Generations and the Post-Pandemic World

In less than three decades, the first wave of Millennials will reach their seventies and the first wave of Gen Z will reach their fifties. That will mean the surviving GenXers will be the wise elders — a scary thought. Time moves on quickly.

Millennials have been part of the adult world for a long time at this point. And Zoomers are heading into adulthood with some of those born after the 9/11 terrorist attack now in college or already out in the workforce. Most of them don’t have any memory of the 2008 recession and those that do only vaguely. This pandemic is the first major event in GenZ life experience.

We are entering the era of the younger generations that are quickly becoming not so young. Millennials and even some older Zoomers are a significant part of young parents right now, beginning to raise the next young generation that will begin to reach teenagehood before long. And the former young generations are quickly becoming a force in politics. The age of rule by Silents and Boomers is coming to an end, if slowly.

It’s still uncertain what role GenXers will play in this transition: X = unknown quantity*. People we know in our generational cohort, GenX, have GenZ kids. One of our nieces is about to enter college and the other is still in young childhood. GenX is well into middle age and more than a few have reached the lower edge of senior citizen status, such as AARP eligibility.

As for Millennials, the first wave has already reached their early forties and will soon follow GenX into middle age. Our culture has been obsessed with Millennials, but GenZ as with their Silent forebears will probably pass into the adult world with little fanfare. It will be a gradual change, until finally the entirety of GenZ is out of high school and then out of college.

All of a sudden, there will be the newest young generation on the scene of youth culture, what a researcher for a marketing firm has called Generation Alpha** — you got to start marketing to them before most of the generation is even born. To these kids, all of the events of these past decades, even this pandemic, will be history as seen in future documentaries and movies.

In the decades to come, the aging GenXers, Millennials and Zoomers will talk about what they were doing during the Great Pandemic of 2020. And they’ll wax nostalgic about the time before it all. Donald Trump could be the last Boomer to be elected president (or is he he first and last Silent to be president?). The tragedy of the Trump administration will forever be conflated with the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the last moment of failure that will forever taint the legacy of the older generations.

This moment we are now living through will be remembered as a turning point, after which nothing was ever the same again. To all the generations following, post-pandemic existence will be the only world they shall know.*** We are entering the new normal.

—–

* We GenXers are such an unknown quantity that some might question if we exist at all. It’s kind of Taoist to not exist, to not be noticed as significant enough for public acknowledgment. GenX is like an old gnarly tree that is useless and so isn’t worth cutting down.

The Disappearing of Generation X
by Ted Rall (text below from linked article)

Now, the internet is talking about a CBS News infographic that says zero Americans were apparently born between baby boomers and millennials. CBS listed four generations:

— The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)

— Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)

— Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)

— Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)

(The so-called cusp kids born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically boomers because of high birth years. But culturally, they’re Gen X, as they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)

That’s right, Gen Xers: To CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is 0 years old. So much for Gen X culture — “Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning — oh, and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a 0 year old.

The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “The Fleecing of Millennials” by Boomers. Leonhardt attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout” slur as being brand-new to millennials while, in fact, both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.

When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.

These days, all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the baby-boom and millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,” millennials are offered prizes like free health care if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says: “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X, so I laughed.

Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self-esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive? […]

Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55 percent of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford to? We Gen Xers, not millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31 percent of U.S. income, but just 25 percent of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.

“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist, we’re like …

What-ever.

—–

** Generational identities, in a natural sense rather than imposed by marketers, aren’t defined by outwardly observed features and polled opinions. Rather, a generation in a given society is defined by some shared experience, an experience that shaped an entire cohort early in life, that predisposes them to a mindset and pattern of behavior for the rest of their lives.

In this time of rising right-wing authoritarianism, disease pandemic, and worsening climate change, the common experience for the youngest demographic will be crisis and catastrophe. All of the problems will be exacerbated by worsening inequality of wealth, power, and resources leading to corruption and conflict.

We are entering an era of tumultuous and sometimes devastating change, likely resulting in another great depression or world war or both. The disease pandemic is particularly relevant since it is the first truly and fully global event. The youngest generation will grow up in a post-pandemic world.

Maybe they will simply be called ‘Survivors’. Hopefully, they won’t be known as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

—–

*** How will this affect the youngest?

Generation C Has Nowhere to Turn
by Amanda Mull

12 thoughts on “Generations and the Post-Pandemic World

  1. Well yes but as a “Gen Xer” (a term I dislike) I take a mixed view. It’s always a spectrum – “Boomers” who are idiots and others who aren’t and “Xers” who are idiots and other swho aren’t.

    But of course do things really change? Costumes and technology but there seems to be, as we’ve discussed, constants.

    Still I think you’re correct that years from now people will look back to the mo,ment/years prior to the plague – in the same way that people looked back prior to other large scale events.

    Just some idle thought.

    • I do think this pandemic is very much different from anything that has happened since WWII. It has changed behaviors across all of society and those changes are likely permanent.

      The 9/11 terrorism targeted the World Trade Center, a key symbol of neoliberalism. President Bush’s response was to tell Americans to go shopping, to re-establish neoliberal hegemony in the public mind. And when he 2008 recession occurred, the first actions taken were to prop up big biz and so maintain the neoliberal regime.

      This pandemic is entirely of another magnitude. Most businesses are closed by government decree. A third of the economy has been shut down. Among the lower class and lower middle class, more than half of the population is out of work. Car culture that has been the mainspring of American capitalism for about a century has ground to a halt.

      Even for my dad, a younger Silent, this arguably is the biggest event in his lifetime. There are a shrinking number of people old enough to have memories of WWII, much less the Great Depression. It could take a number of years before either herd immunity gains hold or a vaccine is developed.

      The US is only at 10-14% immunity right now and it will come back again and again until we reach the 60-75% required by herd immunity. At that rate with each round as it returns in the fall, it could be a slow process. As for vaccines, it can take a decade or longer and, in cases like AIDs, there still is no vaccine after decades of massive funding.

      No one knows when most people will be able to stop social distancing and go on about their lives, such as going back to work. This is going to persist for a while. And the consequences will continue much longer. It will be a long enough period of time to change individual and collective habits. For example, shopping online might become the standard way of doing business here on out and this might be end to most of the remaining malls.

      Car culture was already on the decline. Millennials, from a young age, were far less likely to get drivers’ licenses and own cars. That is partly because Millennials were more urbanized than any generation before and each young generation will be more urbanized than the last.

      So much of what we older generations have known our entire lives will be changed or become less common. It will also have a far-reaching impact on the economy in general. We are possibly heading toward another great depression. And the economic shutdown is going to wipe the board clean, as many businesses won’t survive.

      Furthermore, the entire situation in maybe lingering for years will create a public demand for economic and healthcare reforms. The context for everything has shifted. What was minor strains before will become major points of conflict. And what results from it all will be the world that “Generation Alpha” will grow up in. It will be normal to them.

      • I don’t disagree with your examples but I was thinking of something different.

        The deeper aspects of human consciousness and resulting emotions don’t change – or, there is no evidence I’m aware of that shows change. It’s been consistent for thousands of years through plagues, wars, and technological changes.

        Clearly things are going to change in terms of social mores and customs.

        But to consider one example, Thucydides description of the plague (probably cholera) in Athens could have been written yesterday.

        Of course now there are fewer togas;-) And Uber chariots was a start up that failed;-)

        as to the economy – unemployment pass 20 million today. clearly a great depression is unfolding.

        Pushed towards fascism are inevitable as are cpounter pushes for disaster socialism.

        There are no assurances either will prevail – that is we may end up in a dystopian tyranny or we may end up in a massive welfare state – or a combination of both.

        UBI may become standard and chnage the concept of normal in terms of work and status.

        And yet underneath that what changes if anything?

        • I get that. Even as this is a major change, there have been many periods of tumult and catastrophe, more than a few far worse. Jaynesian consciousness has persisted so far. The same thing could be said of the even longer persistence of animism and bicameralism, which makes Jaynesian consciousness seem like but a brief moment in time.

          There are some other factors to consider, though. This is the first fully global crisis in all of human existence. Even the collapse of the Bronze Age wasn’t global. The shift between bicameralism and consciousness happened at different rates in different places, maybe with a variation of millennia. Continental populations were isolated from one another back then.

          The changes signified by this pandemic is that we’ve finally have reached the global age. We are more interconnected now than ever before. This health crisis is just the beginning of what probably will turn out to be a series of ever worsening catastrophes. New viruses appearing could be taken as an early sign of climate change and ecological destruction.

          As you know, I sense that Jaynesian consciousness, as with the civilization it is part of, is extremely fragile and in the long term unsustainable. I don’t think we’ll last a fraction of the time of the early agricultural city-states that developed into the first empires. We are probably far more precarious than we realize. How many global events like this could humanity handle before fracturing into conflict? Probably not many.

          When empires collapsed in the past, people simply returned to rural lifestyles with hardly skipping a beat. The former Roman subjects and slaves were actually healthier with the fall of the Roman Empire. That won’t happen this time around, at least not quickly. For most people, the knowledge of subsistence living off of the land has been lost. When our civilization goes down, it will be mass starvation, plagues, and death.

          I see this pandemic as a looming shadow of the future waiting for us, what some think of as an attractor. Fascism and disaster socialism will be mere stepping stones on our way. But the greatest strain isn’t infrastructure and resources but the rigidifying addictive consciousness that pushes the system toward further extremes. You are right that it won’t change easily or quickly, until it suddenly happens all at once.

          I won’t attempt to predict exact timeline of events. This much I can say. According to Star Trek future history, we should soon be seeing large numbers of impoverished Americans put into Sanctuary Districts. That will lead to the Bell Riots in 4 years, which so happens to be at the end of the Trump regime, and also a United Ireland is formed the same year. Following that will be devastating nuclear war around mid-century with decades of post-apocalyptic horror.

          But on a positive note, humanity will make first contact with the Vulcans. That will lead to extensive space travel. And eventually, humanity will meet the Borg who embody a far superior collective mentality and much of humanity along with other species will be assimilated. Some like to believe humans will successfully fight off the Borg, but I have my doubts.

          I get all of my most important facts from Star Trek.

          • All civilized people get their facts from ST:-)

            Regarding sci fi’s ability to see the future in the present and visa versa: The Riots as I recall – and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – are part of an episode of DS9.

            What strikes me about that is how were seeing these pockets of stupidity and neo-fascist “resistance” spurred on by the domestic terrorist in chief and the Devos gang.

            Inslee’s tweet in response to Trump’s “liberate” tweets was the first time i felt authentic concern – these are fire in a crowded theater full of nuts rhetoric.

            I’m waiting in fear for someone to start shooting or for some gang of “don’t tread on me” militia nuts to occupy a state house, etc.

            even without such dramatic events I see the fools gathering at beaches in Flordia and I expect in about 2 to 3 weeks the Florida hospitals will be crushed.

            Leading to battles between states and the feds over quarantine zones.

            At the same time there is a contest between the two side of the establishment coin in Trump and Biden trying to embrace disaster socialism while avoiding being labeled as socialists.

            Trump has announced a massive 19 billion dollar aid package to farmers and the food industry that includes the fed buying food in bulk and then distributing it – which of course is essentially a Soviet or Maoist style “plan” and a centralized economic strategy.

            Under Irony in the dictionary, as Robin Williams said, see irony as Trump of all people is now a kind of communist (I gag and laugh as I type this)

            But with hot zones popping up and assorted goons staging “protests” and Trump v Biden and the state assuming the role of food distributor and employer exactly how far off is the Star Trek future?

            Exact similarities of course are not required for it to be accurate.

            Sadly I don’t see a Sisko in the mix or any other heroic captain and crew.

            These of course make your point about large scale structural change.

            Macron just did an interview where he all but declared capitalism dead.

            Being a politician he gave himself wiggle room but that’s what it amounts to.

            That doesn’t mean the next big system will be better. It could easily be worse.

            That attaches to your point(s) about post capitalist world – the Borg as metaphor – for example the advent of enhanced tracking systems for “health” – which at its worst reminds me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the aliens scream at anyone showing emotions.

            Foucault (him again) of course has excavated the system of power in relation to “health” and expulsion/arrest of the “sick”

            As before I am no more fond of the “left” than the right in the current scene – with the “alternative media” usual suspects spewing bs at a rate equal to Fox et al.

            And all of it making me wish for a cabin close to 10 Forward. I’m sure Guinin can find a bottle of Romulan Ale.

          • As far as I know, the Bell Riots first came up in DS9. It is amazing that the episode came out in the mid-1990s when I was young enough to barely know much about the world. I remember seeing that episode way back when. Now here we are. Immigrants are being kept in internment camps. Much of the population is out of work at the moment. And likely another great depression is heading this way. It’s not hard to imagine the creation of Sanctuary Districts.

            One can definitely sense that something is building up. The neo-fascist “resistance” is an interesting development. Trump is flexing his muscles by getting his authoritarian true believers out on the front line. How are local governments supposed to respond to protests and riots that are directly incited by the president? And what will the president do if and when some of his followers go full-on terrorist or simply become aggressively confrontational with the police and other authorities?

            That will pump up Trump’s ego like nothing else. And that will motivate Trump to wield his influence even further, if only for general fuckery and trolling. Tensions will likely grow worse between the Trump administration and local governments and agencies. That is because Trump has bet everything on making the economy great again. He can’t back away from getting businesses going as quickly as possible.

            Government intervention is what is inevitable. The question is what kind and how it will happen, whatever it gets called. I’d be unsurprised to see Trump take further big gov actions. That is what he has always been. I thought his progressive-style rhetoric stood out in his campaign for the 2016 election. But at the time I thought that was largely Bannon speaking through Trump. Looking back at interviews of Trump decades ago, I realize that he has always talked about industrial policy, ultra-nationalism, and such.

            As Bannon dreamed of it being as exciting as the 1930s, Trump is trying to put on the guise of FDR, the last time America was made great again. But I think if we are to look for a repeat of the past, we are closer to being in the equivalent of the TR administration that preceded WWI, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. TR was a plutocrat that tried to reign in the new money of corporatism but at a time when society was unraveling. TR’s progressive imperialism couldn’t stop the tide.

            But what is to counter a new era of progressive imperialism? What is to stop another world war, moral panic policies, and a great depression or whatever similar set of events building into crisis and catastrophe? As you say, one wouldn’t be wise to look for hope from the left. As a viable movement and political force, I’m not even sure what is left of the left right now. Is Sanders what goes for the left these days?

      • Just watching some news and realized the unemployment numbers only count those who have been counted – those who have filed for unemployment. But we know the state systems have been overwhelmed and consistently crashing me4aning that millions (?) haven’t been counted yet.

        These of course are not just numbers but entire social networks – speaking to the idea of social changes as a result.

        • I came across one set of data. It claimed that, among the lower class and lower middle class, more than half were out of work. Those two classes represent most of the population. And they are the part of the population with the least wealth and resources, the closest to poverty and homelessness.

          As you say, that might even be a major undercount. There is also those who aren’t unemployed right now but experiencing reduction of hours or cuts in wages. Some hospitals have threatened to pay medical staff less, since the profitable elective surgeries are canceled right now.

      • I responded to your response but it doesn’t seem to have passed out of the wordpress server? Not sure if it’s in a que (vs a ST “Q”;-)) but hopefully it is and wasn’t wiped by keebler elves in the land of zeros and ones at WordPress.

    • I have no strong opinion about GenX as a label . But I think it has some usefulness. It is the last generation to have memory of the Cold War and specifically to have grown up in the Cold War’s ending. That was an uncertain time in that changes were clear but what was coming was not.

      Also, it was when mass urbanization became complete, as it was the first generation where a majority of blacks were born in cities rather than in rural areas. And because of mass urbanization and mass industrialization, that moment in time saw a spike in childhood lead toxicity and violence, with youth as both the perpetrators and victims of that violence.

      GenXers were the most aborted generation, although they now have reached the size of Boomers from immigration and so we are the most foreign-born of recent generations. GenXers also had high rates of child abuse, suicide, etc; and the highest rate of childhood poverty since the Great Depression, although I don’t know how child poverty compares more recently.

      I take the ‘X’ as simply signifying the unknown. It was obviously a new era. But the uncertainty created anxiety and moral panic with a new phase in the old culture wars. The factor of the unknown fits Strauss and Howe’s model of generations theory. In that theory, GenX is the part of the cycle where unraveling begins, prior to the crisis, a sense of downward decline and worsening problems that can’t be resolved.

      On the other hand, it applies less to individuals than to general experience. There is no absolute dividing line. I’m a young GenXer and old Genxers definitely grew up in a different world. My oldest brother listened to classic rock in high school and, though I did like classic rock, I also listened to MTV. Kurt Cobain died the year I graduated high school. With the school shootings, it did feel like the world was heading in a new direction.

      The sense of change was tangible, even at the time. My second oldest brother is several years ahead of me. When I was a freshman in high school, he was a senior. As a senior, he was given a lot of freedom in the school. Seniors could walk the halls during class time without hall passes and they could leave school premises during lunch. But by the time I was a senior, all that freedom had been replaced by restrictive rules, even though it hadn’t yet gotten so bad as having security guards and metal detectors.

      By the way, the first wave of kids to get hit by high lead toxicity rates were actually the Boomers on the cusp of GenX. Young Boomers often don’t identify with the Boomers label. Likewise, I’ve always felt more sympathy for Millennials. Last wave Genxers and first wave Millennials are sometimes grouped together as the MTV Generation. Cable brought a new experience. My best friend who is on the very last edge of GenX has no memory of entertainment prior to cable tv, whereas his older brother grew up on network tv.

      Like his older brother, I watched a shitload of old reruns. I can relate to my parents because I grew up watching the same shows they grew up watching. I have a cultural connection. Anyone younger than me likely lacks that cultural experience. It’s a dividing point of generations. I’m right on the edge of it with my family having got cable when I was in high school. I’m just young enough to be familiar with some of the tv shows Millennials watched as kids.

      About constants, that is why I like Strauss and Howe’s take on it. They emphasize how patterns repeat. It makes a lot of sense to me. And they must be given credit for having made some accurate predictions, in looking at history and comparing it with developing trends. This is something we’ve often talked about, in other contexts. The same issues and conflicts keep returning. And each time it’s as if it never happened before. Strauss and Howe explained this as generational memory. Once the living memory disappears, the pattern repeats. It’s a collective amnesia that keeps the cycle going.

      The difference now is that, because of more access to knowledge, some people are becoming aware that we are stuck in a repeating loop. That is maybe a bit more true for GenXers who experienced the transition at a pivotal time in early life. We grew up in the unraveling and now we are in the full blown crisis. That represents an era and there has been a self-consciousness that we are in an era.

      It explains the jadedness and cynicism of so many GenXers, a generation that indirectly knew about but never personally felt the optimism of economic boom and post-war national pride that Silents and Boomers were bottlefed on. Now in the crisis, this is what more than a few GenXers have been expecting their entire lives.

      My parents as Silent-Boomer cuspers never understood the GenX criticalness in the past, but they are slowly coming around to this position. The older generations in some ways have been hit hardest on a psychological level. I’ve been prepared for this moment since growing up on post-apocalyptic movies. But older folk have experienced a loss of something that GenXers never had.

      That is why so many Silents have gone from strong Democrats to reactionary Republicans, with some help from Fox News. To them, this is the end of their world, specifically the post-war neoliberalism. That occurred to me the other day. The Silent Generation, in particular, was born just as American neoliberalism came fully into power and it has defined their lives ever since, mostly in positive ways. They mistook it for reality itself.

      I see this change in my father who was a product of neoliberalism, from factory manager to business management professor. He taught generations of students the religion of neoliberalism. Yet until recent years, he didn’t even know of the term ‘neoliberalism’ or what it meant. Neoliberalism was simply taken as a given. It will continue in its influence, but the Covid-19 pandemic is the end of its unquestioned dominance.

      My post was more pointing to the sense of this change. I don’t know how future Generation Alpha historians will look back on this historical moment that defined the world they grew up in. But I bet there will be an immense number of documentaries and movies made about it. It might end up overshadowing the 9/11 terrorist attack and war on terror.

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