For a long time I’ve had a metaphoric vision of my life as a cross country airplane trip. As a young man, I packed my bags and hustled to the airport to make my life-flight. As I fastened my seat belt as I buckled down in college and medical school before racing down the runway and soaring into the sky of my marriage, career and family. Pretty soon we all reached cruising altitude of medical practice and life. There have been bumps and turbulence along the way, but Becky and I have been blessed.
When flying you can sense when the pilot begins his descent. I’ve now reached that midpoint and have begun a slow, controlled descent toward my ultimate destination. In some years hence I’ll be on final approach to the airport and land, ultimately taxiing to the hanger for old planes. Fortunately, that’s still a ways off.
Years ago I read a fascinating book by William Strauss and Neil Howe called “Generations, The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.” The title itself intrigued me as I wondered how a book tracing the history of America could predict its future. The authors discovered that each generation has a mood and characteristics. An example is the Greatest Generation who came of age during and won the Second World War. Interestingly, this cohort of Americans has many of the characteristics of the Founders of our country who fought and won America’s freedom. As a Baby Boomer it’s interesting to consider the characteristics we have in common with the generation of The Great Awakening (c.1740) and the Transcendental Movement (c.1830).
Recently, a young co-worker of the Millennial generation pleasantly advised me not to fret about my patients demanding unnecessary tests. She said it was time for Baby Boomers like me to transfer control and decision making to the next generation. She said her cohort would not have a problem saying, “No” to seniors with unreasonable expectations. Coincidentally, another Millennial told me he couldn’t afford to be pessimistic about Obama and the country because he had fifty years in his future. Their perspectives challenged me as I reminisced over my earlier life as a rising professional and family man. At that time I thought I was in charge of some things. Perhaps we’re all adjusting to the new order and its realities.
Strauss and Howe defined a generation as twenty-two years and showed how generational types have repeated themselves throughout American history. In fact, the generational types have marched in order since our ancestors came to North America in the sixteen hundreds. Even more intriguing is the author’s finding that America has been repeatedly challenged by external threats (WW II) and internal conflicts (the turbulent sixties) about every forty-four years. And if history does broadly repeat itself, America is due to experience another external challenge beginning in 2014.
As I observe America tear itself apart with perpetual race conflicts, foreign wars, ruinous Washington spending, IRS and other government scandals, and liberal versus conservative politics, all manipulated by a media that has long hence sold its soul, I wonder if we’re going to enter another Civil War. The one thing that gives me hope is that America has risen to challenges over the last 400 years, and the Millennial generation has much in common with the Founders and the Greatest Generation who created the United States and saved the world from Nazi Germany.
Western Civilization was a required course in my college cohort. The course terrorized many, but I found it fascinating to consider why western culture succeeded. A recent book by Rodney Stark, “The Triumph of Reason,” maintains that Western Civilization is the product of Christian philosophy. This perspective holds that every individual is unique and loved by God. This empowering notion allowed western man to create and prosper like no civilization in history.
In Western culture the individual is more than an ant who serves its colony, and we once saw our culture as unique. Because western man recognized an Absolute (God), he possessed a standard by which to measure what is right, moral or virtuous. Our post-modern era holds that there are no absolutes and everything is relative. When the Absolute is replaced by the “arbitrary absolutes” of man, then anything goes and is ruled by the majority sentiment of the moment. And as truth/facts are manipulated by the “arbitrary elites” of the media, is it any wonder that we’re in trouble? Incidentally, another philosophy of our post-modernism is the triumph of “style over substance,” apparently aided by teleprompters.
C. S. Lewis spoke of the devolution of Western culture in his 1944 book “Abolition of Man.” Later, Orwell’s “1984” showed the dystopian result of the renunciation of absolutes. Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” echoed Orwell. And Francis Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live” explained the end result of liberal progressive humanist philosophy that now indoctrinates our children in schools, and permeates entertainment and our government. Those who read history and think independently know what is wrong and major surgery is needed.
Perhaps the next generation is the way out of our mess. Admittedly, we Baby Boomers have focused excessively on ourselves and often neglected our civic duty. The pursuit of “personal peace and affluence” led to Rome rotting from the inside.
Ayn Rand once told a story of a magnificent tree which suddenly fell to the ground during a storm. It was then discovered that the tree was rotten at its center. I only hope this isn’t a metaphor for our country.