being enforced, as there are competing “red-state” and “blue-state” networks, each attempting to persuade us with their values-promoting memes. What values prevail will be evident in time. And though all of the living generations are participating in this social evolution, ultimately it will be the rising Millennial generation that defines what conduct is considered correct.

A closer look at the Crisis era

A closer look at the Crisis era

Years ago I had another blog, Generation Watch, dedicated to looking at current events and news stories through the filter of Strauss-Howe generational theory. I was an avid reader of their work (still am, though their work is now mostly confined to Neil Howe’s column at forbes.com), and as part of the Generation Watch site I had a list of submission guidelines that included hints about what to look for in news stories about each generation – it was all taken right out of the book The Fourth Turning. At the time I was writing (early to mid-2000s) I, along with many other Strauss & Howe aficianados, was trying to determine if and when we were going to transition from the Third Turning in the social cycle (the Unraveling) into the Fourth Turning (the Crisis). Well, the “official” word is that the Crisis began in 2008, so now that we are a decade in, I think I will reexamine the markers that I published so many years ago, in some new posts. Meanwhile, you can read them at the old site here:

http://home.earthlink.net/~generationwatch/gw_submission.html

Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

In Turnings theory, one characteristic of the era we are currently experiencing is that the young adult generation benefits from a renewed focus on improving the workplace. This continues the pattern from their childhood of being protected and nurtured more intensively than the generation that came before them. The Millennial generation in childhood was the benefactor of “Zero Tolerance” policies to keep drugs and violence out of schools. The recent uproar over sexual harassment in the workplace can be thought of as this same spirit of zero tolerance following the Millennials, as they age, into a new sphere of life.

We could think of each generation’s experience with sexual harassment when they were young adults entering the workforce as tracking the changes in the social era. For the Silent generation, sexual harassment was out in the open and normalized (think Mad Men). For Boomers, there was a push back in a new age of feminism and women’s rights. When Generation X was young, sexual harassment went underground, but was tolerated for the sake of career advancement.

Now, in the Millennial young adult era, the harassment of the past twenty or thirty years is being exposed, to the ruination of the careers of many powerful older men. There will be no more tolerance of it during the rise of the new young generation, in which our society has invested so much.