The Beloit Mindset List has never made a direct reference to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Or the subsequent wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or the rise in security procedures or any other policy changes that took place after the attacks.
But how could it? These events happened in the past 12 years and the central premise of the Mindset List is that the mindset of a birth cohort—its set of “cultural touchstones”—is concocted from events that took place the year its members were born.
Each year’s list is constructed—and this point bears repeating over and over—by a couple guys going to a library and looking at microfiche of things that happened 18 years earlier.
Clearly this makes absolutely no sense. A person’s “mindset”—their understanding of how the world works, their values and interests, and so on—tends to be shaped by things that happened to them once they developed an understanding of their social environment more sophisticated than a newborn’s. Things that happened ten or five or even one year earlier are going to be far more important to an 18-year-old than things than happened 18 years ago.
9-11 and its aftermath must be more significant for understanding the “mindset” of American young people than roughly 99% of the trivia on the Mindset lists, but the Mindset Method dictates that they can’t be directly referenced.
Indirect references are okay as long as they are connected to something that happened roughly 18 years earlier. For instance,
Al-Qaida has always existed with Osama bin Laden at its head. (Class of 2009, #12)
Or how about this:
They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day. (Class of 2011, #17)
That’s all the Mindset List can offer about the election of the first black President, an event of great historical significance and of great personal significance for many young people. In 2022, the Mindset List (if it still exists) will inform us that for the Class of 2026, “There has never not been an African-American President,” or something similar. Until then, direct references to the election of Barack Obama are off-limits.
At some level, the Mindset creators must know that their method makes no sense. They must know that the al-Qaida attacks on 9-11 were of great significance. They didn’t read about al-Qaida’s founding in a 1987 newspaper—it wasn’t actually founded until 1988 or 1989—but they were looking for a way to sneak it onto their list. Ditto with Barack Obama’s election.
As long as the Mindset Method—the search for the mindset of 18-year-olds by reading 18-year-old newspapers—is intact, the Mindset List will remain completely and utterly worthless.