Good heavens. Boomers ate my lunch and didn't save anything for the next generations. Millennials can use technology to save the world. Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation" walked three miles to school in the snow, sometimes barefoot. The War of 1812 happened because people who were too young to have fought in the Revolution wanted to prove themselves, and the Spanish-American war had the same relation to the Civil War.
These thoughts were occasioned by a diary I wrote in July calling out a painfully stupid op-ed piece by Kurt Andersen, whose writing I have usually liked (dude was one of the founders of Spy, for heaven's sake), in the New York Times. His thesis was that baby boomer activism, not Ayn Rand Objectivism, caused the selfishness that put us in the economic situation we're in now. Silly, but some younger Kossacks agreed with him. Hence, this diary. The generational concept is an explanatory matrix, but is it a good explanatory matrix?
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As you all know, I'm a historian. Thus, when I go to the Library of Congress catalog and I see that the 71 books that come up when I search for "conflict of generations - United States" are all classified in the "H" category (social sciences) and none of them are in the "E" or "F" headings (history), I wonder how these things work. This book, When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, is typical of the "H" books (HF5549.5.M5L36 2002) - no pic or link because I'm not recommending it. Its authors, Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman, are a Baby Boomer and a Gen Xer who set up a consulting firm to help businesses overcome generational problems (yes, the book is a sales promotion device). I'll just give you the schematic they set up of what we're dealing with, generation-wise (the dates are birth years). Attention span apparently has a lot to do with office conduct:
1990-1945: "Traditionalists" -radio and newspapersIt's the schematic the media (like Kurt Andersen) generally use, and it's probably the baby boomer's fault (I'm talking to YOU, Tom Wolfe, for coining the phrase "The Me Decade" to describe the 1970s) that they use this schematic. It's helpful for a number of political situations, mostly having to do with social issues, where the younger you are the more likely you are to support them, but otherwise, meh.
1946-1964: "Baby Boomers" - television
1965-1980: "Generation X" - media (cable TV, the walkman, so on)
1981-1999: "Millennials" - the world wide web
This is not to say that looking at generational conflict is always unproductive. In American history, we can't discuss the impact of immigration in immigrant groups themselves without some consideration of parents born there, children born here, grandchildren born here, but the years differ for each immigrant group. One of the best examples of this is a book by George Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (1995), which presents the increasing difference between Mexicans from Mexico and Mexican-Americans as the century goes on.
This story can be told about every single ethnic group that has arrived in the United States as free people. In some cases, the generational story of acculturation and assimilation is described as "becoming white." So yes, as a historical construct, or as a framing device, the generation is a good place to start.
There are other good reasons to write history within a generational frame. When Joyce Appleby wanted to determine how the first Americans (as opposed to British colonials) looked at the country they lived in, she looked at biographies of and memoirs left by and people born between 1776 and 1800: the result was Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans
As Appleby wrote, she was interested in the
vexed relationship between the realm of reality and the . . . constructions bestowed upon it by the participants.She tries, and is generally successful, in teasing out the collective meaning these people gave to the republic they lived in. I've assigned the book more than once, so if you're especially interested in the early republic, this isn't a bad book to read.
I thought so!
We're all members of the Daily Kos community. I think we're here because we have our progressive approach to politics in common, and we're here to teach each other. Some of us older Kossacks are here to remember the struggles that some of our younger friends take for granted, and we're also here to learn from our younger friends about how they look at the world. You may remember that Chrislove and I built a group, "Remembering LGBT History," in the comment thread of a previous Top Comments diary, and since I'm old enough to be his grandfather, the process was Daily Kos at work creating bridges and bonds between generations.
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