II. American Generations
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
-Walt Disney, Hero Generation
Every American generation is united by a shared set of experiences early in life, a set of experiences that shapes the values and worldview of that generation far into the future. This is the key idea.
As individuals, we are often built from our experiences early in life: it is how we make sense of the world, how we learn about what the world ‘is’, and the base from which we compare all future experiences and decisions. It is also the basis for our lifelong identity, both as individuals and as a collective generation — a generation shares formative experiences from the same era, and those formative experiences percolate into our consciousness as we go on to lead. Everything we “take for granted”, everything we think of as our “conventional wisdom” about who we are and how we view others, is etched from the backdrop of that formative era.
Part of what shapes a generation is that shared history, or more importantly, a shared age location in history: a generation encounters key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life. Whereas our pop stars are Britney, Beyonce, and Boy Bands, our parents had Elvis, the Beatles, and Motown. Whereas our parents asked each other Where were you when JFK was shot? we ask each other Where were you on September 11th?
But the most important factor that shapes a generation is where it falls in the larger American cycle. Does it come of age at a time of the individual or a time of community? Are we celebrating an epic victory and new world order (as America did following the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II) or bracing for an epic clash that will require our most-courageous teamwork (as during the Great Depression, and — perhaps — today)?
So where are we, and how did we get here? How can the past can help us make sense of the present?
Progression of History →
(Red Outline: today’s position in the cycle, and in the comparable previous cycle)
In each era an elderly generation fades away, while a new one rises to take its place. In each era the country’s Midlife leaders shape the world to address the challenges of their time, and react to their collective coming of age experiences. How they shape the world then imprints onto the following generations, who, as they rise, prioritizes issues that reflects their own, different coming of age experiences, correcting the mistakes and confronting the challenges that cascade forth from previous generations — and in the process ensuring the cycle continues.
Progression of Generations / Archetypes →
In shaping the world, the single biggest realm in which society makes its collective decisions is politics. It is often here where our preferences, our biggest underlying assumptions about the direction of the country and our world, are most magnified. America is a republic, a representative democracy — meaning we, the people, decide who makes those decisions. At the same time, this means we are responsible for those decisions. Ultimately, those decisions come from us. The state of our politics reflects the imprint we have left on it. It reflects the power and motivations we have endowed in our politicians. In particular, it reflects the motivations of Americans who vote.
So why have American politics become so wrenchingly polarized — so gridlocked? It should be blindingly obvious: the current state of our politics reflects the imprint Americans have left on it in the power and motivations we have endowed in our politicians. Specifically the imprint of the generation of Americans who voted in the decades leading up to today.
Now, who exactly voted?
But what is Government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?
-James Madison, Hero Generation
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Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world
-Roald Dahl, Hero Generation