The Upside to Gerontocracy

by: hawkgrrrl

August 5, 2014

The generation gap

My immediate family spans three generations.  My parents are from the Silent Generation (both born in the 1920s), and my oldest sisters are Baby Boomers, teens in the 1960s.  One of my sisters sang with Steve Miller.  I was an accident, born in the late 1960s (a Gen-Xer) when my older sisters were already getting married and moving out, and my parents were in their 40s.  My oldest sister graduated high school in 1966, my brother in 1976, and I graduated in 1986.  And my kids are all Millenials.  In short, I grew up very aware of the different values of the various generations of the 20th century.

I have been thinking about this one for a while.  There is a positive side effect of a gerontocracy, and it’s so beautiful as to seem divinely inspired to me (don’t get me started on the negatives, but here goes with the upside). Every generation has an excess of some sort or other, largely a reaction to the prior generation. And yet in reacting to the previous generation, we over-correct. And in over-correcting, we lose some of what is valuable from the prior generation’s life lessons. The “best” way is probably somewhere between our own generation’s values and prior generation’s values.

Consider how some of these generations changed values from previous ones and over-corrected in the process:

Common to all generations: dorky hats.

1920s.  Their generation had survived WW1, the war to end all wars (famous last words).  In the wake of war, it was party time.  This was the era of the roaring twenties:  promiscuity, drinking, crime, and dancing the Charleston.  23 Skidoo!  Then, the stock market crashed, that Monopoly guy took a header off a skyscraper,  and all that glittered was not gold. Cred in this group comes from holding your liquor.  Over-correction:  Fiscal and social irresponsibility.  Too much fun.

1930s – 40s.  They experienced the depression and went to war again; they concluded that the frivolity of the 1920s led to their downfall, so they cracked down on Al Capone and prohibited alcohol. They focused on duty and hard work to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  They were also known as the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation (the latter sounds a little self-styled to me). This is the generation our current church leadership hails from.  Cred in this group comes from having eaten roadkill during the depression.  Over-correction:  Too much self-denial.  Not enough fun.

The American Dream. Gee, I wonder why we all got fat?

1950s.  In the post-war years, the focus was on harmony, the suburban lifestyle, women in aprons and men in Fedoras, white picket fences, gender roles, and keeping up with the Joneses.  Excesses were materialism and sexism (required to keep the women making the homes nice and prevent them from divorcing their husbands who worked long hours to keep up with the materialism).  Cred in this group comes from living the American dream successfully.  Over-correction:  Too much trust in authority.  Too much unhealthy competition.

1960s – 1970s.  As a reaction to the staid 1950s, and to expose the corruption and repression underlying the establishment culture, this generation led the sexual revolution, focused on personal and sexual freedoms, questioning authority, egalitarianism and drug experimentation. Excesses were manifest in STDs, drug use, and anti-authoritarianism for its own sake.  These are the Baby Boomers.  Cred in this group comes from having been at Woodstock.  Over-correction:  Too much trust in anarchy.  Lack of judgment and ambition.  Idealism.

1980s – early 90s.  The “me” generation, focused on materialism, upward mobility, and voting for Reagan.  This is of course the real greatest generation:  the Gen X crowd, baby.  Excesses were cocaine use, teen pregnancy, divorce, and big hair.  Cred in this group comes from having owned parachute pants.  Over-correction:  Too much greed and ambition.  Too much self-serving skepticism and arrogance.  But we like it.

Millenials: here in body only.

2000s.  The Millenials are the generation coming of age right now.  They are focused on corporate responsibility, fair trade coffee, being vegan, and making their own yogurt.  Their parents may have been helicopter parents.  Excesses are hyper-sensitivity to all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and greed, plus the inability to leave home without returning and the utter lack of phone skillz (and inability to pluralize words without the letter “z”).  Cred in this group comes from number of twitter followers and brand of ADHD medication.  Over-correction:  Too much technology, idealism and entitlement.  Not enough independence and confidence.

Given these differing values, you can see why generations have a tendency to talk past each other.  Add to this the fact that as we age, we also tend to mellow.  For example, compare a Boomer with how they were during the turbulent sixties.  Their 1960s self would say they’ve sold out to the establishment, but their current version would say they just grew up a bit, and yet their values haven’t become that of prior generations either.  The pendulum just comes back a little more toward the center without going all the way back to what it rebelled against in the first place.

In this way, generations improve on the misguided aspects of prior generations’ values.  But each generation also fools itself into thinking that they’ve finally gotten it right, when in reality, their values may be an overreaction to prior generations’ values, which may have been an overreaction to the generation before their own.  As George W said, history will be the judge.  We really can’t accurately judge things like this in real time.

Being led by a gerontocracy is positive in that it reminds us that our generation’s values are but a moment in time, and that prior generations also thought they had it all figured out.  Most of the downside also comes from that generation gap.  The generation gap works best when we use it to stay humble and teachable, regardless of which generation we belong to.  Every generation got things right, and every generation falls short.

Just a quick poll to see who our readers are:

My generation is:

  • Generation X (born 1965-1985) (63%, 131 Votes)
  • Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) (21%, 44 Votes)
  • Millenial (born post-1986) (13%, 28 Votes)
  • Silent Generation (born pre-1946) (1%, 3 Votes)
  • Other or between generations (specify below) (1%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 208

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23 Responses to The Upside to Gerontocracy

  1. Martha on August 5, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    I’ve seen millenial listed as early as late 70s on some things. Maybe I’m in between generations.

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  2. New Iconoclast on August 5, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    My parents were born in 1939 and 1940, so I suppose I’m an early X rather than a late boomer (1965). I know my folks inherited several habits and practices from their parents, who had survived the Depression. Both of my folks were younger children in their families. Mom used to save and wash tinfoil, and Heaven help you if you used more than about 6 inches of dental floss at a time! Dad could build or fix almost anything, something he learned from his father, and something I’ve always done as well. If you know how to use tools, nothing is beyond your reach. :)

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  3. Hedgehog on August 5, 2014 at 6:39 AM

    My parents are baby boomers who married young, and I’m the first child, so that puts my grandparents the same generation as your parents hawkgrrrl, and my grandparents are no longer living. My mother’s father would be the most interesting character though, and she described him as the last Victorian, on account off his mother was in her forties when he was born and he was raised by his grandfather, who was Victorian. That said though, he made his own yoghurt and bean sprouts, went on a fruit fast once a year, and was very interested in eastern philosophy and beliefs. He read up on the evils of the food industries. So in some respects he seems to have been quite modern as well. He also rationed TV viewing for my mother and aunt.

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  4. MB on August 5, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    I like this.

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  5. hawkgrrrl on August 5, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    Hedgehog: It’s interesting the ways in which the Victorians resemble some of the hipster Millenials. As they say in the TV show Portlandia, the dream of the [eighteen] nineties is alive in Portland. More evidence that the pendulum swings back and forth from generation to generation.

    New Iconoclast: My parents likewise would save tin foil, and my dad can build or fix just about anything. I have really enjoyed having a direct link to that generation throughout my life. I’m not willing to eat the dandelions and buckshot-filled rabbits that they occasionally put on the table, but I do listen up when they talk about the excesses of my generation: eating out all the time, too much travel and leisure and not enough doing things for ourselves, needing to buy new cars all the time or keep up with the latest gadgets. We never keep things long enough for them to wear out, and we feel we must have the latest everything. And our kids are even more addicted to new stuff.

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  6. Jeff Spector on August 5, 2014 at 9:52 AM

    Firstly, I hate Steve Miller!!! but that’s another story.

    I loved this post. Lots of fun and I agree almost 100%. A few small details I think are missing which impact your conclusions:

    1. Social Safety Net: After the great depression, it was evident that the industrialization/urbanization of America created a huge gap in retirement planning. It used to be that families provided for retirement by the taking over of the family business (be it store or farm) by the next generation and supporting the older folks. that wasn’t happening in the cities anymore as folks worked for non-family business that provided no pensions. So the Social Security system (ala Europe) was created. The problem was and has been that while they planned for themselves quite well, they “got theirs” and did plan nor adjust for the consequence for their own reproductive actions in the 40’s and 50’s.

    2. End of WWII – As the men (largely) came back from war, they need to be employed again and replace some of the jobs being done by women and those who didn’t serve. At the same, the urbanization of the country continued. So while extended family used to care for the children, as families moved away to take jobs, someone had to look after kids now that grandma and grandpa were not around anymore. This largely fell to women as the SAHM become a normal configuration. Women will still secretaries and nurses and other jobs reserved

    3. The Vietnam War – the first real war that become unpopular among the people, mostly younger people. This was huge part of fashioning the psyche of the generation.

    4. Civil Rights – This was another shaping movement for the 60’s generation. Social justice become the watchword of the decade and still has huge effect, even today.

    I’m sure others can think of other things as well.

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  7. Douglas on August 5, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Jeff – fooey on you, dude, not liking Steve Miller…more of his works for me, I suppose…although now when I heard “Space Cowboy” I think of Dan Castellanta voicing Homer Simpson, singing it VERY off-key…and keep in mind that Mr Miller’s vocals depend on the quality of ganja that he’s partaken of…

    Now on to the rejoinders:
    1. “Social INSecurity” – we actually got ahead of the British on our version of “Social Insurance”…this was going “strong” in Nazi Germany (at the time when FDR proposed SS, he cited Germany as an example) though they themselves merely co-opted Otto Von Bismarck’s model. FDR was no dummy – Social Security was pure political expendiency, nothing else, but even he felt that it presented some moral hazards, which fears would be realized in our day.

    2. The “Rosie the Riviter” thing was seen as a temporary expedient to provide labor for America war industry, and also, frankly, to give women a sense of personal involvement. The military did a ‘180’ re: women, creating WACs, WAVEs, WASPs, and SPARs (the Marines refused an acronym for the women’s auxillary, considering it inappropriate), even going out of the way to recruit attractive young women so as to dispel common perceptions about women serving in the military. Most employers who took on women, as the economy transitioned back to peacetime, not only dispensed with their distaff staff, most of the ladies were perfectly content to return to homemaking. Such were the times.

    3. There was widespread dissent about Vietnam b/c it was terribly mishandled…i.e, our direct involvement ought not to have lasted long enough to allow an “anti-war” movement, which was in reality fostered by seditious elements that in times past would have been promptly jailed. The masses getting restless when the war doesn’t go well is nothing new…witness the NYC draft riots of 1863. Part of the reason for the creation of the Secret Service was not only the credible threats to Lincoln’s life, but also the open hostility to him by Washingtonians, who were Southerners mostly and despised him openly.

    4. And ask that “generation” who marched with the so-called “Civil Rights” movement….how’s that working out for you and your kids and grandkids now? I once wondered why my Dad considers LBJ to be the absolute worst President ever, and still after Carter, Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama, but no longer. LBJ’s “Great Society” didn’t turn out so great.

    The advantage of the Gerentocracy is that they’ll seen it all, done it all, and hopefully age has rendered some wisdom. The hell of it is to garner that wisdom before they forget it all.

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  8. Jack on August 5, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    These are really just subcategories in the pre/post-sixties divide.

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  9. Nate on August 5, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    Interesting write up, Hawk. Interesting how idealism of the 60s skipped a generation and is back with Millennials.

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  10. Lonicera on August 5, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    A correction regarding the Roaring 20s and Silent Generation: Alcohol was prohibited in 1920 and became legal once again with the 21st amendment in 1933. So the Silent Generation wasn’t so dour: They legalized alcohol.

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  11. Mark B. on August 5, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    People born in the 1950s graduated _from_ school, knew that Prohibition was in effect during the whole of the 1920s, and that the silent majority of the late 60s had almost nothing to do with the repeal of Prohibition, since they were too young to vote in the early 30s.

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  12. hawkgrrrl on August 5, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    “So the Silent Generation wasn’t so dour: They legalized alcohol.” They knew that the best way to combat depression is alcohol.

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  13. Douglas on August 6, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    #12 – Quoth (for real) Ben Franklin: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” It was vino, not a brewski, that Franklin cited as proof of Godly love. But I’ve little doubt that the humble printer from Philly hoisted a tankard of ale or three, especially to chase the blues away.

    Winston Churchill was another dour depressive who marinated that witty brain in alcohol…of course, to old Winston the Royal Navy was “rum, sodomy, and the lash”. And Hitler was ALMOST a teetotaler (according to his secretary Tradl Junge, Herr Hitler did have an occasional glass of wine, though she never saw him drunk). Hmm…NOT exactly making a case for strict Word of Wisdom adherence, am I?

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  14. Geoff -Aus on August 6, 2014 at 4:07 AM

    I don’t think any of our leaders would have partisipated in legalising alcohol. Pretty sure they would have been a bit young, and would have been against it anyway.

    I am not persuaded that there is any benifit to having a succession system where you will never have a leader who is not well past their prime, or even bordering on senility.

    Imagine if Pres Monson died tomorrow, and Packer was put in.

    Would that really be progress?

    I can’t see much hope for the church before Uchtdorf, and how old will he be before he gets a go if ever?

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  15. Jeff Spector on August 6, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    “fooey on you, dude, not liking Steve Miller…more of his works for me”

    Blatant Plagiarist.

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  16. fbisti on August 6, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    You make a very good point. But most of our GAs being well over 70 is not a necessary condition of moderating the rate of change. I favor emeritus status for all of them by age 80.

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  17. forgetting on August 6, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    “So the Silent Generation wasn’t so dour: They legalized alcohol.” They knew that the best way to combat depression is alcohol.

    More than just the alcohol, it is the herbal component in beer, Hops, that treats depression, anxiety, and stress. We need more hops (oh, and more authorities that actually read the Word of Wisdom, be they young or 'ancient'). One might say that mild barley and grain drinks could be good for our mental health. New studies are finding hops useful in preventing and treating dementia. It's also good for heart disease and bone density.

    The funny thing is our oldest generation, the silent generation, might actually be the only generation left in the church that would have cultural knowledge of the medical value of hops (if they haven't willingly or aging-ly forgotten).

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  18. alice on August 6, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    As a person too rapidly approaching the first retirement age proposed above, I can’t think of an upside to a gerontocracy.

    I wish all the apostles well. I hope they have the joyful retirements with their families that they have earned. I know they would continue to be revered. I’m sure their experienced and wise counsel would be valued by those who carry on. But when they are not up to all the considerable responsibilities and burdens of the entire world-wide church they should be free to retire. What’s more, sometimes it’s like taking the car keys from grandpa: we have to recognize that they are not the best judge of their limitations.

    In this country the church is in more disarray than I’ve ever known it to be in my life. I think much of that owes to leadership that failed to recognize opportunities and pitfalls for reliance on a preference for the familiar. In the global church there is a critical need to minister to converts so that they can go on to build vibrant church communities from which they can sustain themselves and grow on their own merits. Meanwhile, with respect to the gentile world we need to project the vitality and grace of the Atonement rather than the image of a dinosaur pushing backward to less social justice rather than an abundance of it that reflects the love that Heavenly Father has for ALL of his children. The church is in need of more leadership and more vision than apostles of advanced age are capable of.

    Joseph and the first apostles were young, robust men of vision with the energy to meet the needs of the church. Heavenly Father, in choosing Joseph, didn’t seem to let experience trump those qualities. I think it’s time to reconsider that.

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  19. Jenonator on August 6, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Just my humble opinion–LOVE the general authorities the way they are. All I see is class, consideration, kindness, wisdom and strength that I don’t see in my own gen x.

    Pissed off at secular baby boomers for their voting on abortion, reliance on immigration for social security (legal or not, the numbers increased on both)beyond them. Pissed at all the excess if the 80’s that isn’t available today. Pissed at the way they taught their entitled kids.

    Yeah….just a whole lotta pissed going on here….

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  20. Yet Another John on August 7, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    Alice, half of those “young, robust men of vision” didn’t stay the course.

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  21. alice on August 7, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    The other half launched an organization that now spans the world.

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  22. Yet Another John on August 7, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    It was disruptive enough to the church in Joseph’s time. Imagine the effect it would have on a world wide church. I’m not really trying to argue with you. i believe that youth, energy, vim and vigor are essential, every bit as essential today as it was then. I just think that the church as gotten so big that wisdom and experience is as of equal or more value.

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  23. A Happy Hubbie on August 12, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    I do think the issue of (over) reacting is something I have thought about. I see one case where in the 60’s the whole sexual revolution provoked (IMHO) the church leaders to really push hard on morality – even getting into the current situation where young women (and others) judge other women and girls by the exact length of their sleeves. I am at the tail end of the baby boomers and I honestly feel that my wife’s “good girl syndrome” came from all of the “licked cupcake” and “chewed gum” analogies used during her teenage years to repeat over and over that, “sex is BAD!” until that is imbedded in a generation.

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