Whoever said that change is the only constant was on to something. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen enormous changes in everything from social mores, to communication, to travel…and I’m pretty sure that most of the people who regularly read this blog can offer lots of other examples.

Apparently, even the widespread belief in generational differences–the life changes that have formed the basis of innumerable poems and novels, that have spawned repeated admonitions of how “someone your age” should behave–is undergoing a change.

According to a report in Fast Company, BMW in Germany is pioneering a multi-generational workplace.

The growing potential of the multigenerational workplace challenges the traditional way in which we think about people of different ages and what we can do and accomplish at various points in life. We frequently hear people say, “I’m too young for that job,” or “I’m too old to learn a new gig.” When universal schooling and “old-age” pensions were first introduced in the 1880s, life became organized into a simple sequence of stages. Infanthood was all about growing and playing. School, and perhaps college, would follow, and then work. Before we knew it, we would be in retirement, looking back at the linear pattern that a full and orderly life was supposed to be, hoping that our children and grandchildren would successfully replicate the very same trajectory in their own life spans. Our time in this world became compartmentalized into a rigid series of distinct stages ever since.

I call this way of organizing our lives the sequential model of life. Over the past 150 years or so, every generation has been told to follow the exact same rules all over the world, from Japan to the United States, and from Scandinavia to the southern tip of Africa. Meanwhile, wars were fought, empires came and went, women gained the right to vote, and we set foot on the moon and dispatched robotic rovers to Mars. But we continued to live our lives in the same old way, one generation after another, in endless reprise.

This state of affairs is becoming obsolete due to long-standing demographic transformations.

People now live longer, for one thing. In 1900, average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 46 years; as of 2022, it’s 78. Americans who have made it to age 60 can expect to live an average of another 23 years, dramatically up from just 10 years in 1900.  As the article points out, that’s “another lifetime within a lifetime.” (Western Europeans are even better off, with a life expectancy at age 60 of 25 years.)

As anyone with eyes can see, not everything about our increasing longevity is positive–there are frictions between younger, taxpaying generations and those in retirement enjoying healthcare and pension benefits. Many people struggle with transitioning from one stage to another. We’re all subject to the destabilizing effects of technological change.

The article suggests that we think about life differently–that we rethink the ways in which “rising life expectancy, enhanced physical and mental fitness, and technology-driven knowledge obsolescence” are working to fundamentally alter the dynamics of the human life course, “redefining both what we can do at different ages and how generations live, learn, work, and consume together.”

The multi-generational workforce at BMW includes older workers–dubbed “perennials”–and the experiment has increased productivity.

The author predicts a massive transformation, a “postgenerational revolution” that will “fundamentally reshape individual lives, companies, economies, and the entire global society.”

As a result, we will witness the proliferation of perennials, “an ever-blooming group of people of all ages, stripes, and types who transcend stereotypes and make connections with each other and the world around them . . . they are not defined by their generation,” in the words of Gina Pell, a serial entrepreneur….

If people could liberate themselves from the tyranny of “age-appropriate” activities, if they could become perennials, they might be able to pursue not just one career, occupation, or profession but several, finding different kinds of personal fulfillment in each. Most importantly, people in their teens and twenties will be able to plan and make decisions for multiple transitions in life, not just one from study to work, and another from work to retirement.

Sounds great to these old ears…..


How Old Is Grandma, Anyway?

My husband recently shared a FB meme going around, a recitation that–in addition to being generally interesting–sheds a good deal of light on the reason so many older Americans are disoriented, uneasy and cranky.

The story went like this: A grandson was asking his grandmother what she thought about shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general.

In response, the grandmother notes that she’d beenI born before: television, penicillin, the polio vaccine, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees and the pill. She was born before credit cards, laser beams, ballpoint pens, pantyhose, air conditioners, dishwashers, and clothes dryers.

When she was born, men hadn’t walked on the moon.

In her youth, she’d never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CD’s, electric typewriters, yogurt, or guys wearing earrings. Anything “made in Japan” was junk. Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and instant coffee were unheard of. 

The list didn’t even include the Internet or social media…

The meme ended with grandma saying that, In her day,’ “grass” was mowed,  “coke” was a cold drink, “pot” was something your mother cooked in, “Aids” were helpers in the Principal’s office, “hardware” was found in a hardware store and.”software” wasn’t even a word. 

Add to all that, when we did get TV, news anchors, weathermen, sports reporters etc. were all White men…women were just entering the workforce (except for Black women, who had mostly only been allowed to be domestics.) Gay people were still way behind the coats in the closet.

The meme’s big “reveal”–“grandma” is only 70 years old. She was born in 1952.

Full disclosure: I did not go through this list and check its accuracy. It seems incredible that so much of our environment–so many of the things we simply take for granted and assume have always been around–weren’t part of our realities until after 1952.

I was born in 1941, and I can confirm the absence of many of these inventions. I can also confirm the disorienting impact of many of them; the laptop computer on which I compose these blog posts–not to mention the advent of the Internet–still doesn’t feel natural. (I’m reasonably okay until the computer has a problem…)

I know that a significant percentage of those who read this blog are in my general age cohort, and can probably add items to the “when did that happen?” list. We older folks should also stop to consider that living through immense changes in technology and society have presented “grandma” (and grandpa) with significant personal challenges.

Some of us–including yours truly–have welcomed most of these changes. Others have found them to be very threatening.

When Morton Marcus and I were researching our recent book–the one I’ve been shamelessly promoting--we were essentially exploring the changes in grandma’s life. Morton wanted to understand how technology had emancipated women–how appliances like washing machines and innovations like frozen food had enabled women to enter the workforce. I wanted to document the enormous importance of the pill and other medical advances allowing women to control their own reproduction, and I wanted to trace the political consequences of efforts to nullify those advances.

There’s a side benefit to reviewing the enormity of the changes in “grandma’s” environment; it should generate a bit of sympathy for the numerous older Americans who have found the extent and pace of those changes unnerving. These are folks who look at a world that is immensely different from the world into which they were born and socialized and who feel unseen and unmoored.

As anyone who’s had children can attest, different personality types respond differently to change, and we have arguably been living at a time when the rate of both technological and social change has greatly accelerated.

For eons, humans occupied relatively stable environments. Since the time of the first Industrial Revolution (scholars tell us we are now in the second), that stability has been regularly upended. It is inarguable that the inventions and innovations have made life far better for most people–but constant disruption comes with a cost.

I’m pretty sure that the MAGA Americans screaming about making the country great “again” are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the people most uncomfortable with modern life. They want to return to a more familiar environment–one in which they not-so-incidentally enjoyed a superior status. They want their grandchildren to inhabit that same world. 

That worldview can be dangerous–especially when those who hold it are armed. It is also doomed. The culture has moved on.

That said, memes like this one about grandma’s age ought to elicit some sympathy for those of our fellow-citizens who find themselves visitors in a world they didn’t expect and no longer understand.


What’s Different This Time? A Lot.

Back in the 60s, Bob Dylan told us that “the times, they are a-changing.” They still are.

I’ve been thinking about about the Supreme Court’s efforts to reverse social change, and the extent to which their targets have become too firmly embedded in the culture to be reversed.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973–almost exactly 50 years ago–and we sometimes forget how much American life  has changed since then. I’ve been thinking about what those changes may mean for the radical Court decision to overrule the constitutional right of a woman to control her own reproduction.

Consider just a few…

  •  Roe was argued in a void of sorts.Tthere was virtually no public discussion of women’s experiences with abortion, because it had been illegal in many if not most states, and coming forward to publicly explain and provide context to a decision to terminate a pregnancy would have labeled the woman a criminal. As Dobbs made its way through the judicial system, however, women faced no such restraint, and their stories have illustrated the multiplicity of situations women face, and the intensely personal impacts of their decisions.
  • Columnist Jennifer Rubin has written about one outcome of that public discussion–widespread recognition of the cruelty of forced birth. How do you defend GOP insistence that a 10-year-old girl impregnated by her rapist carry that pregnancy to term? Yet in that very real case, at least two Republican gubernatorial candidates have affirmed their belief that this child should be required to give birth. As Rubin noted, those utterances by GOP candidates weren’t anomalous: Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said that, in his view, a 12-year-old impregnated by incest should be forced to complete her pregnancy. Herschel Walker, the Georgia Republican Senate nominee, insists he wants no exceptions, even to save the woman’s life. Ohio state Rep. Jean Schmidt has called forcing a 13-year-old rape victim to give birth an “opportunity.” Even people with qualms about abortion are likely repulsed by this sick lack of concern for the lives and health of living women.
  • Poll after poll shows that most people who want to restrict abortion don’t want to ban the procedure entirely. Yet–as The New York Times reports– “There are no allowances for victims of rape or incest in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee or Texas.” In Idaho, a woman would have to file a police report to obtain an abortion, something virtually impossible for incest victims and others who live in fear of their attackers.”
  • As legal observers have noted–and survey research has confirmed--the U.S. Supreme Court is in the midst of a full-fledged legitimacy crisis, worsened by a steady stream of extreme decisions handed down by the conservative supermajority. Opinions about the Court are far more negative than they were in 1973.
  • The decision in Dobbs, as I’ve previously explained, rests on an analysis that threatens other rights–rights that weren’t recognized fifty years ago (and thus were not “deeply rooted” in Justice Alito’s version of American history) such as same-sex marriage (2015), contraception (1965) and interracial marriage (1967). That threat is widely understood, and it significantly expands the number of Americans who (accurately) view Dobbs as a personal threat.
  • The media environment today is dramatically different from that of 1973. Whatever their negatives–and I routinely post about those negatives–the ubiquity of the Internet and social media means that very few Americans are unaware of either the Court’s decision or its likely impacts. Digital communication has also made it much, much easier to organize political movements and raise dollars–and we are already seeing a strong political response online to what is being described–again, I believe accurately–as a theocratic and profoundly anti-liberty decision.
  • Over the past fifty years women have become considerably more empowered.
  • The percentage of Americans following the dictates of organized religion is at an all-time low.

I’m old, and I remember 1973.

In 1973, my mother–who was considered pretty liberated for her time– was still saying things like “Men won’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.” Women who had sex outside of marriage were considered sluts. Women who dared to have both children and careers were  “obviously” bad mothers. Women who weren’t married were pitied and called “old maids.” Women who earned more than their husbands were “castrating.” Women who played sports were unfeminine–and the very few women who wanted to report on sports were barred from male players’ locker rooms…It was 1974 before we could even get our own credit cards.

In short, a lot has changed since 1973. As a recent car commercial puts it, “this isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile.”  

 In 1971, Helen Reddy wrote our anthem..

In 2022, I think women really are going to roar.


Cultural Stagnation? I Don’t Think So

Regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed my swings between hopefulness and despair–I am evidently politically bipolar. My swings lead me to wildly inconsistent diagnoses: is America beyond rescue, or are we simply in the midst of a generational shift (sort of like the eye of a hurricane, where it is impossible to see beyond the wind)?

I take a modicum of comfort from the fact that I have plenty of company for either theory. In fact, no one can really predict what comes next for that wobbly experiment being conducted by “We the People”–and my depressive episodes are far from being the most dire ones out there. A recent essay by one Mike Lofgren in Common Dreams makes my dark days look positively sunny by comparison.

The title and subhead pretty much tell the story: “Why the Idea of Progress Is Dead in America: The Right’s assault on reason and intelligence has killed the notion that things can improve.”

The introductory paragraphs are equally cheery.

Americans have become so inured to perennial gridlock in politics that when significant legislation passes, it’s regarded as a minor miracle. Should that legislation actually do something positive for the population as a whole, rather than for a few billionaires or corporations, we suspect divine intervention.

Once there were periods of our history like the Progressive Era, the New Deal, or the Great Society, when Americans perceived, however dimly, that using government to obtain a more abundant and just life for all the people was both feasible and desirable. Those eras now seem as dead as the Pleistocene and attempts to resurrect their spirit about as practicable as reviving the wooly mammoth.

The essay goes on in this vein, and it is difficult to argue that it is overheated or exaggerated. The governmental/political environment we occupy is admittedly pretty grim. Where I draw the line, however, is at Lofgren’s assertion that this culture we inhabit isn’t going to change. We are, he proclaims, in stasis, and he takes us through a tour of popular culture and the built environment to illustrate the “sameness” of the last forty years, and what he sees as the lack of cultural progress.

America, once the quintessential young country, is becoming as culturally static as the late Ottoman Empire. “Make America great again” is a potent slogan precisely because it appeals to the futile yearning by the very demographics that vote in the highest percentages, the Silents and Boomers, for the myth of an impossible time-travel to the days when they were young. Because they vote, and Millennials do not, they can impose both reactionary politics and cultural torpor on the rest of the country.

Lofgren traces the roots of modern conservatism’s opposition to science and reason, and the ways in which those attacks have tapped into “rising public cynicism about government”and its scheming bureaucrats. He notes that the GOP’s actions during the COVD crisis “would fill a hefty casebook of clinically pathological behavior.” And he concludes with a paragraph suggesting that liberal democracy, let alone civilization as we have known or at least imagined it, is pretty much over.

Some liberals may tut-tut schoolmarmishly about “ignorance,” meaning simple obliviousness to facts. What I have described is exactly that, but it is also something more deeply troubling and less amenable to correction: a systematic corruption of the power of reason and a conscious renunciation of critical and analytical thinking in service to a toxic ideology that hates progress as it hates human equality. There is no need to belabor the point about which interests in our society benefit from this intellectual deformation.

It’s hard to argue with Lofgren’s particulars, but I find it considerably more difficult to accept the assertion of cultural stagnation and hopelessness that animates his entire essay. If we pull back from the day-to-day train-wrecks that divert us from consideration of more longterm social movement (“squirrel!!), it is equally possible to see America’s current, overwhelming angst and discord as evidence of an emerging reformation.

Those of us who have lived through both the self-satisfied conformity of the 50s and the cultural turbulence of the Sixties are pretty sure that the upheavals we’re experiencing now don’t signal stasis and stagnation. Far from it. The real question is: what will emerge from the  conflicts of our time? Will a sufficient number of Americans be motivated to move the country in the direction of its founding aspirations, or will citizen apathy in the face of far-right nativism doom the American experiment?

Sometimes I’m pretty hopeful and sometimes…I’m not.


I Needed This

There’s a lot of gloom and doom out there–and plenty of reasons for despair. But I keep thinking back to the disruptions of the 1960s, and the then-widespread belief that the country was coming apart, that the riots and eruptions and emergence of a nonconforming youth culture were harbingers of ongoing and unstoppable social disintegration.

Actually,if I can be forgiven the metaphor, those disruptions were akin to labor pains–signaling the birth of a different set of social arrangements and understandings.

The chaos of the Sixties gave birth to massive social change, and although it was uneven, much of that change was positive. Isn’t it possible that the nastiness we are experiencing right now is similar–that it marks a hysterical effort by a minority of the population to foreclose changes that most Americans would consider improvements?

Rebecca Solnit has recently suggested precisely that, in an essay in The Guardian, titled “Why are U.S. Right-wingers so angry? Because they know social change is coming.”

While their fear and dismay is often regarded as rooted in delusion, rightwingers are correct that the world is metamorphosing into something new and, to them, abhorrent. They’re likewise correct that what version of history we tell matters. The history we tell today lays the groundwork for the future we make. The outrage over the 1619 Project and the new laws trying to censor public school teachers from telling the full story of American history are a doomed attempt to hold back facts and perspectives that are already widespread.

In 2018, halfway through the Trump presidency, Michelle Alexander wrote a powerful essay arguing that we are not the resistance. We, she declared, are the mighty river they are trying to dam. I see it flowing, and I see the tributaries that pour into it and swell its power, and I see that once firmly grounded statues and assumptions have become flotsam in its current.

Solnit points to replacement of monuments to the Confederacy and Columbus with statues of people like Harriet Tubman, to the renaming of streets and buildings and other public places–and she notes that “those angry white men with the tiki torches chanting, in Charlottesville in 2017, “You will not replace us” as they sought to defend a statue of Gen Robert E Lee were wrong in their values and actions but perhaps not in their assessment.”

The replacement of statues is symbolic of the far greater changes that have occurred within the lifetimes of many of us. Solnit enumerates several of the most consequential:

We are only a few decades removed from a civilization in which corporal punishment of children by parents and teachers was an unquestioned norm; in which domestic violence and marital rape were seen as a husband’s prerogative and a wife surrendered financial and other agency; in which many forms of inequality and exclusion had hardly even been questioned, let alone amended; in which few questioned the rightness of a small minority – for white Christian men have always been a minority in the United States – holding almost all the power, politically, socially, economically, culturally; in which segregation and exclusion were pervasive and legal; in which Native Americans had been largely written out of history; in which environmental regulation and protection and awareness barely existed.

Solnit compares our current unrest to an effort to push water back behind the dam. Despite the fact that the Right has thus far succeeded in protecting economic privilege and has won preliminary battles against voting and reproductive rights– she is convinced that the Right cannot, in the end, win the war.

While the right has become far more extreme and has its tens of millions of true believers, it is morphing into a minority sect. This has prompted their desperate scramble to overturn free and fair elections and other democratic processes. White Christians, who were 80% of the population in 1976, are now 44%. Mixed-race and non-white people are rapidly becoming the majority. On issues such as climate, people of color are far more progressive; if we can make it through the huge backlash of the present moment, the possibilities are dazzling….

Birth can be violent and dangerous, and sometimes one or the other of the two involved die. There is no guarantee about what is to come, and the shadow of climate chaos hangs over it all. We do not have time to build a better society before we address that crisis, but it is clear that the response to that crisis is building such a society. So much has already changed. The river Alexander described has swept away so much, has carried so many onward.

At risk of torturing a metaphor, we can–we must— work to midwife the birth of a better, fairer society.