Even When They're Wrong
Christian Jürgensen Thomsen was a young man interested in archaeology so when the Danish government of 1816 needed someone to climb into the attic of Copenhagen’s Trinitatis Church and sort through the rubble that had collected there, Thomsen was their man.
Upon entering the attic, Thomsen reported random items in “dust and disorganized disarray, hidden away in chests and baskets, among bits of material and paper. It was total chaos.”
Sounds like my attic. Yours too, I’ll bet.
The first thing young Christian Jürgensen Thomsen did was to organize the antiquities according to their material: stone in one pile, bronze in another, iron in a third. When the public was invited to an exhibition in that same church loft in 1819, this was the first time the false division of the past into three “ages” was ever used.
“So familiar has Thomsen’s tripartite division of the past into a Stone, a Bronze and an Iron age become, so complete the authority it has acquired, that we easily forget its comparatively recent vintage and attribute to it a degree of reality that it scarcely has a right to.” – Historian Robert Ferguson
Ferguson says “Stone Age,” “Bronze Age” and “Iron Age” are false labels adopted by people looking for categories where none exist. Likewise, I believe “Baby Boomer,” “Gen-Xer” and “Millennial” to be false labels.
People are not imprinted at birth with values systems they carry throughout their lives.
Search the phrase “Attributes of Baby Boomers” and you’ll read some truly idiotic assertions that have come to be widely believed, such as, “People born between 1946 and 1955 are experimental, value individualism and are free spirited. People born between 1956 and 1964 are less optimistic, distrust the government and are generally cynical.”- Wikipedia
Stone, bronze and iron refer not to time periods but to materials. Likewise, Baby Boomer, Gen-X and Millennial refer not to people born during a certain window of years but to values systems that were popular for a while in our society.
New systems of values are first adopted by the youth. Later, when those values become mainstream and are embraced by the rest of society, the values continue to be associated with the birth cohorts that first embraced them.
In truth, the pendulum of Western society swings in a very predictable 40-year arc and all of us are carried along with it. When our societal pendulum is moving toward individuality and self-expression we live in a “Me generation.” When we’re swinging away from these virtues and begin working together for the common good, we live in a “We generation.” The move from one extreme to the other takes 40 years.
We’ve recently seen our pendulum reach the bottom of its arc (2003) as we shifted from “Me” back to “We.”
Next Monday I’ll tell you exactly what you can expect from the coming decade.
Roy H. Williams