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Introducing: Silent of the Week Posts

Introducing: Silent of the Week Posts

I’ve posted earlier about the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) and how they are still an influence in our society. They are the eldest of the current generations, and I thought I would pay tribute to them in a new kind of post, focusing on one or a few living members of their generation at a time. I’ll call them “Silent of the Week” posts, with no claim that I will actually publish one weekly.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing on July 20, 1969, the first Silents to be featured are the crew of the Apollo missions. Those missions were the culmination of the American High, led by the energy and ambition of the Greatest Generation, then in power. But the tough and dangerous work was done by the young adult Silent Generation, the test pilots with the “right stuff.”

Here is a photo taken for the 50th anniversary of 8 living Apollo astronauts. All would have been in their thirties at the time of the missions – at a peak age of youth and experience. They are Charlie Duke (b. 1935), Buzz Aldrin (b. 1930), Walter Cunningham (b. 1932), Al Worden (b. 1932), Rusty Schweickart (b. 1935), Harrison Schmitt (b. 1935), Michael Collins (b. 1930) and Fred Haise (b. 1933).

Now octogenarians, these men have a simple role in American society today – as revered icons of a glorious past. They make sporadic appearances in the pop culture, more so in the past week because of the anniversary. For example, Michael Collins narrated a recent Google doodle animation about the Apollo 11 mission. But for the most part, they are resting on their laurels – and who from a younger generation can match them in the daring of their accomplishment?

These men really were from a different age, and just to remind us of the generation gap, here’s a viral video you may have seen already. It shows Buzz Aldrin encountering an obnoxious conspiracy nut, and giving him a taste of old fashioned values.

The Silent Generation: Still in Power

The Silent Generation: Still in Power

I’ve posted a couple of times lately about the Homelanders, the current child generation. I am going to jump way up the age ladder now, and take a look at a generation that is well into elderhood, but still influential in our society. I am talking about the Silent Generation – the generation that was born between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

There is actually some awareness of their existence, so you may have encountered references to them before. Just think about it like this – the Greatest Generation fought World War II – they were young adults by then. The Baby Boom came after that – they were the kids born after the war. Well, someone had to be kids during World War II, right? That’s the Silent Generation.

Before I go further, let me present the birth years that I am using for each generation, based on the theory which I study.

  • Silent Generation: 1925-1942
  • Boomer Generation: 1943-1960
  • Generation X: 1961-1981
  • Millennial Generation: 1982-2004
  • Homeland Generation: 2005-202?

Based on these birth years, members of the Silent Generation today are between the ages of 76 and 94. And there are still people in that age bracket who are powerful in society. Two notable examples are Mitch McConnell (b. 1942) and Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940) in the U.S. Congress. Arguably, through their leadership of their respective parties, they are sustaining the pattern of partisanship and deadlock that began with the Gingrich revolution 25 years ago.

What’s truly amazing about the Silent Generation in politics is that the top two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 are from their generation. That would be Joe Biden (b 1942) and Bernie Sanders (b. 1941). At least they represent different wings of their party. And considering that this generation has never had a President, it would be an historic event indeed if either of the two men were to be nominated and then win the general election.

Another group of powerful Silents are the billionaire investors, sometimes associated with the corruption of politics and conspiracy theories about dark money controlling the government. Depending on the conspiracy theory, they may serve either major political party, or perhaps just use them both as pawns. The most infamous examples would be George Soros (b. 1930) and Charles (b. 1935) and David Koch (b. 1940).

Two notable Silent billionaire investors are in the list of top ten wealthiest people on the planet – Warren Buffett (b. 1930) and Michael Bloomberg (b. 1942). I’ve named the most prominent wealthy businessmen of this generation, but many others still enjoy positions of power – if not name recognition – as C-level executives or corporate board members.

The presence of the Silent Generation in the top echelons of government and business could be part of the reason for the sense of long drawn-out and unresolved crisis in our society. In many ways we are still living in the regime of their generation. Special interests control the legislature, government action is stalled, true reform is impossible, and inequality gets worse as the country continues to slide in global standings.

This is the way things have been going for decades. But it actually hasn’t been bad – for the Silent Generation. The inequality in our country is in part generational. So we could hardly expect that generation to be the ones to instigate reform, when they are benefiting from the status quo. All of this takes on special meaning in light of the Democratic primaries with its large number of contenders spanning a vast age range.

I don’t mean to be resentful of the Silent Generation, just to make a point about generationally-driven social change. In a future post I’ll write about the Silent Generation in film and entertainment, where they are also still making waves.

Silent Joe

Silent Joe

I just wanted to weigh in with some thoughts on the news stories surrounding erstwhile and possible future Presidential candidate Joe Biden. Biden was born in 1942, which according to Strauss & Howe generations theory puts him in the last birth year of the Silent Generation. This generation was actually first recognized and named in the early post-war era, in an essay in Time magazine.

The Silent Generation were too young to fight in World War II, and came of age after peace and prosperity had been secured. With all the battles won, and the social order locked down, they became careful conformists, with an easy future laid out before them. They developed a reputation for technical expertise, for nuance and respect for process, and for a sense of fairness and compassion.

These are the very qualities which are getting Biden into trouble today. On the political side, he’s been accused of helping Republicans, voting with them or endorsing them. In positive terms, his behavior might be called “reaching across the aisle” – after all, isn’t working with the opposition party one of a politician’s duties? Well, maybe not so much in an age of hyper-partisanship, where there is no room for compromise.

The other problem the world has with Joe Biden is that he is physically affectionate with people. This has exposed him to the “me too” outrage movement on social media. Biden is a sensitive guy – so much so that he released a video apologizing for being insensitive to the new social mores surrounding the expression of sensitivity. You could say he was being meta-sensitive, or perhaps simply that he has the misfortune of being empathic in an age that has rejected empathy.

This is not to say that Joe Biden couldn’t be a competent President. I mean, just look at how low the bar has been set. But unfortunately for Biden, he is not a man for the times. The personal qualities which served Biden well in his long career and not what the electorate is currently seeking in a Presidential candidate, and should he make a bid for the Democratic nomination, Biden will have a tough time competing in an already crowded field. In fact, his cohort Bernie Sanders (b. 1941) stands a better chance, precisely because he goes against the grain of his generation, with his radical ideas and firebrand attitude.

A Tale Of Two Generations

A Tale Of Two Generations

Back in the early to mid-2000s, I lived in an apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina. At the end of the block was a commercial plaza which had a barber shop, which is where I would go to get my hair cut. I must have gotten my haircuts there for five years. It was an old-fashioned men’s barbershop, a proprietorship owned and operated by two men. The chairs had ashtrays built into the armrests, though no one ever used them. There was a small TV up against the ceiling in one corner. Customers would hang around just for conversation. It was the kind of business that acts as a “third place,” or place of gathering and shared experience outside of the home or workplace.

From talking to one of the two men who ran the shop, I learned that it had opened in the 1950s. One of them had started the business, and then invited the other to be his partner. This guy told me he had been coming to work at this place ever since. It was the only place he had ever worked – and for longer than I had been alive. In contrast, since graduating from Virginia Tech in 1988, I had worked at ten different jobs in four different states.

Judging from their life story and apparent age, the two barbers must have been members of the Silent generation, born 1925-1942. Their career stability is characteristic of their generation, as my career instability is characteristic of mine – Generation X, born 1961-1981. When you read laments about the lack of job security in this day and age, you are reading about this trend.

This instability hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to the same place for work for decades on end. Honestly I think it would drive me crazy. I have enjoyed my nomadic contractor life, despite the insecurities, as I described in an earlier post. I have been exposed to so many different environments, and met so many different people. It’s been an adventure. But what I have missed, which the two Silent generation barbers enjoyed, is a deep sense of belonging to a community of people rooted in one place.

Shortly before I moved out of that apartment, I heard from the old guy while he was cutting my hair that his partner had gotten sick, and was planning to retire. He was going to retire as well, since he didn’t want to run the business alone. Not long afterward, the store was empty. The chairs, the counters, the TV on the shelf – everything was gone.

Then a tattoo shop opened up at the same location. It only lasted a few months before it closed – some younger entrepreneur’s failed dream. Next came a gift shop. Then I moved away, so I have no idea if the gift shop lasted, or if any business with staying power could ever survive there again. Or where all the men who used to hang out at the barbershop now went to instead – if they ever found a new third place.