Monday, July 30, 2012

Money, Politics, and the Race to the Bottom

I don't usually get too political on this blog, but I just received an email, ostensibly from Vice President Joe Biden (but really from the Obama campaign) with a message that made me sit up, take notice, and sigh deeply. The message was this:

"If we don't win this election, it will be because we didn't close the spending gap when we could."

Really? Has our nation become so politicized, so polarized, so shallow, that the Presidential election will be decided solely by who has raised the most money? If that's the case, couldn't we at least do it for a worthy cause--sort of like Presidential telethon for, say, cancer. The one who raises the most money for the cause wins the election. At least then it wouldn't be literally billions of dollars spent on increasingly negative ads tearing down the other candidate and distorting his or her words and/or record. Perhaps I'm neither naive or just idealistic, but I would hope that the reason anyone loses an election is that the ideas and policies put forth by him or her at least seem better than the ideas and policies put forth by his/her opponent. Period. 

I'm pretty tired of the zero-sum political game--every policy question is framed in terms of who "wins" and who "loses." Even some TED talks are being restricted because tax policy is deemed "too political." Check this one, for instance:

This is a person who has "been there and done that" as far as starting a business, and has been extremely successful doing so. Yet his testimonial is deemed "too political" in the current environment. 

I long for a day in which people argue policy questions and come to a compromise solution that is good for the country. As long as we vote for whoever comes out on top of the fundraising smackdown, everyone loses.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Sound of Silents, Volume II

I may be odd in this way (I certainly am in other ways!), but generational identity fascinates me. The idea that we are formed by the culture in which we grew up, by the events we lived through, even by the number of people who grew up alongside us, is interesting in both personal and professional ways. A new blog entry entitled Generation X Doesn't Want to Hear It (warning, profanity) essentially expresses what most my fellow Generation Xers have known: we are destined to be forgotten. Either we will be the bridge between huge generations (Boomers and Millennials) or we will be water under the bridge. In many ways, we are the forgotten especially now.  The youngest of us have broken 30 years old and most of us have topped 40 and are no longer the "cool youth demographic" that is often defined as under 35 years old, especially in the church.

We are similar, in many ways, to the generation known as the Silent Generation (born 1925 to 1942). My parents are the youngest members of that generation, born between the Great Depression and World War II and coming of age in the 1950s when underneath the post-war celebration, the tectonic plates of cultural change were beginning to shift and cause the great cultural earthquake of the 1960s. GenXers were born largely from the Silent Generation, born during the sixties with little memory of the turmoil or during the seventies when things were sorting themselves out after the tumult and things like gas lines and pop music were primary memories.

So, what can we learn from (gasp!) our parents in the Silent Generation? Well, first, that they (like we) are/were a diverse lot--George Carlin, Peter, Paul and Mary, Newt Gingrich, Harrison Ford, and John McCain are (or were) of this generation. Wikipedia notes that:
In their book Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe define this [Silent] generation as an Artist/Adaptive generation. An Artist (or Adaptive) generation is born during a Crisis, spends its rising adult years in a new High, spends midlife in an Awakening, and spends old age in an Unraveling. Artistic leaders have been advocates of fairness and the politics of inclusion, irrepressible in the wake of failure.
If Generation X is similar, we were born during the cultural and economic crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, came of age in the 1980s and 1990s while watching Silicon Valley and technology transform our lives and then saw the dot-com boom and bust and, during our (mostly young-) adulthood, the events of 9/11. By the pattern of the Silents, we are in a state of Awakening and they are in a state of Unraveling.  The legacy of the Silent Generation may be that they kept the country stable long enough for the Boomers to come of age and for the Generation Xers to survive our childhoods.

The other lesson and legacy of our Silent Generation parents is that we inherited the "adaptive" gifts and skill set--we appear to be able to adjust rapidly to changing realities, a skill forged during the technological revolution and the ups and downs of economic and political life. We're not quite the "fix it myself" folks that the Silent Generation are--many of them grew up on farms and learned to make do with the physical resources they had where as we grew up in suburbia and learned to make do with the emotional and mental resources we had.

This is only the beginning of some time I'd love to spend reflecting on lessons that I any my fellow GenXers can learn from those we are generationally (and sometimes literally) our parents. We'll see where that leads!