1000 petals by axinia

the only truth I know is my own experience

Generations theory January 9, 2009

 image by axinia

Terms like “Generation X” or “Lost Generation ” are quite popular, but may be not everyone is aware of the theory they originated from.

The Generations theory was introduced 1991 by William Straus and Neil How in their book Generations. Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern.  Although the studies and observations were based on the American History, later on lots of parallels were found in other cultures. The theory suggests the following intervals:

The repeating pattern:

Awakening. During an Awakening, rising adults are driven by inner zeal to become philosophers, religious pundits, and hippies, alienating children (who see the adult world becoming more chaotic each day) and older generations alike. Civil order comes under attack from a new values regime. Examples of Awakening eras include the Protestant Reformation (1517-1542), the Puritan Awakening (1621-1649), the Great Awakening (1727-1746), the Second Great Awakening (1822-1844), the Third Great Awakening (1886-1908), and the Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984). Seen as a tumultuous time, somewhat echoing a “Crisis”.

Unraveling. An Unraveling is an era of relative peace and prosperity between an Awakening and a Crisis. The most recent Unraveling was seen between The Consciousness Revolution and the time just before September 11th (1985-2001?), a time of paradigm shifting. Seen as a positive time, somewhat echoing a “High”.

Crisis. A Crisis is a decisive era of secular upheaval. The values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. Wars are waged with apocalyptic finality. Examples of Crisis eras include the Wars of the Roses (1459-1487), the Spanish Armada Crisis (1569-1594), the colonial Glorious Revolution (1675-1704), the American Revolution (1773-1794), the American Civil War (1860-1865), and the twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II (1932-1945), and now speculatively the present time from September 11th, 2001.

High. A High is an era between a Crisis and an Awakening. The most recent High was seen between World War II and the Consciousness Revolution.

Strauss and Howe state that Generations last the length of time of one phase of life–the same length of time as a turning. Like turnings, generations come in four different archetypes, defined in “The Fourth Turning” as Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.

Prophets are values-driven, moralistic, focused on self, and willing to (see other people) fight to the death for what they believe in. They grow up as the increasingly indulged children of a High, come of age as the young crusaders of an Awakening, enter midlife as moralistic leaders during an Unraveling and are the wise, elder leaders of the next Crisis. The Boomers are an example of a Prophet generation.
Nomads are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They grow up as the underprotected children of an Awakening, come of age as the alienated young adults of an Unraveling, become the pragmatic, midlife leaders of a Crisis and age into tough, post-crisis elders during a High. Generation X and the Lost Generation are examples of Nomad generations.
Heroes are conventional, powerful, and institutionally driven, with a profound trust in authority. They grow up as the increasingly protected children of an Unraveling, come of age as the Heroic, team-working youth of a Crisis, become energetic and hubristic mid-lifers during a High and become the powerful elders who are attacked in the next Awakening. The G.I. Generation that fought World War II is an example of a Hero generation. Millennials are expected to emerge as the next generation of this example.
Artists are subtle, indecisive, emotional and compromising, often having to deal with feelings of repression and inner conflict. They grow up as the over-protected children of a Crisis, come of age as the sensitive young adults of a High, rebel as indecisive midlife leaders during an Awakening, and become the empathic elders of an Unraveling. The Silent Generation is an example of an Artist generation.

The Homeland Generation is expected to emerge as the next generation of this example.
Each of the four turnings is composed of a unique constellation of generational archetypes. During an Awakening, for example, the children are always a Nomad generation, the young adults a Prophet generation, the mid-lifers an Artist generation, and the elders a Hero generation. During a Crisis, by contrast, the children are always Artists, the young adults are Heroes, the mid-lifers are Nomads, and the elders are Prophets. In “The Fourth Turning”, Strauss and Howe state that this has held true with remarkable consistency over 500 years of Anglo-American history, since the birth of modernity.

Strauss and Howe believe that history shapes each generation depending on what phase of life it occupies as it encounters key historical events–a period of crisis will leave an impression on children that is different from the one it leaves on midlife leaders. The boundaries of each generation and the characteristics of its members emerge because they share a common age-location in history. For instance, Strauss and Howe define the Boomer generation as anyone who doesn’t personally remember World War II. They are different from the Silent Generation, who share the formative experience of childhood during the war. Thus history creates the generations–and these in turn reproduce the cycle of history. As the protected children of a High who never personally experienced Crisis, and as the moralistic, uncompromising crusaders of an awakening, the Prophet-Boomers are most likely to provoke a new crisis when they grow to control the nation’s institutions. As the overachieving children of an Unraveling who never personally experienced an Awakening, and as the team-working, conformist civics of a crisis, the Heroes are most likely to provoke a new awakening when they get control.

P.S. As any theory, this one has to be taken with a grain of salt… And I wonder how does the rise of Spirituality fits into all that?

But anway, I really like the theory 🙂

LOVE, axinia


13 Responses to “Generations theory”

  1. Interesting theory, Axinia. I guess it’s true to a large extent. Generations differ in their attitudes. I think spirituality has always been around, so it cannot necessarily be linked with one generation. And I think it (spirituality) will never rise or fall dramatically, but will be roughly at the same level 😐

  2. swaps Says:

    This theory is really plausible.
    If I may add a corollary,
    I believe in each generation are born people who belong to all four archetypes, but only those who correlate with the phase of the history (as it is being made) may rise to prominence.

    I like this theory(perspective) because it debunks beliefs (like in Hinduism) that the world deteriorates irreversibly. But in an age of climate change, crises, nuclear weapons, who can predict tomorrow?

  3. Thanks for bringing this to us, Axinia. This observation is indeed interesting. It is quite true and reiterates that sustained prosperity or sustained grief is practically not possible. How intricately this system is designed! I admire the architect behind all this. And I think this theory cycle is applicable within every individual’s life too.

  4. billibaldi Says:

    Fantastic blog, and good post.

    Generations is food for thought but is sloppy because it relies on one case study – Anglo-American history. Surely if Generations is universal then it should be duplicated in Chinese history.

    However most glaring omission is the lack of accounting for the influence of the Feminine.

  5. swaps Says:

    @billibaldi, we have an Indian view of time that closely relates to this generation theory. But our segmentation of time starts with creation and ends with annihilation, only to start all over again.
    This theory has some substance. It is very important.

  6. axinia Says:

    @Raj, it is true that spiritulity has always been around, however believe me that it is increasing nowadys – it has become in a way “pop”, and “in” – what is has never been before, at least not in the West.

    @Swaps, I like your idea of all archetypes being present in every generation… regarding tomorrow – if we follow the dynamics of the Generation theory, the next step would be the HIGH 🙂 But actually it reminds me the Yugas in Indian tradition – after the darkness of Kaly Yuga there is Satya Yuga to come, right?

    @Destination Infinity , I am glad you like the theory.. And I like your idea of applicaiton of that theory to every human life… can be very true!

    @billibaldi, thanks for the appreciation of my blog!

    ” the lack of accounting for the influence of the Feminine.” – is unfortunatly a common problem in the Anglo-Saxon culture 😦

  7. swaps Says:

    Axinia, there are crises around, and more on the way. We cannot enter HIGH, until we have resolved them.

    Remember Tagore…”We cannot achieve freedom until we have paid the price.”

  8. axinia Says:

    sure, swaps, the price is defifnitely hight 🙂 So you do not believe in Satya Yuga???

  9. swaps Says:

    Satya Yuga? Not in my life time…let’s delay it so that our children can enjoy it.

    Btw, I believe this theory…. because it casts me as a ‘nomad’, which is how I see myself.

  10. axinia Says:

    yes, the Nomad image fits oyu well 🙂
    however I also belong to that group – “cynical about institutions” yes, the rest I am not sure it fits me…

  11. Pradeep Says:

    Great Theoy!!!1….I like this theory bcoz according to this theory I will be in the hero generation which is musical to my ears:)

  12. Triveni Says:

    Thanks Axinia. I believe that this does support the Yugas described in Hindu tradition. Kala Yuga seems to fit the crisis situation. But i am a little confused here. Becz i would expect this cycle to break sometime. Like the sathya yuga. However, it does not seem to be described anywhere.
    and this does explain a lot of the term called – Generation gap, so overly used too.the kind of experiences a particular generation undergoes believes themselves to be correct always, but they do not realise the kind of experience other generation undergoes that is also possibly not wrong for who they are.
    Like my dad and ppl in his generation are more highly disciplined and are more follow the rules type. But ppl in my generation are more relaxed and cool and dont accept every rule defined. But when it comes to the younger generation, we again feel they are overly negligent and dont realise many things in life. Probably the way my dad’s generation feels about us 🙂

  13. swaps Says:

    Oh! my favourite post!! Nice reading again…looks like used to write better comments 2 years ago… anyways, enjoyed reading it, for I believe it is true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s