About the Theory and the Website


The so-called Silent Generation is in the process of passing power and wealth and their opposites to following generations. Except for some aged members of Congress and others we have completed the public part of our evolution. The Silent Generation has begin its elderhood and stepped quietly away from the spotlight.

Our record in public affairs will not be analyzed by generations of historians. We will not stand out in the profile of history as the people who turned a nation from one direction to another, although we were literally crucial to major changes made in the 20th century. It will probably go unnoticed that the clamor of the so-called "Greatest Generation," the GI Generation who fought and won WWII, and the succeeding one, The Boomers, would have been more chaotic than clamorous, had we not been there.

Silents are, like any generation, a continuum of personalities with shadings around the edges that seem to form a typography. Because many of us believed in the efficacy of government, we have been the people who decided to make things work, the folk that believe the dream enough to realize it. We are paradigmatically pragmatic and noticably and quietly self-effacing. Nevertheless, we have been assiduous to provide a better place in which to live. We have been the ones to include, rather than exclude. We are the ones who see disability as a condition, not a fate. Some of these characteristics were forced upon us by the rush of history, and others spring from the pecular circumstances common to our youth.

This leads us to the Strauss-Howe thesis, the idea that there are four kinds of generations in America and that they are repeated cyclically. I am fairly confident that the cyclic phenomon of secular crises and spiritual "awakenings" described in Generations is bound to be less measurable as world and personal communications becomes more efficacious. Put another way, I believe that American cycles are (have been) dependent in significant measure on the isolation of the American experience. Stir up the general pot, homogenize the nation, and I think things will smooth out a bit. Nevertheless, my understanding of anthropology, psychology, and sociology suggest that the critical nurture cycle will persist. More on that in a minute.

Clearly, Generations depends in some considerable measure on the unusual and dramatic activities that occur during Crises and Awakenings to galvanize one generation and subdue another. There is good evidence for this, or may I say, it seems that from time to time there is broad and deep participation in the galvanic experience and that this accounts for what to most of us are remarkably steady generational identities. The most recent "galvanic experience" was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and it is from this date and tragedy that I mark the beginning of the next cycle. I am pretty sure Strauss and Howe are doing the same.

And yet, in analyzing the theory one cannot help but notice that the Vietnam Experience goes unnoticed by the Secular Crisis thesis presented. Most of us, whether GI, Silent, or Boomer know that Vietnam was a major thing; as a Vietnam combat vet I am prejudiced, I suppose. Probably because of Vietnam the so-called Boom Awakening missed me almost entirely, however, even taken broadly to include such public manifestations as the plays Hair, and Jesus Christ Super Star, or Woodstock and flower-power. There was nothing particularly "galvanizing" about the Age of Aquarius, although I would own up to the fact that for some the experience went well beyond Awakening. Drugs became a ubiquitous problem in this country during the '70s. Some would say that leisure suits were pretty bad, too. Recently (2003), I was shown photographs of myself taken during the late 1960's and early 1970's, and I must admit (now) that the "Age" did have some peculiar effects on me.

After several years of practicing the Strauss-Howe thesis in daily conversation and in professional activities, neither the Awakenings nor the Crises, real as they are, seem to me to be the critical factor.

What seems critically important to me is the "pendulum of nurture" in this country. The pendulum, it seems to me, swings from a fixed point. That point is the dogged fixation on the idea that the family unit must be sacrosanct, interfered with only in extremis, and should be left to its own resources, devices, and sensibilities on the most essential question of civilization--child upbringing and nurture. Of course there are peculiarly American pluralist and religious reasons for this, but in addition one of the strong forces is the much revered American (Emersonian) individualism.

The effect of this truculent individualism has been to leave most parents in dire need of parenting skills to emulate usually from some public source (Ozzie and Harriet, the Bradys, etc.), but equally alone with their frustrations and their own memories of childhood, often better forgotten, often re-perpetrated on each next generation. It swings back and forth from over-nurture to under-nurture because one generation reacts to the errors of their parents and because this strand of society is deliberately loose and swinging in the winds.

We will see what the so-called social media do to this thread. As I become more deeply curmudgeonly I see the vector as down rather than up.

By the way, my name is Jim Brett. I am (now) a retired university administrator and teacher of Russian History. My field of academic expertise was Russia, but as things turn out, one finds oneself learning about one's own culture under the pressure and necessity for comparisons. I hope you enjoy this web site. I enjoy creating it. It hardly seems like nearly 20 years have elapsed!

William Strauss and Neil Howe, who wrote the book Generations have done something quite unusual. They have tapped into a motherlode of public interest about ourselves, the things we notice that never get properly acknowledged, the things that are publicly spoken but rarely put into a coherent perspective.

It should be no surprise to anyone that "generational issues" are political issues. As we become more and more conscious of the clear distinctions among us, the political side may take on even more importance. I am going to try to stay out of politics on this site, although an occasional tweak or jab at the GI's or Boomers will be inevitable. It is an uncomfortable generational position being sandwiched between such people. Tom Brokaw and I are from the same generation. I believe the title of his book was less about quality and more about selling his book.

James R. Brett

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