Thursday, September 4, 2014

At The Helm At The Fourth Turning

The headlines are dispiriting and depressing.


Russia and Ukraine.

The Beheading of Americans.

Hamas and Israel.

IRS Scandal.


VA Scandal.


Border Chaos.

Racial Violence.

Bergdahl/Taliban Swap.

$17.5 Trillion in Debt.

Everything seems to be unraveling before our eyes. Any one of these headlines could drive news coverage for months. However, there is only room for one headline at a time and each of us only has so much bandwidth. What is really scary is that all of these headline issues are still there. They just got moved to the back burner in the news cycle but they are all still burning red hot in the background. We just don't notice because of whatever conflagration that is on the front burner that day.

When does it stop?

I wrote this the day after the last Presidential election.

The results of yesterday's election clearly show that we are in The Fourth Turning. History is not made by events but by the reaction of human beings to events.  We saw clear evidence of that yesterday.  We are hurtling down the road for a rendezvous with history of our own making.  Two clearly marked paths were there for choosing.  The American people made their choice.  We all will have to deal with where it leads.

I have written about the book, The Fourth Turning, by Neil Howe and William Strauss several times in BeeLine.

The Fourth Turning refers to the cycles of history.  There is a pattern to history. There are four turns much as there are four seasons.  A new era -or turn- occurs about every two decades or so.  As the authors describe it...

At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future.  Turnings come in cycles of four.  Each full cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly 80 years.

The four turnings are much like the seasons. And each lasts roughly 20 years.

There is a Spring which is a High where institutions are strengthening and individualism is weakening and a new civic order is implanting.  This was the period beginning right after WW II to the late 1960's

There is a Summer which is the Awakening.  This is an era of spiritual upheaval when the new civic order comes under attack from a new values regime.  This period began in the late 1960's with the flower children and Vietnam War protests and lasted until the late 1980's.

There is a Fall which is the Unraveling.  This is a period of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions.  The old civic order decays and the new values regime firmly implants.  This began in the late 1980's and the authors predicted that it would run for about 20 years.

The Fourth Turning is the Crisis which is the Winter.  It is a decisive era of secular upheaval according to Strauss and Howe. In 1997 (when they wrote the book), they predicted that "sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning."

The last Fourth Turning began in 1929 with the stock market crash. It ran until 1946 encompassing both the Great Depression and WWII. The authors of The Fourth Turning originally projected 2005 as the target date for the turn stating that it could be several years before or after that date. 9/11, Katrina and the 2008 financial meltdown might all be likely beginnings. We will not know for sure until we see it all play out. The point of maximum crisis is usually about 3/4 of the way through the FourthTurning. If they are right we will likely see it within the next 10 years.

One of the important points that Howe and Strauss make in The Fourth Turning is that history does not necessarily repeat, but it rhymes. Why is that? Because with each succeeding generation the learnings of the past are forgotten or never learned. As a result, there is a tendency to ignore the past lessons of history as previous generations were not there and did not "live it". The same mistakes are made again and again over time.

For example, children who grew up in the Depression did not later become adults who thought the answer to every need was to borrow the money to get what they wanted today. They saved first and then got what they needed tomorrow. On the other hand, Baby Boomers, who grew up in an age of prosperity, and accustomed to the wealth produced by their parents' generation, have no perspective on what that time was like. As a result, they have not provided the necessary financial sobriety that society desperately needs today. We see the results of this lack of perspective every day.

What this all means is that history seems to repeat or rhyme because people react in similar ways within each cycle to the events of the world. For example, why did the American Revolution occur in 1776 and not 1756? The British had been ruling the colonies for years. Why did the Civil War erupt in 1861? Slavery had been controversial and a lighting rod issue between the states since the U.S Constitution was written.  Why did those events occur when they did?

When you look at the headlines above you can clearly see the huge impact that the election of Barack Obama has had on the direction of the country.  Obama did not initiate Middle East turmoil, create the IRS or become the first United States President to fail to secure our southern border. However, if you look at the headlines you see that his reactions to each of the issues is having an enormous effect on the direction of our country and where history will take us.

Mitt Romney or John McCain would have undoubtedly taken us in a very different direction on a number of these issues. Each might have been better or worse although it is hard to imagine right now how the sum total could be worse.

Of course, the American voter provided the power to Barack Obama. He would not be there but for the choice the American people made. The voters also have short memories and lack perspective based on their life experience.

As I re-read parts of  The Fourth Turning over the weekend and thought about where we are right now, I could not help noticing once again how Howe and Strauss describe what they believe public reaction will be when the realization finally sinks into the American public that we are in Crisis. What will be the reaction of the American people once we reach the point that everyone realizes that that life as we know is gone and the future we expected is at risk?

Eventually, all of America's lesser problems will combine into one giant problem. The very survival of society will feel at stake...
History warns that when a Crisis catalyzes, a previously dominant political party (or regime) can find itself directly blamed for perceived "mistakes" that led to the national emergency. 
Key persons associated with it could find themselves defamed, stigmatized, harassed, economically ruined, personally punished---or worse. 

I will let you fill in the blanks as to whose reputation is most on the line right now.  He may leave office with some of his reputation intact but if what follows after 2016 is more of the same there is going to be plenty of blame to pass around between him and his successor.

It may actually be a good idea to enjoy the golf now. Retirement may prove to be a difficult season for anyone who was at the helm in the middle of The Fourth Turning.

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