As ChangingAging readers know, I’m working on a nonfiction book that explores aging in America through the cultural lens of the Post-War Generation. The concept for — “The Second Crucible,” — will also be a major theme in my upcoming TEDxSF talk in San Francisco on June 4.
Because of its size, and position in the unfolding of world history, the Post War generation was endowed with an unprecedented capacity for creating“crucible” experiences. For more than half a century America’s Post War generation has functioned like a kind of cultural neutron star. This generation was endowed with the power to bend our culture in ways that MAGNIFY whatever life stage the so-called “Boomers” occupy at the time.
Consider adolescence — when one adolescent becomes angry with her parents she might slam the door to her room. When millions of adolescents “question authority,” thousands of them are apt to band together and attempt to levitate the Pentagon. One teenager might sneak a cigarette behind the barn. A massive generation of young people can create an entire counter culture laced with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The Post War generation’s size and influence made its fitful transition from childhood to adulthood a matter of urgent concern for the nation as a whole. This First Crucible nearly set American society on fire.
The Post War Generation’s Second Crucible is destined to become even more consequential than its first. Even as they edge into late adulthood, members of the Post War generation continue to idealize youth, vigor and productiveness. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick. The Second Crucible will erupt as the Post War generation crashes into the end of adulthood and begins to grapple with aging and elderhood; the scale of this collision, the speed at which it will unfold and the decisions it will force on young and old alike.
In the private sphere, individuals will feel alienated from their own changing minds and bodies in ways they have not experienced since puberty. In the public realm, we are already beginning to see the outlines of an intergenerational conflict that pits the young against a massive generation of people who continue (against all evidence) to believe that they are still “stardust”, as Joni Mitchell dubbed them in the 60’s.
Each day moves the Post War generation one day farther away from the epicenter of adult power. Each day shifts this generation’s vast culture distorting power one day closer to adulthood’s close. The radical inevitability of aging might lead some to believe that this process will unfold smoothly. In fact, the Post War generation’s collision with the end of ADULTHOOD will set off a Second Crucible that will be far more emotionally and culturally challenging than the first.