by Peter Savich, ©2003 per Creative Commons License
This section of the analysis proposes an answer to a question posed at the end of a book. That question is: "[The history of the next 20 years in America] is not yet written. What will it be?"
The answer proposed by this section is: People vs. Corporations. Furthermore, this section argues that this answer falls directly out of the theory described in that book. In other words, the book answers its own question -- even though the authors themselves don't seem to have realized that.
The book I'm referring to is An American Prophecy: The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss and Neil Howe (1997).
Why might this topic interest you? Reasons this topic interests me include:
In part, based on this belief of mine, my wife and I recently decided to work toward drilling a well, and powering it via solar energy. We are also learning the ancient practice of growing our own food. Don't misunderstand me. We'd be doing this no matter what the future holds. This sort of life is a shared dream of ours. The belief I mention above simply gives the two of us a bit of a kick in the pants.
So it's a win-win for us. If the sh** hits the fan, perhaps, with some luck, we'll be in decent shape. If the sh** misses, then fate willing, we'll be in great shape.
So why am I starting this blog? I am starting it because recent events seem to corroborate my theory. In fact, these events suggest that Strauss & Howe's prediction of 2005 as the starting year for the crisis may prove, well, prophetic. And hey, if my analysis is right, I figure at least some of you might want to know about it. Perhaps some among us might even think of ways to lessen the severity of the impending crisis. I mean if we can see the train coming, perhaps some of us can get off the track in time.
Of course, if my analysis is wrong, I'll be happy to be disabused.
So stay tuned
Why “vs”? Why does the crisis necessarily mean a struggle between two or more opposing forces? The answer is: because history says so. Every one of the six major American and English crises identified by Strauss & Howe going back to the 15th century -- starting with the English War of the Roses (1459-1487), and up through the Great Depression and World War II (1929-1946) -- involved a confrontation among two or more forces. I’ll expand on this in a later post.
Another thing to keep in mind is that neither “People” nor “Corporations” are meant as pejorative terms. I mean, I’m a person and you’re probably a person too, and that seems OK. Moreover, just because corporations are fictional persons (under the law), the fact they are "fictional" doesn’t make them “bad”. Hey, I enjoy a good fiction from time to time. “Corporation” is just a legal notion describing one way of organizing people. In a later post, I will explain my view that, in the past, this legal notion (“Corporations”) has proven quite useful for the People.
Well, if the Corporations have been so useful for the People, why would the People and the Corporations be facing an impending battle? In a later post, I’ll cite some folks who say that the Corporations have gone too far. Some even say that the Corporations threaten the very existence of the People. In some posts, I’ll offer a few examples from our everyday experience of Corporations "going too far." Hey, even Mr. Bush seems to agree that some of these examples constitute "going too far."
Note that I didn’t say this battle would be about Democracy vs. Fascism, or Freedom vs. Economic Totalitarianism, or the People vs. Aliens. Labels like that tend to be about “spin”.
Nor did I say this battle would be between "Business" and "Anti-Business". Anti-Corporate does not mean anti-Business. A Corporation is just one form of doing business. There are other forms. Business has been conducted through forms other than the Corporate form from the dawn of recorded history. But it is the form of business defined by American corporate law, and the sort of behavior which that form uniquely enables and encourages, that has put Corporations on a collision course with the People -- a collision that may play out in the next American crisis.
Similarly, I didn't say the battle would be between the rich and the poor, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or the blue collar and the blue blood. The next crisis won't be a class struggle -- assuming, of course, the notion of "class" is still coherent in a nation that, not once but twice, elected a man of the "social class" from which came Mr. Clinton. Recall that at least one thing held in common between the "blue collar" Mr. Clinton and the "blue blood" Mr. Bush is the affection both men bestowed upon the Enron Corporation.
Finally, I didn’t say this battle would be about Liberalism vs. Corporations, or Anarchism vs. Corporations, or Terrorism vs. Corporations, or Communism vs. Capitalism. Nope, I’m saying this battle will include anti-Leftists, anti-Anarchists, anti-Terrorists, anti-Communists, Capitalists, and even Right-Wing-Angry-White-Men, all on the side of the People. The common thread among the People will be that they will be people.
In fact, in a later post, I’ll explain my view that these People will turn out to be the very same sort of people that fought and prevailed in the previous six major crises that Strauss & Howe identified. That's because the people who fought and prevailed in each of those previous crises were the same sort of people who had fought and prevailed in the crises that had preceded their own. And so on back to the War of the Roses. It's sort of like Groundhog Day -- same kind of people, fighting for survival every 80-100 years.
Given this view of mine, I was curious to see whether anybody else who read the Fourth Turning had come to the same conclusion. But searching for “corporations” in Strauss & Howe’s message boards, I couldn’t find anybody saying what I’m saying here. Similarly, searching in late 2003 for “corporations ‘fourth turning’” on the web, I came up dry again.
Maybe that means I’m wrong about People vs. Corporations. If so, yay! I say "yay" because if I’m not wrong, then, as I’ll explain in the next posting, this battle may prove to be particularly tricky, complex, and precarious. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just watch The Simpsons than have to worry about stuff like that.
Well, if the coming crisis of the Fourth Turning is People vs. Corporations, that means it will be a civil war. Sure, there are lots of non-American corporations. And sure, somebody else, probably England, invented the notion of a Corporation in the first place. But we Americans have perfected the notion. We’re like the Japanese or the Microsoft of Corporations. We didn’t invent the idea. But man, we sure took it on a sweet ride.
So if there is to be a People vs. Corporations battle, it will be an intra-American battle. Americans “against” Americans.
In every civil war, there are lots of “mixed breeds” – i.e. people with ties to both sides in the conflict. Civil wars are always about brother against brother.
Well, if it’s true that the coming battle will be between People and Corporations, I must say that this troubles me deeply. Because I’ll confess that I’m part-Person, and part-Corporation. Yes, I’m a mixed breed.
Yes, I can see that the Corporations, as a group, are out of control. Yes, I can see that they’ve “gone too far”. Yes, I believe that dramatic and profound changes are needed to the whole notion of what a Corporation is, to what Corporations should and shouldn’t be able to do, and to the process by which Corporations are dissolved. So, I suppose, these beliefs put me squarely in the camp of the People.
But, on the other hand, I’m 40, and my entire working life has been spent working for Corporations. Most everybody I know and love works for Corporations. Moreover, some of the stuff we People have – stuff that I believe only Corporations could effectively produce – is the very stuff that has let us know we People are all just people. I’ll write more on that notion later.
Just note that you probably wouldn’t be reading this if it weren’t for the Corporations. In other words, without the Corporations, the Internet as we are using it today, probably wouldn’t exist. So this is good for the People. Now some People don’t seem to know how to receive a gift. Is a simple “thank you” too much to ask for? I mean, let’s say some guy hands us an apple in the hopes that, in return, we will wash his car for him. Well, for one reason or another, let’s s say that we don’t wash his car, but we still keep the apple. After all, it was a gift. The least thing we could do is say “Hey buddy, thanks for the apple.” For the useful gifts of the Corporations, I say: “Thanks Corporations.”
So if you ask me, I’d say “yay!” for the Corporations! And then in the next breath I’d say “yay!” for the People!
But Strauss & Howe tell me that “People vs. Corporations” has called "dibs" on the next crisis. Moreover, current signs in our culture are indicating that People are slowly waking up to the tricks and schemes of the Corporations. I’ll get to that in some later posts.
That’s all well and good. But what I’m nervous about is the prospect of millions of People suddenly waking up and panicking. Have you ever been in a deep, dream-filled sleep and had somebody wake you, alarm in their voice? In that situation, we bolt up awake, hearts thumping, minds confused. Is this still a dream, or is it reality? We’re not ready to face the crisis with our “best stuff”.
Remember that deadly fire earlier this year in that Rhode Island dance club? 97 people dead. Right after that, 21 were killed in a Chicago nightclub fire. From those tragedies, lots of clubs learned some lessons.
But what about the rest of us? Is there anything for us to learn? Is the lesson: “Don’t go into nightclubs”? Is it: “Well if you do go, make sure you make a note of the escape routes as soon as you walk in”?
I’ll suggest there’s even a deeper lesson beyond dance clubs. The lesson is this: Wake up! Wake up and look around us. Because if we don’t, and the raging fire of history just sweeps over us one day, then we could be the People trampled at the bottom of the pile, unless we’re lucky enough to get pulled out the side window.
The commentary section of this site is a running chronicle what I think the smoke signals of this “raging fire of history” look like in our everyday lives. But for now, I’ll say that if there is indeed an impending crisis, my hope is that few get trampled. But that will happen only if there is little panic. And that will happen only if we wake up and look around us before the smoke turns into flames.
Toward “waking up”, in the next post, I’ll dive into Strauss & Howe.
The Fourth Turning is a book about social/political cycles in American and pre-American history. Specifically, that book focuses on the next cycle due up in American history: Crisis #7.
Now, a number of folks study social/political cycles. Some look to cycles based on economics. Others look at cyclical attitudes towards immigrants. Still other theories are based on cycles of oscillating political valence – i.e. “liberal” versus “conservative”. For example, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., and his son Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., have proposed a theory of swings between liberal and conservative phases in American history dating back to the 18th century.
The theory of Strauss & Howe is based on the notion of generations. Actually, I believe their theory is so fundamental, it subsumes all of the other theories just mentioned. That is, economic, immigration, and political cycles in American society are simply "special cases" of the fundamental generational cycles identified by Strauss & Howe.
The notion of "generations" starts with the observation is that the full lifespan of a human is about 80 to 100 years. The authors break this lifespan up into phases of 20 years or so: childhood, youth, maturity, and old age. These phases are analogized to the Springtime of childhood, the Summer of youth, and Fall of maturity, and the Winter of old age.
This description of the lives of individuals seems straightforward enough. Indeed, these 20-year phases can probably be tracked by our lifetime patterns of hormone production and brain development. But I am unaware of any such research. I am interested in looking closer at these questions in the future. But today, to my knowledge, no tracers of these phases have been identified in the human body. So today, Strauss & Howe’s theory is just that – a theory subject to debate.
In addition to individuals undergoing cycles of 20-year phases, the authors claim that society also goes through its own cycle of 20-year phases. In fact, society’s phases are also Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
While cycles in the life of a single human seems a relatively non-controversial notion, the jump from individual cycles to social cycles seems trickier. By definition, the two cycles – individual and social – don’t line up.
For example, let’s say that you are 30 years old and that American society is, as Strauss & Howe claim, on the verge of leaving social Fall and heading into social Winter. But you, at 30, are smack in the middle of your own personal Summer. Others are just entering their own Spring. Still others are nearing the end of their own Winter. With all of these individuals at different points in different personal “seasons”, how do these individuals collectively come together to form a single point in the social “season”? After all, society is simply the collection of individuals.
If Strauss & Howe answer this question, I didn’t find their answer. I believe that the answer will come from neuroscience. This is the study of the brain. Strauss & Howe’s theory is a social theory. Human are social animals. And brain scientists are hot on the trail of how our social “instincts” manifest in the brain. But as of today, nobody seems to be working on this particular take. I’m interested in it.
The reason I’m interested is that my “gut” tells me Strauss & Howe’s theory is sound. Below, I'll address why that is. But I’m not going to use this weblog to debate the validity of Strauss & Howe’s theory. Absent the sort of research mentioned above, I don’t believe there’s any way to prove the theory at present. So for the purposes of this weblog, I’m just going to assume that the theory is true.
Starting from that assumption, I’m going to explain how the theory predicts the coming People vs. Corporations battle. After that, I’m going to point to current events, and the theories of others, and suggest that they corroborate this prediction.
In some ways, this approach of mine resembles the citing of Astrology, Revelations or Nostradamus, and trying to connect those predictions with current events. The similarity is that, just as there is no “hard” scientific proof of Astrology, Revelations or Nostradamus, neither is there of Strauss & Howe’s theory.
But the difference between Strauss & Howe and the others is, I believe, that Strauss & Howe’s theory is “tight”. It’s not metaphorical. It points to actual historical events, and it makes relatively crisp, non-ambiguous predictions. Moreover it is founded in something prosaic and reasonably subject to informal self-confirmation: namely, phases in our own lifespan.
Now, calling Strauss & Howe’s theory “unambiguous” may seem like a stretch. I mean, here I am saying that the theory predicts the next crisis to be between People and Corporations. Yet Strauss & Howe didn’t say that (actually they didn’t even make any such prediction). And most people who post on Strauss & Howe’s message boards seem to believe the theory predicts the crisis to be the obvious one currently being portrayed on the nightly news – i.e. “Freedom” and “Democracy” vs. “Terrorism” and “Chaos”.
How could that be? How can I assert that the theory is unambiguous when others draw a different conclusion? Well, let me suggest that one or both of us – i.e. me or these folks -- ain’t reading the book close enough.
In defense of my reading of the book, I’ll explain that Strauss & Howe seem to have pointed readers in the wrong direction. That is, the authors seem to have made a statement that obscures a clear pattern in their own theory. A pattern even they described. You’ll see what I mean a few postings from now.
But first, we need to drill down further into the theory. That’s up next.
In the previous posting, I said Strauss & Howe’s theory predicts four phases of social life in America: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Each phase lasts for 20 years, give or take. The authors give different names to these same seasons: the High (Spring), the Awakening (Summer), the Unraveling (Fall), and the Crisis (Winter).
I don’t know what you were doing in 1997. But that year, I was in an Internet startup that was being bought up by a larger player. Didn’t much feel like “unraveling” to me. But I think that’s just because I was more or less sleep-walking in 1997. That year, the way I could tell what season we were in was to note the display near the checkout stands at the grocery stores. Chocolate bunnies meant we were near April; witches and goblins, late October. Hey, I was living in California. They tell me there’s seasons here, but I have yet to see them.
Well, whatever you can say about 1997, December 2003 is another time altogether. Now, not only is America unraveling, most everybody can feel it. Just read the polls. Even the Corporate spin machines that pump out the polls can’t hide the increasing unease. For another indicator, just look at the charts for the price of gold over the past few years.
The Crisis phase, as noted, is a huge catastrophe. Most everyone pulls together – unless the crisis is a civil war. Following the Crisis, the High is a phase in which the people say: “Whew, glad that’s over. I’m just happy to get to work, raise a family, and help raise up this culture so we don’t have to go through that again.” The Awakening that follows is a phase when the people say: “Is this all there is to life? Work, work, work? Where is your spirituality?” Following the Awakening is the Unraveling during which the people say: “Enough of these spirituality freaks. The only person who is going to take care of me is me. Get out of my way.” The Unraveling is then followed by the next Crisis during which the people say: “Holy sh**! Look, I got your back; you get mine. If we stick together, maybe we can make it through this.” They make it through it, and a High follows in which the people say: “Whew, glad that’s over. I’m just happy to get to work, raise a family, and help raise this culture up so we don’t have to go through that again.” And so on. (This sounds like a beer commercial.)
The phrase “the people say” doesn’t mean that every single human being in the nation says these things. Some people are still stuck in previous phases, approaching life like a broken record. Still others have a broader view of life, simultaneously incorporating work, spirituality, individualism, and collective action. But the notion is that enough of the people do “say that” to give the times a particular tenor or character.
To see how the Roaring 1920s, Depressive '30s, Heroic ‘'40s, Can-Do '50s, Psychedelic '60s, Disco '70s, Wall Street '80s, and Dot Com '90s fit into this framework, check out lots of other sites that go into detail.
You may be wondering: What causes the shifts from one phase to the next? The answer seems to be that it’s like eating habits. For example, say you were to eat pizza every day for a month. At the end of that month, you’d be quite tired of pizza, and ready to move on to, say, burgers and fries. But, after a month of that, you might get tired and move on to Chicken McNuggets. Then after a solid month of that, you might go Mexican. But after a month of that, you might return to pizza. And so on.
But, instead of simply “getting tired” of your current diet, some event happens to wake you up to the fact that you are indeed tired and ready for a change. The event would be something dramatic. For example, let’s say you are toward the end of your “pizza month”, and you are withdrawing money at an ATM. Perhaps Ronald McDonald sneaks up behind you and mugs you. This dramatic incident might bring forth many thoughts to your mind, including “Hmm, I could go for some burgers and fries right about now.” (By the way, if this allegory resembles your diet, let me guess: your BMI is over 30, yes?)
This is the nub of Strauss & Howe’s theory. American society falls into a rut. It’s some kind of consistent pattern of behavior and thinking. After a couple of decades of that, society gets tired of it, and people are ready for a change. But they can’t get themselves to change in the absence of an external event. But once a shocking external event does happen that reminds them of their malaise, American society suddenly wakes up, and switches to the next phase. Like a big, lazy cow struck with an electric cattle prod.
The last kicker in the theory is youth. After twenty years or so, there’s a whole new crop of kids out there. And in America, it seems to be the youth who serve the function of kicking the lazy, sleeping cow awake. So as we look out to the youth of America today, we ask: Which of that sorry bunch is going to kick us all awake? And awake to what?
(Hey, before you go laughing at the Americans, just look at the rest of the world. At least we Americans go through profound changes every twenty years or so. The rest of the world stays stuck in ruts measured in centuries, not decades. Change and growth is the beauty and genius of America. America is the Grand Human Experiment.)
Well the phases are certainly fascinating. But this weblog addresses the Next Crisis. So here, instead of focusing on all the phases, I’m going to look closely only at the crisis phase. In fact, I'm going to study the crisis phases going back to the War of the Roses in the 15th century.
Hey, I’m just following Mr. Santayana’s advice. I mean, if these crises are part of a cycle imbedded in human nature, and if human nature doesn’t change much over the course of 500 years, then there should be a thread of similarity between all of the crises. I think there is. So does Strauss & Howe.
I’ll describe that thread in the next posting.
According to Fourth Turning, the previous six crises in American, and pre-American, history are:
Concerning patterns of similarity among these crises, Strauss & Howe had this to say about the last three:
[E]ach of the past three Crises resolved aggravating value struggles that had been building up over the prior saeculum [100 year cycle]. The American Revolution resolved the eighteenth-century struggle between commerce and citizenship. The Civil War resolved the early-nineteenth century struggle between liberty and equality. The New Deal resolved the industrial-era struggle between capitalism and socialism. [page 300]
Note that, in these previous three crises, citizenship gained on commerce, equality gained on liberty, and socialism gained on capitalism. In other words, in every case, distributed power gained on concentrated power.
“Distributed” and “concentrated” here refers to the arrangement of power among people. The most concentrated sort of arrangement places one person on top, with the supreme and arbitrary power of life or death over everyone else. This is known as “totalitarianism”. At the other extreme is “populism”. In that structure, every person is of equal power and authority vis a vis everyone else. Obviously, there are many middle structures between pure totalitarianism and pure populism. But this gives the flavor.
Actually, this battle between distributed power and concentrated power describes not only the nature of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the New Deal, as Strauss & Howe explained. It also seems to describe the nature of every other major crisis identified in the Fourth Turning:
Stepping back and looking at this 500+ year pattern of major wars, the notion known as “America” emerges. “America” is the inexorable force of history chipping away at concentrated power, breaking it up into smaller pieces, and distributing those pieces among the People. True, the forces of history in between the crises exhibit the opposite dynamic at play. During these times of “peace”, distributed power is collected from the many and concentrated in the hands of the few. This counter-dynamic reaches its apex just before the next crisis. But then the next crisis comes along and busts up the concentrated power once more.
What an interesting dance. Are we at the entrance to the dancehall today?
The previous posting described the six major crises of the Fourth Turning as battles between distributed and concentrated power. But a point that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the cycle doesn’t just spin in one place like our washing machines. This cycle moves. So we’re not entirely living Groundhog Day after all. Sort of. But not completely.
Step back and consider the class of People whose power increased dramatically as a result of each succeeding crisis: the family of Henry Tudor (War of the Roses), the Protestant male clergy (Spanish Armada Crisis), passionate male religious leaders (Glorious Revolution), land-owning militia males (American Revolution), African American males (Civil War), and males of the labor class (Great Depression and World War II).
What do you notice about this pattern? What does this pattern say about the notion called “America”?
Well, for one thing, it seem pretty clear that … it’s a man’s world, baby! Yay, for us men! The world is our oyster! (Just kidding, just kidding.)
The other thing to notice is that if America is a tent in which the empowered are housed, the tent is gradually filling up. Each succeeding crisis brought forth a new class of men into the tent. After 500 years, I’ll bet that tent full of men is getting pretty smelly.
Also, realize that the “Big Tent” metaphor is a major theme of the Republican Party today. Now some naysayers think that’s just a scam and that the Republicans are really just closet racists and out-of-the-closet homophobes. But look at the cabinet circa 2003. An African American man. And an African American woman. Right up there at the top.
Now some might say that those particular African American folks “don’t count” because they’re just “puppets” of a certain white guy who many People don’t like. But hey, if you believe these folks are not exactly “credits to the African American People”, do you think Messrs. Bush, Cheney, and Clinton are exactly “credits to the white People”?
The point is that the American tent is a big one, and it has gotten even bigger since the last major crisis. In fact, in 2003, it’s hard to think of any type of Person in America who is barred from that tent.
Now we could quibble about homeless People. Are they welcome in the American tent? Some might point out that the homeless are not exactly the most empowered folk. But is that because of a social barrier? Or is it because of the “choices” made by homeless People? It’s an interesting question.
What about gays? “Don’t ask, don’t tell” suggests that the gays have one foot in the tent and one foot out. So this particular “battle” to get under the American tent of power is still “live”. But stepping back for a broader perspective, the forces of history seem inexorable. It’s just a matter of time.
Well, we could try to look all around America and search for “disempowered” groups and argue about whether the American tent is or is not open to them. But I’ll suggest that that exercise is not the most useful one for us People in 2003. A more useful exercise is to consider not which People are outside of the tent, who should be in, but rather which People are inside of the tent, who should be out.
“Whoa,” you’re thinking. “This guy is a [fill-in-the-blank]ist!”
I respond: Yes, I am a [fill-in-the-blank]ist. I believe there some People that we should kick out of the tent. These People are alien to us. Unlike the rest of us who came in legitimately, these People snuck into the tent. And now they’re crowding the tent. They’re leaving almost no room left for us natives. If we don’t start kicking them out, pretty soon there will be no room left for us.
Who are these People? These People are …
Ha! Tricked you! You thought I was going to say “the immigrants”. Hell no! I believe the immigrants are the driving force behind this inexorable march of American history toward decentralizing power and distributing it among the People. Greece may be the Land of the Hellenes. Germany the Land of the Teutons. Ireland the land of the Celts. But America is the Land of the Immigrants.
There are no natives here in America. Not even the “Native Americans”. They came over here only 40,000 years ago or so. Hey, 4 years and 40,000 years are both under 1% of the 4 million year history of humanity. We’re all strangers in a strange land.
Well, that’s true if one believes the “mythology” of the archaeologists. But of course, following this same reasoning, every human in the world would be a stranger in a strange land.
Of course. In fact, that's my point. But it is we in the Land of the Immigrants who are the ones who can see this point most clearly.
Nope, the People I’m talking about here aren't the immigrants. The People I'm talking about are the Corporations. The Corporations are the elephants who snuck their way into the American tent. Our tent is big, but it’s not that big. These Corporation elephants are leaving huge elephant patties all over the place. The rest of us People can hardly breathe.
“Hey,” you say. “That’s cheating. You said you were talking about a certain class of People, not just any kind of entity. I mean, Corporations aren’t People.”
Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. Well, I must confess, that’s what I thought too, until recently. Hey, I went to law school, and even I don’t remember learning that, under American law, Corporations Are People Too. But it’s Constitutional and everything. Just like Mr. Bush’s presidency.
Yep it’s true. Legally speaking, Corporations are People just like the rest of us (only WAY more powerful). I’ll have much more to say on that topic in some later postings. But for now, let’s finish up with Strauss & Howe.
The previous postings suggest that the last six major crises in American and pre-American history were about the battle between the forces of concentrated power, and the forces of distributed power. The latter power, the “underdog”, always prevailed.
For this reason, American’s battle today in the "War on Terrorism" doesn’t seem to fit the pattern. The American military certainly isn’t the “underdog” in this conflict. In fact, it is the opponent who seems to fit that tag. Moreover, it’s tough to say that “their” power distribution is more concentrated than “our” own. “Semi-autonomous sleeper cells” doesn’t much sound like concentrated power to me.
Some might point to the way fundamentalist Islam treats its women. This may seem to us like an example of power concentrated in the hands of men, and denied women. From that vantage point, “we” are certainly a more diffuse power than “them”.
But this discussion highlights the nature of the relevant pattern. The relevant pattern isn’t about just any kind of power distribution. The power distribution that matters in the crisis is the one that threatens the survival of the nation. Fundamentalist Islam’s treatment of its women may be deplorable to the sensibilities of the America that has accepted the feminist revolution. But fundamentalist Islam’s treatment of its women doesn’t threaten the survival of this nation. Moreover, no one is suggesting the possibility that Mr. Bin Laden stands any chance of ever sitting behind that big desk in the Oval Office. This fact alone distinguishes the current “War on Terrorism” from the six major crises identified by Strauss & Howe.
Finally, think again about the Big American Tent of power. Major crises have the effect of inviting into the tent a new class of previously disempowered People. Which previously excluded class of People does the “War on Terrorism” promise to bring into the Big American Tent? … tick, tock … tick, tock … OK. Time’s up. That’s right. The answer is “no People”.
Actually, I believe, as far as American history is concerned, the “War on Terrorism” will serve another purpose altogether. I believe this war will serve to expose to all the People, with painful clarity, the grave danger posed by the presence of the Corporate elephants in the Big American Tent.
If you don’t believe me, then read the next posting. Maybe you’ll believe Strauss & Howe.
Since, as the previous posting explains, the “War on Terrorism” is not the war of the next crisis, we need to go back to the Fourth Turning to find out what it will be.
To guess what’s next, the best place to look is back in the theory. Strauss & Howe say:
Through the last three saecula [i.e since the American Revolution], most liberationist social causes (like feminism or civil rights) tend to seed in a High, blossom in an Awakening, mature in an Unraveling, and decay in a Crisis. [page 310]
I believe this characterization by the authors of their own theory is misleading and perhaps even incorrect. A couple of postings ago, I quoted the authors in a passage in which they observed that the distribution of concentrated power that is achieved by a crisis is the culmination of a process that spanned the three phases prior to the crisis. In other words, a certain class of People fights for power during “peacetime”. But it takes the next major crisis for those People to finally break through and “crash the party” that is going on in the Big American Tent.
“Liberation” is defined as “the act or process of trying to achieve equal rights and status.” It is by definition the process of distributing concentrated power. So instead of “decaying” during the Crisis, as Strauss & Howe say above, the situation is reversed for some of the “liberationist”causes. In other words, those causes don’t decay in the Crisis; on the contrary, they break through. This pattern is obvious once you look closely at Strauss & Howe.
Specifically, the pattern exhibited by Strauss & Howe’s theory that the authors themselves missed is the following: the Crisis is about resolving a major “liberationist” issue that was raised in the prior Awakening, but which was not adopted by the nation. In other words, the Awakening is about people bringing forth new liberationist ideas. Sometimes, some of the ideas “stick” and are adopted by the nation. Other times, the idea does not stick. And it is precisely those powerful liberationist ideas which did not stick that become resolved during the next crisis. The following discussion shows how this pattern has played out over the past five crises:
The applicable Awakening for our present time is what Strauss & Howe call the "Consciousness Revolution" (1964-1984). American society knows this period by the name the "Sixties".
Note that the pattern described above precludes the “War on Terrorism” from being the Next Crisis. In the Sixties, who was talking about combating terrorism in the quest to decentralize power? The answer is: Nobody that history remembers. So if this is the Next Crisis, Strauss & Howe’s theory breaks.
Once written out, this pattern – “to understand the next Crisis, look to the major prior Awakening attempts that failed” - seems so obvious that one wonders why the authors missed it. Why did everyone else who read the book apparently miss it too?
The only reason I can think of is that these people looked back at the Sixties – recalling the flower children, hippie communes, Transcendental meditation, Timothy Leary, the SLA and Black Panthers – and couldn’t imagine what from that troubled time would be worth risking the nation for. If that’s the case, they weren’t looking close enough.
If the patterns of history described in the last posting hold, then to understand what the Next Crisis will be about, we need to consider which major ideas raised in the Sixties didn’t stick. But to figure out what those are, we need to first eliminate the ones that did stick. Because the next crisis won't be about these.
Three major movements of the Sixties were:
To assess whether the Civil Rights and the Women’s Movements of the Sixties “succeeded”, one way is to ask the question: Where, in terms of social, political, and economic power, did minorities and women stand in 1963, and where do they stand today, in 2003? Subtract the two values, and if the distance between the two places is measured in “light years”, then we can reasonably conclude that the movements “succeeded”. At least, they certainly did so when compared with the Sixties movement that will be discussed in the next posting.
If that analysis was unsatisfying, let’s try another one. I once read that during the First World War, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis practice fell off considerably. The patients just weren’t coming in anymore. As a biographer of Freud explains, “patients … thought about the war more than about their neuroses.” [page 350] In other words, during wartime, people in Europe were too busy trying to stay alive to indulge in the luxury of going crazy.
Now that may sound pejorative against mentally ill people. But consider our own culture. For centuries, white men have apparently felt quite free and safe enough to be crazy as jailbirds. Two examples I can think of are psychopathic serial killers and criminally selfish businessmen.
In 1963, white men dominated the roll call of psychopathic serial killers and criminally selfish businessmen. Nobody could touch the white man’s claim to the throne of sociopathy. Perhaps everybody else (i.e. women and minorities) was too busy keeping a wary eye open for the sociopathic white men to feel relaxed enough to go psychopathically crazy themselves.
But just this year, we read about an African American psychopathic serial killer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This fellow, apparently a rather charming sort, prowled some expensive neighborhoods of Baton Rouge, and practiced his insanity on some relatively affluent white women.
Now, in America, relatively affluent white women seem, in general, to be the sort of victims who quickly generate the most intense sort of community interest. At least it has seemed that way in the past in comparison to the serial killings of prostitutes. So the killings in Baton Rouge generated quite intense interest pretty much right from the start. Yet, despite this heightened attention, the killer managed to slay between five and ten women before being caught. Presumably, the killer was "blending in" well enough in the relevant communities to avoid detection.
Just a guess, but I’d be willing to wager that in 1963, the moment such a man as the actual killer so much as set foot in those neighborhoods, the authorities would have had him in leg irons straight away. Not because they would have suspected that he was mentally disturbed. But rather, merely due to the color of his skin.
But in 2003, such a man could, like the rest of us, apparently blend in with the ubiquitous electrical lines that few of us notice anymore. Slowly, imperceptibly, over the past four decades, it seems that substantial pockets of this nation have become more or less color-blind.
I draw another conclusion from this case, and from other recent cases involving African American psychopathic serial killers. Referring to the earlier story about Mr. Freud and his patients, perhaps these sorts of cases reveal that, by 2003, many African Americans are more or less feeling comfortably like "one of us" - at least enough so to go as crazy as the rest of us have been for centuries.
For the women’s movement, it doesn’t help us to look at female psychopathic serial killers. Yeah, there’s a smattering of them (I'm referring to the "organized sexual murderer" type identified by the FBI). But, now that we men have irrevocably lost golf, at least psychopathic serial killing seems to be one of the few remaining activities us males can keep to ourselves. While we’re at it, we may as well put overt farting on that list too.
Instead, to assess the success of the women’s movement, let’s look at criminally selfish businessmen. There’s more men like this than you can shake a stick at. Today, there’s so many of them stacked so high that politically ambitious sorts are attempting to scale the pile, perhaps all the way to the White House.
Now as for female criminally selfish businesswomen, you can see that there are also lots of … um … let me think here for minute … ah … just a sec … er …. Wait! I’ve got it! I almost forgot about her.
Phew, I was starting to think for a minute there that women might just be “better” than men. I mean, there’s a growing number of women business leaders. But if none are criminally selfish, what might that say about men and women? Banish the thought.
But, you know, scientists have discovered something very interesting in the human cell. Most of us know that inside every cell is human DNA. That comes from both parents. DNA is used in criminal cases to identify culprits.
But sometimes, especially in old cases, DNA is not available. So the scientists then rely on something called mitochondrial DNA or mDNA. These are little strands of DNA that sit inside little capsules called “mitochondria”.
Each cell has many mitochondria. The mitochondria act as the “power source” of the cell. Kind of like the batteries. In fact, mitochondria can be thought of as the source of human life itself.
Now here’s something interesting: mDNA, unlike DNA, does not come from both parents. Scientists have found that mDNA comes only from the mother.
In other words, life itself is female. We men are only along for the ride.
Think about it. Women have said: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” To us men, this phrase used to be merely cute, but obviously false feminist propaganda. Now modern science has turned the tables and proven that this phrase is scientific dogma!
Um, women, please stop reading at this point. Men, please continue
OK guys, listen up. This mDNA stuff is dangerous. Our most popular men’s magazine has long said that women come from the rib of a man. But science is now saying that men come from the fingernail of a woman — that is, she uses it for while, then cuts it off and throws it away when she doesn’t need it anymore.
Can you believe it?! We men invented science. And now these ungrateful louts are trying to ruin us. Hey, when I came into this world, it was a patriarchy. And if that was good enough for our dads, it should be good enough for everybody.
But listen, here’s the good news. Hardly anybody knows about this mDNA stuff. I asked around and none of my friends know. So I think we still have a fighting chance here. Hear me out:
I suggest that we men form a Men’s Front Group. It will be non-profit organization. We’ll call it: “Women for Truth in Science”. We’ll raise money from all the men in the world. We’ll have mondo bucks.
Then we’ll install an all-female board of directors. How will we get women to do our bidding you ask? Listen, if you don’t know how to manipulate a woman to do your bidding by now, how can you call yourself a man?
Now Women for Truth in Science will have three targets: science, politics, and the masses. On the science front, we’ll buy off some scientists and have them publish studies about “pDNA”. We’ll have them say that they’ve looked closer at what these other scientists have called mDNA, and discovered that mDNA comes not from the mother, but rather from the father. In fact, we’ll have our scientists call it “pDNA”, and say they’ve discovered a tiny phallus on the pDNA. We’ll say this proves definitively that pDNA is a guy thing, and mDNA is just a hysterical female fantasy.
Of course, this will just create confusion in the scientific community. So for the kill, we’ll go into the political arena. There, we’ll buy some key Congressmen. Don’t get squeamish on me now. That’s how the system works. Everybody does it.
We’ll get our key Congressmen to add a small rider to an appropriations bill. We’ll get them to call the appropriations bill “Children Apple Pie Mom and the American Way”. Only a handful of Green Party weirdoes will notice our little rider.
But that rider will say: “Any institution caught promoting mDNA as a female thing will get no funding, and will get a swift kick in the pants”. Once that becomes law, all we have to do is sit back and wait. In no time, the mDNA research will dry up like donkey turds, and blow away. Mbwahahahaha!
Now for the third prong of our plan. We’ll still have tons of cash at this point so don’t worry. The third prong is directed toward the masses. Even after we kill off all scientific research on mDNA, there will still be some wackos who won’t give up so easily. We need to neutralize those people through television.
So we’ll get Women for Truth in Science to buy up ad time on the morning programs that normally run SSRI and dieting ads for sad, chubby women. Our ad will be modeled after that old Sixties ad where hippies sat around singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” (That was a beauty! The original version of the song was “I’d like to buy the world some high fructose corn syrup and caffeine, and make everybody fat and sick” but the PR folks worked with the wording a bit, and turned the commercial into a classic.) In our own ad, we’ll have a group of people, say 90% women, sitting around, holding hands and singing. They’ll be singing: “It’s man’s world after all.”
I’m telling you fellas, this will work. We’ll get ten, maybe even twenty more years out of our old, rusting, patriarchy. And it’ll be worth every penny.
OK Women, you can come back now. Well, I suppose it’s still an open question where women stand in America today. I, for one, certainly feel your pain. But let’s change the subject anyway and move on to the environmental movement.
Here is a chart showing the progress of the environmental movement from 1963 to 2003. Based on that chart, one might conclude that this movement hasn’t exactly succeeded. So maybe the next crisis will involve an environmental war.
Well, I don’t think so. I believe the problems facing the environmental movement pretty much come down to one issue. And that issue is addressed in the next posting.
The major idea raised in the Sixties that has failed miserably in America is the following: “Small is beautiful”.
Small is Beautiful is the title of a book published in 1973. The book puts forth “the idea that modern technological society was headed for disaster because of its obsession with an economics ignorant of natural processes and limits, heedless of basic human values, that regarded big (and by extension fast, expensive, complex, powerful and aggressive) as better, and biggest as best.”
This is the anti-corporate message. This message was raised loudly in the Sixties. But by 1984 (Strauss & Howe say that the “Sixties” as a cultural phase ended in 1984), this message was all but lost on American culture. Today, as you’ll be reading about in a number of later postings, Corporations are now bigger and wealthier and more powerful than ever in the history of mankind. And you’ll see that “disaster” is not too strong a word for describing what the People presently face as a result of this unprecedented Corporate power.
Now the Fourth Turning did “get” this anti-corporate point about the Sixties. Strauss & Howe mentioned that “corporate liberalism became the enemy.” [page 190] Also: “Like Katherine Ross in The Graduate, Boomers approached the altar (or corporate ladder) and heard something inside scream ‘STOP!’” [page 193]
Strauss & Howe went further in defining the bounds of this anti-corporate sentiment. First, the youth that held such sentiments failed to vote their sentiments: “[I]n one antiestablishment election challenge after another, Boomer interest surged briefly before weakening by election day.” [page 192] Moreover, the authors explained that this opposition of corporations was not about social class: “Given how little the youth rage hinged on economics, many leading radicals were themselves children of the elite … .” [page 191]
Following the consistent pattern of the Fourth Turning – “to understand the next Crisis, look to the prior Awakening attempts that failed” – one comes to the unavoidable conclusion that the impending crisis facing America involves a battle to decentralize the immense power of the Corporations.
It is the battle of People vs. Corporations. Realize that this conclusion derives directly from the theory of Strauss & Howe. In other words, in order to reach this conclusion, no understanding of our current circumstances is needed – other than the fact that this major Sixties movement failed.
Later postings will suggest we don’t even need Strauss & Howe to come to this conclusion. All we need to do is open our eyes.
Before we leave Strauss & Howe, let us ask one more time: Why did they miss the conclusion that their theory predicts the next crisis to be about People vs. Corporations?
Many will say that Strauss & Howe missed it because it ain’t IT. But assuming for the moment that it is IT, I’ll suggest the following: We all tend to make sense of the world from what is directly in front of us. We listen to the loudest signals and ignore the quieter ones. The loudest signals today are not the anti-Corporate signals. The anti-Corporate signals are relatively quiet. But although quiet, they are there.
In defense of Strauss & Howe, let’s ask:
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I suspect the answer to all is “not many”. Probably some did predict these events in advance. But the vast majority did not.
What about me? What's so special about me that I noticed what I am writing about in this weblog? If my analysis proves correct, does that make me a seer? A wise man?
Hardly. I'm just a guy who has read both the Fourth Turning and When Corporations Rule the World. Now, I did specifically seek out those books after I had noticed signs of political cycles in America, and after I "awoke" to some of the stuff concerning Corporations that I will be writing about later. That is, I was reading the news, and some thoughts popped into my head about political cycles and about the Corporations. So then I thought: "I don't need to reinvent the wheel. I'll bet others have already nailed these subjects." Sure enough, I found Strauss & Howe on the one question, and David Korten on the other. In my humble opinion, these folks have "nailed" their respective subjects.
Now the only interesting thing about me is that I read both books at the same time. If you check out each book on Amazon.com, you won't find each book cited as "suggested further reading" for the other book. I'd be willing to bet that few people have read both books. That's because Fourth Turning seems to be a "conservative" favorite, whereas When Corporations Rule the World is apparently an "ultra-liberal" (read: Green) favorite.
But I did read them both and it sure seemed to me like they lined up nicely. So if I am correct about that, that doesn't make me particularly "smart". It just might mean that my own curiosity lies in places different from that of most.
The interesting question to me is not "Which among us should get a pat on the back?" The interesting question is, if what I am saying here is correct, what makes our generation so different from the previous generations that we collectively could correctly predict the coming crisis, and plan for it? That the previous crises are called "crises" is testament to the fact that people weren't prepared for the radical changes.
But if our generation exhibits preparation, we come back to the interesting question: what makes our generation so different? I believe the answer is "technology". I believe technology impacts the "why are we so smart" question in that in its advance, technology seems to have had the effect of "speeding up" history.
On the question of "history speeding up", an earlier posting listed the major American crises, including the beginning and ending years of those crises, as identified by Strauss & Howe. Also, those authors predict that the next crisis - the "Millennial Crisis" - will start around the year 2005. Assuming that this prediction proves correct, and then subtracting the ending year of one crisis from the beginning year of the next crisis, we arrive at the following list:
This list powerfully shows that history is indeed "speeding up". But speeding up to where? A social pessimist would look at the above list and conclude that America is headed for a state of perpetual, endless war. But a social optimist would say that American is headed, instead, toward the end of wars.
Which is true? Who knows? But we do know something is happening. This speed up of history has allowed our generation to identify these cyclical patterns with reasonable clarity. Strauss & Howe are the members of our generation who seem to have best identified those cycles.
Many believe that the reason why history is speeding up has to do with advancing technology. One of the undeniable effects of technological advance has been to make it a "small world after all". I'll be writing more on this notion later. But, for now, realize that small worlds allow information to be shared more quickly and broadly. So the pace of collective learning is increasing at an ever faster rate.
I believe the current apex of that "collective learning" technology is the Internet. I suppose you could say that I believe the Internet will "change the world" after all. But not necessarily in the way many of us were frothing about during the dot com boom of the 1990s. Instead, I believe the Internet will change the world by helping us to save us from ourselves. I'll have much more to say on what that means in later postings.
This gives me optimism that the next "war" truly will be the "war to end all wars". Yeah, yeah, I know. They all said that about the last big one. And about the one before that. And so on.
But the reason I say it here is that this "war" will be "fought" by the American People in a way that will be radically different from the way every major war has been fought up until now. History says that it has to be. Specifically, I believe the next "war" will be "fought" with the "weapons" of love and self-reliance.
Do I say this because I believe America is ready for Ghandi? No way. I suspect a preponderance of Americans (if pulled away long enough from the television set to be taught about Ghandhi) would say that the skinny fellow could have used a Super-sized meal and an AK-47.
Do I say this because I believe Americans are "spiritually awakening" to the "God" that is inside each of us? No way. I suspect there are almost as many ideas about "God" in America as there are skinny people (i.e. more than 100,000, but WAY less than 292 million).
Nope, for my belief about Americans "fighting" with love and self-reliance, I'm relying on my belief that the vast majority of us Americans are self-centered, selfish bastards interested primarily in the survival of "you know who". That's right. We're all looking out for "No. 1". I believe even those of us who seem to be looking out for No. 2 are doing it as a way of looking out for No. 1.
Actually, I believe this about everybody in the world. But what makes Americans special is that:
I'll be writing more about this vulnerability in later postings. But on the question of our freedom to make choices counter to the dominant culture, I don't think I need to expound on that. I believe anyone who has spent significant time outside of America can testify to the greater cultural freedoms we enjoy in America. Hey, it's so free in this country that, unless we are in the midst of a disaster, it can feel as though almost nobody cares about anybody else.
Speaking of disasters, I believe (based, in part, on the theory of Strauss & Howe) that one or more disasters will soon visit us. I further believe these disasters will cause this vulnerability and this freedom to come together and fuse, leaving us Americans with a stark choice: use the "weapons" of love and self-reliance, or literally perish. In other words, what I'm saying here is that all of those Jesus freaks were right all along. They all said: "Repent or perish!"
But you aren't going to be reading about scripture in this weblog. If you read on, you are going to be reading about things in this world in which live. Things that we all see with our own eyes, and touch with our own hands. Things going on right under our own noses.
Oh yeah. One more thing before we leave Strauss & Howe. In an earlier posting, I said that they had “more or less” “called” September 11, 2001, back in 1997. The reason I say “more or less” is that nobody seems to have anticipated the exact scheme of the 9/11 hijackers, not even Strauss & Howe. But they weren’t far off. Check it out:
A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches. Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S. [page 273]
Remember, Strauss & Howe wrote that in 1997. Yeah, on Corporations, they missed the dynamic that this weblog is devoted to discussing. But man, on 9/11, they came frighteningly close.
I don't think you need to read the Fourth Turning to understand this weblog. But if you are asking me whether I recommend that book, I'll respond: Hell yeah! Drop what you're doing. Do not pass "Go" until you've read that book. Don't read it to understand this weblog. Read it to gain a profound understanding of the culture in which you live.
Now the reason Strauss & Howe wrote the above paragraph was they were predicting the sorts of events that would push our culture out of the Unraveling phase, and into the Fourth Turning. Much debate on the Strauss & Howe message boards is about whether or not we are presently in the Fourth Turning.
My take: if we were in the Fourth Turning today, the name “Paris Hilton” would never have crossed the street, let alone the major network television stations.
Oh. One last thing: Recall that Strauss & Howe call the next crisis the “Millennial Crisis (2005? – 2026?).” Today is December, 2003. 2005 is 13 months away.