Monday, January 12, 2009
Golden Globes + Fourth Turning
Spent last night watching the Golden Globes and re-reading The Fourth Turning, by Wm. Strauss and Neil Howe, which I pulled off my bookshelf after a reader mentioned it.
The book is subtitled An American Prophecy: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Strauss and Howe make the case that historical events happen according to generational waves, or cycles, which can be reliably predicted, and that we lose the plot when we disconnect from the cyclical view. Fascinating to read in light of what's happening right now.
They predict a wintry "Fourth Turning" for America, a period of deep crisis, beginning around 2000. When you consider that the book was written in 1997, before the first internet bubble burst, before the WTO/NAFTA protests, before the contested 2000 election, before September 11 or the Iraq war or the current economic collapse, it seems prescient.
Over the millennia, man has developed three ways of thinking about time: chaotic, cyclical, and linear. The first was the dominant view of primitive man, the second of ancient and traditional civilizations, and the third of the modern West, especially America.
...The great weakness of linear time is that it obliterates time's recurrence and thus cuts people off from the eternal - whether in nature, each other, or in ourselves. When we deem our social destiny entirely self-directed and our personal lives self-made, we lose any sense of partipating in a collective myth larger than ourselves.
When times are good, this isn't a problem, but when times are hard, when our faith in the progress in linear time is tested, we revert to the fear that the essential nature of life is chaotic.
Caught between the entropy of the chaoticists and the hubris of the linearists, the American people have lost their moorings.
This book is an invitation to be aware of the cycles in history and brace ourselves for the harsh winter so that we may enjoy - or better, create - a more verdant spring.
History's howling storms can bring out the worst and best in a society. The next Fourth Turning could literally destroy us as a nation and people, leaving us cursed in the histories of those who endure and remember. Alternatively, it could enoble our lives, elevate us as a community, and insprire acts of consummate heroism - deeds that will grow into mythlike legends recited by our heirs far into the future.
If all goes well, there could be a renaissance of civic trust, and more: Today's Third Turning problems - that Rubik's Cube of crime, race, money, family, culture, and ethics - willl snap into a Fourth Turning solution. America's post-Crisis answers will be as organically interconnected as today's pre-Crisis questions seem hopelessly tangled. By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good, by today's standards, and also one that works.