Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

I’ve been thinking about society in terms of cultural shifts.  I sense we’re in the midst of a shift or several shifts combined.  Three main factors have come to mind.  I was thinking about racial conflicts in the US (in particular in my own small midwestern town), there is of course a lot going on with technology as the information age is just starting to hit its stride (is the industrial age ended yet?), and the ever so fun topic of generations.  Here is some of what I came across, but I plan on doing much more research.

 – – –

The first article is quite interesting.  It’s about the US shifting towards a new racial majority.  I was discussing this yesterday with somone in the comments of my local paper’s website.  They challenged my assertion that this shift was supposed to happen so soon.  It’s always hard to say with predictions, but I’d think the Census Bureau would be fairly accurate.  It does seem that I was partially correct in that the shift will happen with the younger generation within the next decade or so.  I’ve heard that already for Gen Y race isn’t much of an issue.  I was a Gen Xer in the South and in the 1990s bi-racial dating was acceptable.

However, in many small midwestern towns, race was never an issue in the past because some people grew up never or rarely seeing anyone who wasn’t white.  My town is a relatively more racially diverse town (still as a college town the other races tended to be of a higher class such as wealthy people from other countries), but is only now feeling the the full impact of Chicago’s overflow (increasing inner city population?).  Crime has increased and the population in general has increased.  Even though there is more gang activity, I suspect that the crime is as much a result of cultural conflict as anything else.  It’s hard to know what is causing what with changes in various factors: race, poverty, crime, culture, racial tensions, downward turn of economy, etc.  I somehow doubt that the conflict going on in my town is simply a local issue and instead probably connects to the shifts going on in the entire country.

The End of White America? by Hua Hsu (The Atlantic)

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we’re approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

Obviously, steadily ascending rates of interracial marriage complicate this picture, pointing toward what Michael Lind has described as the “beiging” of America. And it’s possible that “beige Americans” will self-identify as “white” in sufficient numbers to push the tipping point further into the future than the Census Bureau projects. But even if they do, whiteness will be a label adopted out of convenience and even indifference, rather than aspiration and necessity. […] To take the most obvious example, whiteness is no longer a precondition for entry into the highest levels of public office. The son of Indian immigrants doesn’t have to become “white” in order to be elected governor of Louisiana. A half-Kenyan, half-Kansan politician can self-identify as black and be elected president of the United States.

As a purely demographic matter, then, the “white America” that Lothrop Stoddard believed in so fervently may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it’s already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America’s multiethnic, multicolored heirs.

For some, the disappearance of this centrifugal core heralds a future rich with promise. In 1998, President Bill Clinton, in a now-famous address to students at Portland State University, remarked:

Today, largely because of immigration, there is no majority race in Hawaii or Houston or New York City. Within five years, there will be no majority race in our largest state, California. In a little more than 50 years, there will be no majority race in the United States. No other nation in history has gone through demographic change of this magnitude in so short a time … [These immigrants] are energizing our culture and broadening our vision of the world. They are renewing our most basic values and reminding us all of what it truly means to be American.

 Not everyone was so enthused. Clinton’s remarks caught the attention of another anxious Buchanan—Pat Buchanan, the conservative thinker. Revisiting the president’s speech in his 2001 book, The Death of the West, Buchanan wrote: “Mr. Clinton assured us that it will be a better America when we are all minorities and realize true ‘diversity.’ Well, those students [at Portland State] are going to find out, for they will spend their golden years in a Third World America.”

 – – –

This next article is making too broad of generalizations for my taste, but I thought it interesting anyhow.

The author is pointing out a decisive point that might represent a shift in culture.  The year 1994 is presented as a highpoint of popular culture which so happens to be the year of my highschool graduation.  I don’t know if the author has some useful insight or not, but it does seem possible that technology has forced culture into more diffuse manifestations.

As for the possibility of decreasing intelligence, I’d question what is being tested.  The younger generation is obviously focused on different kinds of activities which would require different kinds of intelligence.  Still, this is important as standard IQ tests have apparently always shown steady increase in the population until now.  The Flynn Effect was named by the authors of The Belle Curve which was a highly controversial book because it commnted on the connection between race and IQ.

Green Day’s Dookie and the Peak of Western Civilization by Martin Cizmar

By the late 1990s, The Flynn Effect — a phenomenon whereby each generation had a steadily increasing IQ — no longer was in effect. Sure, SAT scores are on a steady upswing, but psychologists seem to be concluding that intelligence quotient (the best available measure of our raw intelligence) is slipping downward.

[…] Reading over those lists it’s obvious: There may well have been a year that matched 1994 sometime in the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s, but there sure hasn’t been one since. I, for one, seriously doubt there will be again. The Internet has made popular culture too diffuse, making it impossible to gather the sort of critical mass necessary to launch an all-encompassing mega-trend like grunge.

 – – –

The next article is critical of the Boomers.  I have a less clear opinion about health care reform, but the sentiment of this article is something many post-Boomers can resonate with.

The Boomers were the largest generation that had been born at that point and Gen Xers were tiny in comparison.  They were a generation that dominated all segments of society (media, advertising, politics, and career opportunities) for a half century.  Not only were they big but they were loud.  They always made sure their voices were heard and they’ve been an ideologically divisive force in our society.  Constant complaining and bickering.  They started more wars in their time of power than any generation ever in US history.

And now they’re retiring and they potentially could be a massive drag on society.  Who is going to support their health care?  Certainly not themselves as they’ve been bad about saving and certainly not the small cohort of Gen Xers.  We must turn to the even larger Gen Y, but it’s funny that he Boomers love to project their own narcissism onto Gen Y which is the only generation that can offer us the hope of getting beyond all the problems Boomers helped to create.  Of course, Gen Xers has their part to play as practical leaders if the Boomers will just get out of the way.

Anniversary Irony: How the Woodstock Generation is Sabotaging Health Care Reform by Adam Hanft

Much has been written about the narcissism and self-involvement of the boomers, and the way in which the undisciplined indulgences of the sixties — sex, drugs, rock and roll — became sublimated into a parallel consumer world of undisciplined, indulgent consumption.

If you’re going to reward yourself with everything NOW, and scorn the future (just take a look at the dismal stats about boomer savings) — then you’re going to have an equally selfish view of health care. Which means a reluctance to share it; a very anti-Woodstockian value

Indeed, the boomers consume health care in the same guzzling fashion that they bought homes and cars and electronics and designer everything. And they’re worried that their God-given right to consume often and endlessly is being threatened by the Obama plan.

Can we blame them for this expectation of everything? From the time they were born, and their Spock-trained parents catered to their every whim, boomers were spoiled and privileged. Society existed to dandle them and indulge their fantasies.

They also grew up as children (and adults) during the largest expansion of employer-based health care in history. Corporations may have been boring (and sometimes evil), but they were generous. Boomers’ white-collar and blue-collar parents had great benefits. They never had to deal with scarcity, with limits, with tough resource decisions. They always had plenty of toys, plenty of jobs, plenty of choices. So when opponents of reform use trigger words like “rationing”, boomers get all twitchy and shrill.

Then there’s the “Unplug Granny” distortion. The reason it’s so contagious is that it strikes at the essence of boomer anxiety, the inevitable march to mortality. They want to go on forever. They see themselves as adolescents, they dress like adolescents,they listen to oldies music that suspends them in adolescent amber. […] Talk to physicians in any area with a high concentration of those on Medicare and you’ll hear the same refrain: every little ache and pain is an occasion (even a social occasion) for a trip to doctor, since Medicare pays anyway. That’s the boomer ontology.