Many of the young adults at highly selective colleges and universities have been forced to follow a straight and narrow path, never deviating from it because of a passion unrelated to school work, and have not been allowed, therefore, to live what many would consider a normal childhood—to play, to learn by doing, to challenge their teachers, to make mistakes. Their families and their network of friends and social peers have placed extreme pressure on them to achieve, or win in a zero-sum game with their own friends.That passage echoes a canonical Strauss and Howe argument, whether in Fourth Turning or in Generations, in which children passing through adolescence in an era of saecular crisis become an "Adaptive" (Generations terminology) or "Artist" (Fourth Turning) generation. Or perhaps cohort is more accurate, as the longer the current set of secular challenges goes on, the more ad-hoc the generational analysis appears to be.
Strauss and Howe summarize the life cycle of the Adaptive cohort in Generations, at page 74. "A recessive ADAPTIVE GENERATION grows up as overprotected and suffocated youths during a secular crisis; matures into risk-averse, conformist rising adults; produces indecisive midlife arbitrator-leaders during a spiritual awakening; and maintains influence (but less respect) as sensitive elders."
That sentence summarizes the reasons I scorn the Silent Generation, the people who inherited the Pax Americana and squandered it in ways the resource curse manifests itself. That cohort is old, and mostly out of positions of influence, which in the generational analysis, suggests it's time for a replacement cohort to be born. That may be at work, or maybe not. Back to Mr Cole.
Born in the mid-1990s, seniors in my Columbia University undergraduate seminars today likely have not experienced major national threats, except for their vague memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet these “millennials” might better be labeled “children of war and fear.” During their politically conscious lifetime, they have known only a United States immersed in protracted wars against real and so-called terrorists, a place where fear itself influences their attitudes toward other civil liberties. Students are asked to pit freedom of expression or privacy against personal security. During times when elected officials have exploited the public’s fear of terrorism for political gain, students seem more willing to trade civil liberties for a sense of security.We see in Mr Cole's use of "millennials" the difficulty of identifying the cycles of history. Strauss and Howe anticipated a new Hero (or Civic) generation in the Millennials. That cohort was born during the secular unraveling, which they thought would run from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, and they would be replacement cohort for the G.I. era "Greatest" generation. Thus, if we're into the saecular crisis, it's now time for the new Artist (or Adaptive) cohort to be born.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, the use of fear is still pervasive in the United States.
But do we really have the objective conditions for a saecular crisis? Strauss and Howe first raised the possibility that the hung presidential election of 2000 or the September 11 terror raids signalled the Fourth Turning. A later exploration of the possibility sees the signal as the financial crash of 2007. I was not impressed at the time.
The Silent Generation's Watergate Caucus, continuing that cohort's string of unearned triumphs in securing a Democratic majority for not being Richard Nixon, now calls the shots for a new Democratic majority secured for not being George W. Bush. Baby Boomers? Look at the latest crop of pension advertisements: redefining retirement, pensions for people who serve the greater good, pensions that the ex can't mess up. Thirteeners? Family? Millenials? Hookups, binge drinking, I-pods?And now Snowflakes with their privilege-checking. Yes, there are now rumbles of more "nativism" in the culture and less "globalism" in the commerce, but these come bundled with enhanced doses of celebrity culture.
Perhaps that's the one encouraging thing. I have trouble envisioning either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the Gray Champion, who, in the legend, is an aged member of an Idealist (or Prophet) generation. Perhaps Barack Obama will be the warning from the Thirteenth Generation, and that will be the last of that cohort until the saecular crisis is behind us.