Generation 13

No, this is not about the next series on the “House” genre…

In the book “Generations, The History of America’s future 1584 to 2069” published back in 1991, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe make a compelling case that the “Boomer” generation really only goes through 1960 and actually started in 1943. They contend that people born after that year comprise a different generation which extends from 1961 to 1981.  When I first heard of this, I was unsure that I agreed with them, probably according to conventional wisdom, because my spouse, born at the end of the baby boomer “traditional segment”, is in the same generation as myself. Accepting this new classification places me squarely in the “older generation.” Something my spouse has probably long suspected…  However, the more that I think about it, the more I tend to agree. This “thirteenth generation” to come around since the English speaking settlement of North America is markedly different from the boomers.

Boomers are idealists, while Generation 13 is reactive. I have intuitively known this since the early 70’s when first looking back at 1968 through the lens of Kent State and Watergate. For boomers, 1968 was a defining year.  Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, along with Robert Kennedy.  Riots took place in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.  The year began with the Tet offensive, along with Apollo coming back from the orbit of the Moon, bringing color photographs of the Earth from Space. I remember thinking that we looked so small.  For many of us, this was the beginning of the end of our idealism. Granted, many such death blows would be dealt in the years to come, but perhaps none so powerful as this humbling reminder of our fragility and ultimate inconsequentiality.

Pop music went FM in 1968. In Pittsburgh Jim Quinn played bubble Gum music (who can forget Sugar, Sugar – no matter how hard we might try). The AM station KQV targeted an ever younger micro-bopper music set while over on the FM side acid rock was being played to boomers so that we could escape Nixon, the “Peace” candidate.  We realized that if Nixon was the best chance for a peace candidate, we are all hosed.  I remember driving back to CMU from St. Margaret’s Nursing School and reading the billboard “This time vote as if your whole world depended on it.” Seriously?

In retrospect, I have always known (but not always understood) that people born in 1961 and later were reacting to our outrageous behaviors, reacting against feminism, reacting against protesting the war (funny now that I joined that reaction when my lottery number came out as 301). As the new generation grew and matured, they reacted to our sexual excess; though this potentially was more of a reaction to the worldwide outbreak of the nightmare of Aids as they entered their twenties and thirties.

So if you are in generation 13 and still reacting, ponder this: How will you cope with the state of the world as you enter your fifties and plan for the future? How is that economy working out for you? Does the US and European Sovereign Debt figure bring you much comfort?  I’ve often thought the boomers put their head in the sand in the eighties…it’s time to retract our ostrich ways and allow the sun to shine on issues we’ve successfully ignored for decades now. Boomers born before the Berlin wall went up, before the Cuban Missile Crisis, before JFK was executed might be just barely able to hang on by their fingernails, retiring in a semblance of the way of the “greatest generation”, but I would not bet on it.

If you are in Generation 13 (as two of my children along with my spouse are) and are still dreaming of a traditional secure retirement, heed the words I often heard as a child and “forget about it!”  One of the best lines in television, from the HBO miniseries on the 101st Airborne division, “Accept the fact that you are already dead, then every day is a gift.” Deepak Chopra jokes that life is a sexually transmitted disease that is always fatal.  For those of us that are in Generation 13 (and I apparently married into that generation for better or worse) we need plan B.

The careers we selected in our youth either no longer fit or simply do not exist.  The dream of the “good life” in retirement is gone.  When (not if) the sovereign debt bubble bursts, there will be no more pensions, no more iced drinks on yachts, no more processions of white shorts and  pastel polo shirts in an endless sea of green golf courses. Forget Greece or Spain…is California too big to fail? But all of this doom and gloom is not to say that we cannot create a new concept of the “good life.” In fact, that is exactly what we must do. This choice, to redefine who we are, what we stand for, how we want to live, is our birthright.

Soon we will not be able to exist in the same way that we are living today. What exactly are we going to be dong to support ourselves? It does not matter who wins this year in the election…our nation is broke. If the government couldn’t simply invent paper that has supposed value, we would be declared instantly insolvent. We need to figure out how we want to live in the post industrial world, who we want to be living with, how we spiritually ground ourselves and how to become as healthy as possible…if we hope to survive.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *