Friday, September 9, 2011

The Fourth Turning - Can the Past Predict the Future?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana
Many years ago I read a book called "The Fourth Turning" that described generational cycles. It goes like this:

Stage 3: The Unraveling: "a society-wide embrace of the liberating cultural forces set loose by the Awakening". Society yields to the needs of the individual. "While personal satisfaction is high, public trust ebbs amid a fragmenting culture, harsh debates over values, and weakening civic habits. ...  Decisive public action becomes very difficult, as community problems are deferred ... Eventually, cynical alienation hardens into a brooding pessimism ...

We are supposedly at the end of an Unraveling era and poised to begin the Fourth Turning. It's six years late according the book's time schedule but then generations are getting farther apart as children are born to older parents. The prior Unraveling was the Ragtime, Mob Crime, Anything Goes era around WWI.

Stage 4: Crisis: the unraveling of society has reached a crisis state and a new majority arises with "one simple imperative: The society must prevail.  This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice ... A sense of public urgency contributes to a clampdown on “bad” conduct or “anti-social” lifestyles. ... Wars are fought with fury and for maximum result. ... Eventually, the mood transforms into one of exhaustion, relief, and optimism."

The new Tea Party is a sign of this. Citizens uniting against entitlements for a common good of a balanced budget government. The Left says the Tea Party can "go to hell" (congress woman Maxine Waters) but it may be a harbinger of majority opinion for the next generation. The prior Crisis period was the Great Depression and WWII.

Stage 1: The High:  "a renaissance to community life.  With the new civic order in place, people want to put the Crisis behind them and feel content about what they have collectively achieved. ... The recent fear for group survival transmutes into a desire for investment, growth, and strength--which in turn produces an era of commercial prosperity, institutional solidarity, and political stability.  ... Obliging individuals serve a purposeful society—though a few loners voice disquiet over the spiritual void.  Life tends toward the friendly and homogeneous."

The prior High was the post-WWII Baby Boom with Leave it To Beaver and many family shows about the good life.

Stage 2: Awakening: A new generation of prosperous youth yearn for some more than mere materialism. "New spiritual agendas and social ideals burst forth, along with Utopian experiments ...  The prosperity and security of a High are overtly disdained though covertly taken for granted. ... Public order deteriorates, and crime and substance abuse rise. ... Eventually, the enthusiasm cools—having left the old cultural regime fully discredited, internal enemies identified, comity shattered, and institutions delegitimized."

The authors cite (1964-1984) as the years of the last Awakening. After the awakening we experience a generation where the individual is king with another Unraveling at stage 3 and history cycles yet again.

It's one thing to look back to the beginning of the 20th century and look for a repeating pattern. But the authors of the Fourth Turning map their 4 generation cycle back to 1435 at  How successful this mapping is I'll leave to some historian to answer.

Part of the 4th turning theory is that individuals are shaped by the era in which they are raised and this echoes across the years.

Prophets are raised during the HIGH and with an emphasis on moral duty to society amidst prosperity. They latch onto the notion of Values and apply it to higher causes like global poverty, etc. They are the visionaries during the Awakening and social reformers during the Unraveling.

Nomads are raised during the Awakening as latch-key kids and learn to take care of themselves. They are self focused and take what they can during the Unraveling.

Heroes "are nurtured with increasing protection by pessimistic adults in an insecure environment" during an Unraveling. They are the front line soldiers during the Crisis, cling to Peace during the High, and fail to understand the youth during the Awakening.

Artists are raised during Crisis period. They are sensitive to fair-play, complex social situations, and cooperation for survival. They promote universal Peace during a High (Woodrow Wilson) but appear indecisive during the Unraveling.
Bottom Line

An interesting theory. We have books about about the "greatest generation" of WWII heroes and documentaries of the Hippie era of Love followed by Yuppies and Greed is Good. What will characterize the next generation?

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Blogger Gary W Kibble said...

From the LA Times - an observation on the Nomad generation of Baby Boomers

Since the '80s, polls have found those who came of age in the '60s and '70s becoming more family oriented and conservative. If more boomers are led to embrace the GOP, it could affect the 2012 vote.,0,4867587.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Fopinion%2Fcommentary+%28L.A.+Times+-+Commentary%29

September 13, 2011 at 9:45 AM  

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