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Generations: the reason people in our society talk about generations a lot—Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, Alpha—is because it acts as a substitute for substantial topics, like sex and race. If you want to explain society, the most powerful tools you can use are sex and race—these explain a lot. However, in the democracy, to do so is banned—so, as a substitute, people talk about generations. It’s as biological as you’re allowed to be.

Technically, the categorisations “Booomer, Gen X, Millennial” and so on come from Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning—Strauss and Howe traced back generational cycles in Anglo-American history and identified certain recurrent behaviours in a 4-phase generational cycle (e.g. certain generations go through a “Great Awakening”; whether that was over evangelical beliefs and slavery in the 1800s or “social issues” in the 1960s, those generations belong to the “awakening phase”).

So, technically, there is no such thing as a French “Boomer”—certainly not a “Chinese Boomer”. These countries work on different generational cycles—and perhaps not even all Americans follow the pattern, many Americans being non-Anglo now (but the dominant culture in America is still Anglo, so people are dragged along with it). In all likelihood, there’s a connection to astrology but that’s speculative.

The “generational” model is also very popular because democracies, as the ancients observed, as Plato observed, are dominated by the youth—it’s characteristic that, in a democracy, the young dictate to the old. You’ve probably noticed, I certainly did growing up, that what “the young” feel about a topic is considered to be very important—even though the young basically know nothing and are the easiest group to manipulate, being the most concerned with social status (itself linked to mating chances—if you’re not in the “current wave” you’ll never get a mate, you’ll just be “a loser”).

Even growing up, I found this interest in “the yoof” contrived—adults would say things like “we need to get the youth involved”, as if this was critical and I would just think “whatever”. Ironically, most young people don’t want to be young—if they’re teenagers, anyway—they can’t wait to grow up and be more independent, so that their parents say “don’t wish your life away” (but it’s so long before I can learn to drive…). Nevertheless, the democracy wants to “learn from the young”—it’s feminine, it wants to “stay young forever”; so it’s always interested in the “next generation”—who will, supposedly, change everything.

So, as a Millennial, I remember in the 2000s seeings endless blog posts, popular airport-type books, and YouTube videos about “how Millennials interact in the workplace”—there were many views, many about the same as what people say about “Gen Z” now (few were directly related to Strauss and Howe). Basically, there is a mini-industry, especially around people who work in HR, that claims that “Millennials don’t use swivel chairs in offices” or “Gen Z can never work in a team bigger than four”—and these observations are retailed as “this changes everything” facts, important to know because “the youth” are important because they are young.

The pressure is off for Millennials now—because all those articles and books are now about “Zoomers” and how their “office style” is completely different (not to mention the books about how “Generation Alpha” babies use iPads in a completely different way…). There are some people who take this generational identity quite seriously—I demurred and said “as a Millennial” just now, to illustrate a practical point, but some people say “I’m Gen X” as if that explains everything about them or is some guide point as to how they should react to a situation. Again, this is rarely connected back to Strauss and Howe but more to some general “vibe” for their generation they’ve picked up from the mass media.

While generational differences are real, I think the differences are exaggerated today. I don’t think I’m so different to my grandparents or my parents. The differences are exaggerated because, narcissism—just like saying, “As a black pansexual from a first-generation immigrant background, here’s my take,” so saying, “As a Gen X musician who was involved in the Grunge scene from the start,” confers a little narcissistic frisson. In a situation where the family has collapsed and where racial, sexual, and religious identities are disprivileged, people cling to “my generation” as a substitute for something more substantial.

It also make you feel important: “As a Gen X, I just don’t see it that way…”. Okay, I think the differences are real, but I think the differences are exaggerated—it’s the narcissism of minor differences. The idea that there is a “generation gap” was created, by the media, in the 1960s as full democracy was implemented—the “generation gap” just marked the fact that young people were now fully indoctrinated, mainly through TV, into the state belief system (and this conflicted with what the oldsters said); and they had to be different—because, “progress”. You could also call the “generation gap” the “TV gap”—the hypnotic effect of TV on Boomers cannot be underestimated.

Further, the democracy uses the narcissistic “generational” identity, as with “black identity” and “gay identity”, to stir up resentment—particularly against your elders. So Boomers are supposedly selfish with money, will burn through their children’s inheritance (why do you care, because you’re greedy and looking for that hand out—is that what a family is to you?).

Perhaps it’s true the Boomers do that, but the whole generation framework is used to spark “generation war”—in an agricultural society, without constantly changing fashions, the differences between the generations would be less apparent. Today, there’s a lot of superficial change—even though little of substance has altered. Yes, generations are important—and the Strauss and Howe model seems to be correct (though it is modern, so it must omit something vital). Yet “generation as identity” is just another game played by the democracy.


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