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Generational Cycles – Mid-Life Crises

Generational Cycles –  Mid-Life Crises

| On 20, May 2018

Darrell Mann

I know not everyone reads this part of the ezine. It nevertheless follows the same philosophy as all the other parts of our research activity. And that includes the idea of constantly challenging what we find rather than trying to confirm what we’ve already found. When we first encountered the Strauss & Howe generation-archetypes model in the late 1990s we were skeptical from the get-go. Everything we’ve subsequently done to challenge the model has almost invariably ended up confirming both the overall premise and the large bulk of the details. Sometimes we find things that alter the detail. Sometimes, we make connections that cause us to expand and refine the overall premise of the model. When we integrate a knowledge of complex adaptive systems into the Strauss & Howe model we came to realise a much more powerful way of using the model. It seems clear that despite their excellent pattern finding skills, neither Strauss nor Howe understood complexity,.

A few months ago we came across an online article that seemed to be adopting the same challenge approach that we use. Great, we thought, someone doing some hard work for us. Only then we read what was being written and realized the words came from a person with, how shall I put this, a vested interest in dis-crediting the model. Rather than trying to find a better model. All theories are wrong, but some are useful. If we’re to achieve scientific rigour a theory needs to be falsifiable and able to be used to make predictions. The attacking author uses these words but – we think – mangles the arguments in order to achieve their pre-conceived objective of discreditation. You might want to have a look at it in order to make your own judgement: You’ll perhaps also spot fairly quickly why the article’s author has a desire to rubbish the Strauss & Howe work (i.e. it’s Steve Bannon’s play-book for the next 15 years of US history). We’ll come back to it next month to explore how, because the author, like Strauss & Howe, also doesn’t understand complexity, they end up making dumb arguments.

Meanwhile, the theme of this month’s article is to begin the process of potentially adding a new refinement into the overall model. Mid-life crises. All humans that reach mid-life, since time immemorial appear to go through some kind of crisis. In true complex systems form, every crisis is different. In true pattern-finding research mode, they all seem to be different in the same way. Or rather four ways.

Right now in 2017, demographics being what they are, it’s the turn of Generation X to be going through the mid-life crisis transition. A crude Google search will quickly reveal a small armada (I’m not sure what the proper collective noun for large numbers of angst-ridden, existentially-challenged individuals is) of Generation X authors writing on the topic at the moment (e.g. – I particularly enjoyed the insightful brevity of this one). They all have a different message, but they also seem to have the same message. Strauss and Howe’s biggest skill I think has been to look beneath the surface to find the underlying patterns. With Nomad generations – which is what Xers are – that underlying pattern is ‘agoraphobia’. Nomads, by very dint of their title label have been (forced to be) outward looking travelers. When the crisis then comes, agoraphobic means you begin to become afraid of or ‘averse to’ the big wide open and tend to retreat inwards. It is also seen as a ‘fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong’. Not everyone, of course, and very likely not in any kind of clinically diagnosable sense – part of the beauty of the Strauss & Howe thinking has always been to find emotive words to vividly characterize large groups of similar people in an insight-delivering manner. ‘Insight’ doesn’t mean universal, it means the emergence of a new way of seeing an otherwise familiar situation. Survey all mid-life crisis afflicted Xers and no doubt (unless they refused to answer the question – also quite likely!) we’d find ourselves constructing a scale spanning a range from agoraphobic to its opposite, claustrophobic, and discover there is a spectrum. What we’d also see is that the mean and median of this spectrum would be much closer to agoraphobic than the claustrophobic.

By the same token, if we did the same thing with Artist generations (the Silent Generation, born between the two World Wars being the most recent one to have been through their mid-life crisis period), we’d find that the mean and median on their agoraphobic-claustrophobic spectrum was significantly further towards the claustrophobic: they haven’t generally been Nomadic, but have rather been much more internally-focused as a cohort, and consequently when crisis comes it is born of that internal stuck-ness – ‘let me out of here’.

If we plotted the societal shift of this agoraphobia-claustrophobia spectrum at mid-life crisis as a function of time, I think we end up with something that looks like this:

The nominally sinusoidal curve is intended to show mid-life crisis ‘claustrophobic-angst’ peaking at the centre of the Artist generation in their mid/late forties, and the (current) Nomad generation agoraphobic angst peaking around the middle of the same period in their lives.

If the sinusoidal oscillation is right, it would imply that the intermediate generations – the Prophets (Boomers) and the Heroes (GenY, Millennials) – find themselves relatively speaking on neutral ground when it comes to claustrophobic or agoraphobic behavior.

Which in turn, perhaps – if we’re trying to do the Strauss & Howe job of getting underneath the skin – begs the question: is there a different kind of oscillatory pattern that characterizes the mid-life crises of the Prophets and the Heroes?

We think there is. We think it looks something like this:

It’s an idea we’ll come back to next month when we also try to unravel the ‘pseudo-science’ article flaws and seek a deeper understanding of both the overall GenerationDNA model in general and mid-life crises in particular.