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Fasten your seatbelts
on September 24, 2016
This is the kind of book I should ordinarily despise. It contains a broad arc of history viewed internally and is epic in the worst way possible. And yet, it is incredibly compelling for two reasons: (i) there is something to be said for viewing history from the perspective of generational change and (ii) the prediction made in the book (written in 1998) that we will enter a time of crisis around 2005 give or take a few years was spot on. In addition, minor points should be given for turning the spotlight on the financial world as the catalyst for the crisis of 2008.
In a nutshell, the book advances the view that history roughly repeats itself every 80 years. Further, every 80 year period is characterized by the arrival of Artists (silent generation in this cycle), Prophets (boomers), Nomads (Gen Xers) and Heroes (millennials). Previous incarnations of this cycle ended with the war of independence, the civil war and world war II. This naturally sets up the denouement for this cycle which the authors expect to occur in the 2025 time frame. Each cycle is divided into turnings: the present one is characterized by First (High: 1946-1964), Second (Awakening: 1964-1984), Third (Unraveling: 1984-2008) and Fourth (Crisis: 2008-202X). From the book's perspective and Neil Howe's subsequent blog posts, we entered the Fourth Turning in 2008. There's nothing spooky or mystical about these cycles and turnings: instead the authors stress that human nature and culture seem to have these rhythms and that Anglo-American history is stable enough to be characterized in this manner. Other cultures may either be too stable or too chaotic to follow this type of pattern.
Prior to the arrival of Donald Trump and despite the eerie portend of the financial crisis, I would have dismissed this book. Now, it looks positively prophetic. Is there any doubt now that the combination of (i) income inequality, (ii) the economic problems of the white working class, (iii) the culture wars, (iv) multiculturalism and globalism, (v) the ravages of identity politics and postmodernism and (vi) terrorism is not going to be a combustible mix over the next decade? And that these will simultaneously distract us from combating global warming - the clear threat of the next era? While I find it hard to buy into the notion that the US will face an existential crisis (as predicted by the book), there's definitely merit in the view that the next ten years will probably have the capability of shocking us however jaded we may be at the present time.