Generational Archetypes – the Hero/Barn-Raiser

Last post, I gave my intro to this series on generational theory. It had some disclaimers in it. Here are some more:

The names of the Archetypes were assigned by Strauss and Howe. The accuracy of each name is debatable.

And the people who categorize stuff these days don’t do it according to Judeo-Christian principles, or even so-called “common” sense. I don’t know a lot about Tarot Cards, but I do know the “death” card doesn’t literally mean death as we think of it (old James Bond movies notwithstanding). Same with most of these archetype labels–There are a few legitimate heroes in the “hero” generations, but the generations so designated aren’t necessarily any more heroic than most other generations, by any objective standards. Language is not precise, anymore–for instance: maybe you’ve noticed that most people, regardless of their own political affiliation, insist on calling tyrannical control freaks “liberal.” It’s part of the Newspeak that George Orwell warned us about. Language has been corrupted to either twist meaning, randomize meaning, or lose meaning altogether–and the people who we get information from today have all invested in this dumbed-down, insidious lexicon. I might come up with my own labels for Strauss/Howe’s archetypes and the “turnings” before this is all over. A better name for this archetype might be “builder,” “barn-raiser,” or “rebuilder.”

Try not to think of the archetypes and their descriptions through an ideological lens.

Ideology certainly plays a part in the development of generations, and I’ll try to highlight those nuances as I go, but don’t fall into the trap of ascribing one ideology to an entire generation, or archetype. Ideology is not uniform in any generation, even when a particular worldview comes to dominate. So the general attitudes and characteristics attributed to a generation cross political lines.

Okay…one more disclaimer before I move on: there are exceptions to the attributes of a given generation.

Just like Noah’s generation was exceedingly wicked, but Noah himself was not. Same deal with Abraham, and many others we could name. Many on the Internet today speak of entire generations as if they are monolithic, and every single person born between Year X and Year Y share the exact same characteristics, and are all equally guilty of what the majority did. That’s not what I intend to do, but I’m not going to interject a statement about exceptions every three sentences, either. I’ll be speaking in general terms.

The first archetype I’ll examine is the so-called “hero” archetype. Strauss and Howe probably chose that label because the generations so-categorized come through an existential crisis during their “young adult” phase of life (age 20-40, according to the Strauss/Howe measurement), and rebuild society afterwards.

They have a reputation as “good” kids during their childhood, with very protective parents. They are endowed with recent cutting-edge technology (childhood to young adulthood), affluence (during midlife), and a strong sense of community. Their coming-of-age period is an empowering experience. During their young adulthood, they build–quite often they rebuild society by building new institutions, but they also build more specific things like houses, businesses, and fortunes, which will be utilized by the next two generations. They indulge their own children, and relax disciplinary standards. In “midlife” they transition from energetic to hubristic. As elders, their leadership style is collegial and expansive. They are rewarded and considered powerful as elders. They have a reputation as selfless, rational, and competent, but also (usually considered by their children’s generation) as unreflective, conformist, and overbold.

Hero generations are born after a spiritual awakening, during a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, laissez faire, and national (or sectional or ethnic) chauvinism. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-awakening children, come of age as the heroic young team-workers of a historical crisis, demonstrate hubris as energetic midlifers, and emerge as powerful elders attacked by another awakening. By virtue of this location in history, such generations tend to be remembered for their collective coming-of-age triumphs and their hubristic elder achievements. Their principle endowments are often in the domain of community, affluence, and technology. Their best-known historical leaders include Cotton Mather, “King” Carter, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. These have been vigorous and rational institution builders. In midlife, all have been aggressive advocates of economic prosperity and public optimism, and all have maintained a reputation for civic energy and competence to the very ends of their lives. (Examples among today’s living generations: G.I.s and Millennials.)

Lifecourse Associates

When I use the phrase “existential crisis” when discussing generational theory, I mean a crisis that threatens the  existing order. In the work of Strauss and Howe, that existing order was specifically American, and reset during/after each existential crisis (they called it a “secular crisis”). During and after the War of Independence, the existing order of British colonies was replaced by a constitutional republic. The next existential crisis was the US Civil War and Reconstruction: slavery was abolished  and the Union preserved, but at the cost of losing states’ rights. The last existential crisis was the Great Depression and WWII. America emerged as a superpower and an industrial giant, but an encroaching socialism imposed by an ever more powerful central government, and consolidation of power by the foreign bankers who control the central bank, guaranteed that our unprecedented prosperity wouldn’t last. It also firmly entrenched a shadow government to really call the shots, ensuring it would gradually eat away the freedoms that were supposedly being preserved during the crisis.

Expanding our historical frame: the Flood, Babel, the splitting of the Kingdom of Israel, and the fall of both Israel and Judah look like existential crises.

The most recent “Hero” generation in America is the so-called “Greatest Generation” AKA “the GI Generation.” Their parents and/or older brothers were the “Lost Generation” who fought the First World War and went off the rails during the Roaring ’20s. The GIs were endowed with recent technology like the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, the phonograph, the radio, “talkies,” color film, and new technology like television and jet travel. They were hit hard during the Depression, but being optimistic and community-minded rather than individualistic, they pulled together to both build new institutions and defeat the Axis powers. They spoiled their children rotten, only to have their children reject their ostensible values, and despise them. The phrase “generation gap” was coined while the children of the GIs were coming of age and, in fact, the relationship between parents and children has never been as distant as it was between the GIs and the Baby Boomers. The GIs have been dying off and are just about all gone, now.

Here’s a concept I might challenge you with repeatedly: Generations aren’t just shaped by technology; technology is also shaped by the generations. That might take a blog post of its own to build a case for, so I won’t try to sell you the whole concept right now. Just keep it in mind.

Even linear historians have documented the fission of the nuclear family (and assumed it was driven by technology). So lets begin with an historical tidbit you may have heard or read about before: During the first half of the 20th century (and probably up into the 1970s, for most Americans), families ate breakfast and supper at the same time, together around the same table, sharing the food that was prepared in the family kitchen by the wife/biological mother. They gave thanks for the food before eating it, and the only entertainment at the table was the conversation of those seated.

Does that sound even remotely like your experience dining today? If it does, then you live the exception–not the rule. Families don’t eat the same food, don’t eat at the same time, and often don’t even eat under the same roof. Mom eats while watching TV or glued to Facebook while her kid(s) are in their room on their smartphone texting and browsing Instagram. If the father of the children is under the same roof, he is probably working, or playing on his laptop in a different room.

Technology has changed between then and now, but technology didn’t force the changes. Neither television, the Internet, nor smartphones are physically capable of preventing a family from enjoying a meal together at the same table. All that separation between family members happened because of choices–not technology. Long-term choices like who a parent works for can determine when and where they will eat. A short term choice that gossiping on social media is more important than family time have rendered dining room tables obsolete.

Our last Hero/Barn-Raiser generation (the GIs) were very community-minded. The generation before them (the Lost Generation) were markedly individualistic. Let’s track some technology and how it interconnected with life.

When the Lost Generation were children, middle class families usually had a piano in their house. Periodically, they would order sheet music from a catalog. Then, on Saturdays (when Dad and the oldest brothers were off work) and/or Sundays (after Church) the family would gather around the piano. One person would play and the rest would sing. That was family entertainment. When those kids were young adults, they had a newfangled contraption called the phonograph. Families no longer needed someone who could read music and play a piano. In fact, families no longer needed to gather around. Later on, when those boys returned from WWI, they didn’t even need to stay home with their families to hear music. There were phonographs in juke joints and speakeasies where they could travel by automobile to get drunk, without encountering a single familiar face. They could dance (or possibly even have sex) with complete strangers they might never see again. These social gatherings were markedly different than what the next generation would develop. The radio became a hot new technological commodity, and the first DJs (“disk jockeys”) could use a single phonograph to transmit music to millions of different radios where people could listen individually or in small groups.

Then along came the GI Generation. When they were kids, they chose to sit around the living room and listen to the radio with mom and dad. High school dances became popular as they were coming of age. So they were entertained with their families together at home, and with hundreds of peers out at social functions. By the time their younger siblings and/or children made it to high school, community dances were still all the rage. They had developed formalized dances such as “the Stroll” that could not be successfully performed by just one couple, but required dozens of participants.

What about the music itself? The individualistic artists of the Lost Generation made the ’20s roar with jazz (the period is often called “the jazz age”). The focus was on talented singers, pianists, or trumpet players. Those individuals were typically backed up by three or four other musicians, including a drummer and bassist. Jazz was considered scandalous at the time–riffs, rhythms, and even lyrics suggested promiscuity, drugs, alcohol and other themes that were considered reckless, selfish, immoral and antisocial. And that was just the fast-paced jazz. Listen to the slower tempo jazz and you’ll probably find it nihilistic and depressing. But as the GIs took over, jazz evolved. The small combos gave way to big bands–sometimes dozens of musicians all cooperating to produce slick, feel-good tunes. The emphasis changed from improvisation to more structured performances–most of the big bands wrote sheet music, and played from sheet music (for huge crowds to dance to). They modified jazz into swing–a rowdy, frenetic, and optimistic sound that kept America’s chin up through our country’s worst depression and bloodiest war, when most people believed the Axis powers might very well conquer the whole world if Uncle Sam didn’t stop it.

Overlapping this progression was another technological breakthrough. Motion pictures were invented when the Lost Generation were children. As they were coming of age, to see a movie, they would drop a nickle in a device called a “Nickelodian” and watch the film individually. Fast forward to when the GIs were coming of age, and Americans preferred to gather in large crowds at movie theaters and watch longer films (usually two features, plus cartoons, comedy shorts, and news reels) with a huge cross-section of their community. The older GIs entered young adulthood just in time to hear about a newfangled invention called “television.” But even decades after its invention, after the GIs had returned from beating Hitler and transitioned into their post-crisis peace and prosperity, they still preferred watching audio-visual entertainment in big social gatherings at the theater–a community experience. It took longer than seemed logical for TV to displace films.

What about the entertainers in the movies? During the heyday of the Lost Generation, comedies were dominated by singular stars like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, or Fatty Arbuckle. But as the young GIs developed the attention span to sit through films, ensemble comics like the Keystone Kops and Our Gang grew in popularity. When the GIs entered young adulthood, the Little Rascals, Dead End Kids and (later) Bowery Boys were big box office draws. The Lost Generation’s signature musical was The Jazz Singer (singular). For the GIs, it was the glitzy Gold Diggers (plural) extravagandas. War dramas? Compare the hopeless, nihilistic All Quiet on the Western Front, about a single soldier, to any of hundreds of WWII movies with ensemble casts about military units coming together as a team to go out and “save the world for democracy.”

The next Hero/Barn-Raiser generation is here, already, and most have already entered young adulthood. They’ve been called “Generation Y.” I sometimes think of them as “the Snowflake Generation.” Most have settled on “the Millennials.”

Even though half or more of the combat troops who occupied Iraq and Afghanistan were Millennials, it’s very difficult at this point for me to classify them as the same archetype as the GIs–much less consider them a “hero” generation. From what I see, the poster child for the Snowflake Generation is a whining, entitled brat absolutely convinced of their own superiority because they have smart phones and social media. They have no concept of consequences. They’ve been constantly told how special they are. They’ve won trophies for coming in 4th, 9th, or Last Place all their lives. They have no clue how to change a tire; give somebody a jump start; write a complete sentence; punctuate; read anything longer than a Twitter post; or think for themselves. They’ve never had to do anything for themselves because somebody or some device has always done it for them. One could argue that the US Armed Forces becoming a joke is either a cause or an effect of how the Millennials in uniform have been coddled; but neither the plummeting standards nor the pathetic quality of the personnel can be denied.

But they haven’t run their course yet. And there are some similarities between the Snowflakes and the GIs.

Despite our hyper-sexualized culture, and being exposed as children to what even a lot of adults shouldn’t be, many of the Millennials have a surprising innocence about them.

Are they “good” kids? That depends on your standard for “good,” perhaps. Overall, they don’t seem to be nearly as violent as the two generations before them. They’re definitely not as competitive. The Snowflakes don’t take risks like young people used to. They’re extremely conformist. Maybe those traits parallel the GIs more than I know.

Like the GIs, they are very cooperative and community-minded. It manifests differently, for sure: instead of gathering with their peers in person in big social gatherings, they prefer to do it through technology. Many of the Snowflakes will, no joke, call 911 if their parents revoke their smart phone privileges. That’s how addicted they are to those devices. But only the mavericks among them want the device to play video games (the games they play, BTW, are, big surprise: online multiplayer). It’s social media that most of them just can’t live without.

A more frightening parallel is how the majority of them lean politically.

The GIs reacted to the existential crisis of their time exactly how the architects of the Great Depression wanted them to: by voting for socialism. They elected FDR four times and bought the New Deal hook, line, and sinker. Granted: nearly every president since FDR has also strangled the free market and eroded our freedoms while turning us further away from our Christian foundation. But FDR and the Fabian Socialists who rode that crisis into power did more pound-for-pound damage than any other Administration or Congress before or since. There have been fewer checks against centralized power, since the New Deal, for other politicians to deal with. FDR had a lot more safeguards he had to tear down, a lot less bovine electorate to swindle, and a frog that wasn’t nearly so close to boiled.

This post is not the place to pontificate about brainwashing, delayed consequences, and mitigating factors. Just note that the Snowflakes recognize that the USA is not the land of opportunity it was for their parents and grandparents (thanks to socialism, BTW), and they believe the solution to our decline is even more socialism. Not socialism sold as “liberalism” as with Obama, but the blatant Bernie Sanders flavor.

These “Hero” generations apparently favor collectivist “strong man” central planners. It depends on how far down the slippery slope the culture is and how misinformed they are, whether they will choose an FDR, a Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Guevara, Mao, or a coming world leader the prophets called by many names.

Author: Elijah Dispatched

I never doubted the existence of God. I thank my parents for that. Even so, most of my life could be summed up as a shameful rebellion against Him. Still, even when living like a reprobate heathen, I still occasionally studied the Bible. I found it just as confusing and seemingly contradictory as most people, yet I could also discern there was power in it, and truth beyond my finite reckoning. After finally admitting to my Creator, "You are God and I am not," my study of the Bible became a bit more intensive. I have learned much, and will learn much more. I plan on sharing some of that here.

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