This is the second in a series of posts on some new ideas I am working on.
The paragraphs below begin to introduce the concept of the crucible as an instrument of social change.
For most people most of the time, private problems remain private and public issues remain public. Sometimes, however, a society encounters the problem of a huge number of people (members of a single generation) moving from one life stage to to the next within a condensed period of time. When this happens, difficulties surrounding growth and change cease to be solely private matters and erupt forcefully into public life. Public issues cease to become impersonal and distant and intrude forcefully into individuals’ private lives. I think the word “crucible” accurately describes the intense conflict and uncertainty that accompany these historical passages.
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. 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.