The 35-Year Theory is actually a combination of a 45-year theory and a 10-year theory. The numbers are approximate, and careful analysis might reveal that it should be called The 36.2-Year Theory or some such. But 35 is close enough; it is the underlying principle that matters, not the exact amount. The important thing is that the 35-Year Theory gives us a handy tool for predicting the future.
The 45-year component springs from the fact that this is the median age at which people seem to have the most thrust in our society. The age group centered about 45-years-old is the one whose members are most effective in organizing their value structures, articulating their beliefs, and bringing about the changes they want. Before age 30, members of our society seldom manage to seize the instrumentalities of social powermoney, political office, media stature. If they have power at all, it is [quoteright]because they are being catered to by their elders. At the other end, members of our society who are over 60 often possess power but have lost the desire to use it. Some have learned that fiddling with society is not the highest goal in life; some have become disillusioned with the individuals ability to effect social change; some are plain tired. Whatever the reason, the over-60s are predominantly content to retire from the battle and go fishing.
Between 30 and 60 lies the field of the 45-year-olds. They have social power and they use it. The 45-year median group ultimately decides which ideas are financed, developed and publicized, and which not; who are advanced to positions of authority and who not; and what facilities are created and placed in their hands. In our whole society, they are the group best able to get what they want.
But what, in fact, do they want? Here is where the 10-year component comes in. What they want is to solve the problems they first learned about when they were 10 years old. Again, this is only a median number. But in the age range centered about 10, each child typically first realizes that there is a complex world operating outside the familyand that it is not in apple-pie order. Perhaps as early as 5 or as late as 15, he grasps the social problems that are the talk of the day and fixes them in his mind.
These childhood imprints are never fully forgotten. On the contrary, they emerge to guide behavior 35 years later, when the grown person has acquired the power to deal with them. It is naive to assume that human beings are so flexible that they react only to the important issues of the present. In fact they constantly redefine these issues in terms of a framework constructed when they first learned about social problems at all. We paint the world from the palette of our minds, using colors that were mostly squeezed out years ago. On the average, 35 years ago.
How does this work in practice? Instances abound of the 35-Year Theory in operation; exploring them in detail is obviously beyond the scope of this article. By way of example, however, it is instructive to list (in parallel columns 35 years apart) some of the more important events of American history in this century. They supply a convenient illustration, from which the basic principle becomes evident.
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