The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s seem to have all separate, unique personalities, but these last 18 years seem to just be one big chunk of time that has no significant meaning.
Personally, I think decade “personalities” reach back all the way to at least the 1920s. Although I have no real point of reference for chunks of time earlier than that, I suspect the growth of mass popular culture (movies, radio, mass produced clothing, magazines, etc.) due to the advance of technology during the early to mid-20th century had a lot to do with the decades developing their own unique “feel.”
It wasn’t just music, entertainment and fashion that defined decades from each other; decades even had their own unique fonts. You can pretty much tell the vintage of a magazine or paperback book heading or a movie poster by its font. Colors (and color combinations) and patterns are also telling: 1940s: dark jewel colors; 1950s: aqua and pastels, gingham and boomerang patterns; 1960s: DayGlo colors, paisley, and psychedelic patterns; 1970s: earth colors (specifically, all shades of brown, harvest gold, avocado, and rust); 1980s: mismatched DayGlo colors and clashing abstract patterns, and of course, mauve and hunter green (for home decor); 1990s: the “distressed” look for furniture, plain white walls, black clothing, tiny floral prints on black backgrounds, heather gray, brown, and lots of plaid flannel. The 2010s do seem to be defined by the popular “lattice” and oversize houndstooth patterns you find on everything from throw pillows to blankets, but I can’t think of much else that defines it, other than political statements like MAGA caps or pink pussy hats.
The decades as we think of them don’t generally (or ever) start on January 1 of a new decade. They could start early, or it could take several years for the next decade to really get underway. It also isn’t until some years after it began that we actually notice that things changed (that’s why the decade you’re currently in doesn’t seem to have its own personality).
For example, the “sixties” didn’t start until about 1964, with the rise of the Beatles (or possibly, in late 1963, with the assassination of JFK); the “seventies” didn’t begin until sometime in 1974, when early Disco/Philly sound emerged out of earlier funk and R&B; and bell bottoms, Earth shoes and sandals, long straight center parted hair, and long peasant dresses (all more associated with the sixties) suddenly gave way to platform shoes, polyester leisure suits, and sexy Lycra “disco dresses” in jewel colors. But it wasn’t until the end of the ’70s, or even the early ’80s, that we realized exactly when the “seventies” started and the “sixties” ended.
The “eighties” started more or less on time (or even early), because disco and its culture had a short run and was replaced with New Wave and power pop music as early as 1978 or 1979. The eighties ran until the fall of 1991. The rise of Nirvana and other grunge bands from Seattle commenced the nineties. Overnight, Generation X was cool and Boomers were just old. I remember the switch to the nineties well, since I gave birth to my son the very same month “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released, and I remember telling my husband on first seeing the video on MTV, “That song is going to change everything.” I have no idea how I knew that.
But what happened since the new millennium began? Why, almost two decades after the year 2000 began, does that decade still seem to have no personality of its own? Why does there seem to be no clear cut off between the late ’90s, the 2000s and 2010s?
Obviously, we are far enough into the 21st century that at least its first decade’s personality would have emerged some time ago. So it’s not because we haven’t waited long enough. Now, that could be the case for the 2010s (which we are still in but not for much longer) but not for the 00’s. But I suspect the reason is something else entirely.
Since 9/11, there’s been a change in the national zeitgeist, a darkening of the overall mood. People are more suspicious of each other and of the government, and the overall mood is one of distrust and dread. That distrust and dread, sparked by 9/11, is what led to Trump and the rise of hatred and nationalism, and the disintegration of American democracy. Pop culture — music, fashion, movies, art, and youth movements — all the things that have traditionally defined the decades take a secondary role to survival itself. A society that is not thriving doesn’t really care about frivolities, pop culture, and being entertained. During dark times, people tend not to create a new culture; instead they draw from the past and become nostalgic for happier, more stable and prosperous times.
There’s another reason for the lack of definition of recent decades, one which may be even more important than the darker national zeitgeist. Technology has continued to advance, to the point that every person can customize their own entertainment. Up until the 1990s, people tended to listen to the same songs on the radio, watch the same music videos, and shop at almost identical malls scattered across the country. A mall in Miami was pretty much the same as a mall in Minnesota. There weren’t 1000 different cable channels. People bought physical records or CDs because of what they heard on the radio. In general, there was less choice in entertainment (though many believe the quality was much better). There was no internet or social media to influence individual opinion or create tiny niche cultures, the way we have today. Now anyone can start a Youtube channel, anyone can create their own music video or short film and get their own small group of fans or followers. Anyone can start a blog and sometimes gain a modicum of internet fame from doing so. Your friend may listen to a band, watch a movie, or be a fan of a comedy series you have never heard of because they have only a tiny niche following on Youtube or Vimeo. There’s also the isolating nature of today’s entertainment. People watch videos and listen to music on their phones or iPods instead of turning on the radio for all their friends to enjoy.
And of course, many of us, overwhelmed by too many choices and not enough quality, escape into the past for our entertainment, indulging our need for nostalgia. The unifying sense of solidarity people once experienced through enjoying a common zeitgeist is almost completely gone. Now it’s everyone for themselves. The disintegration of that kind of solidarity may actually have something to do with why Americans stopped caring about each other.
394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Not too long ago, one of my regular readers spoke of seeing a bunch of military tanks practicing for a martial law takeover. In America, I am hearing of an increasing number of incidents like this. I try to avoid the news, but there’s an increasing and unavoidable sense of panic that our nation may be on the brink of a removal of all our freedoms as martial law becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s very frightening.
But what I really want to talk about is the feeling of unreality and dissociation that accompanies seeing something like what my reader did. She said when she saw the tanks, she felt as if she was dreaming. It didn’t seem real…
“The Century of the Self” is a good documentary explaining the history of how Freud’s ideas about psychology and human desire led to corporate manipulation that brainwashed Americans to crave things they did not need. This in turn led to a culture of selfishness and instant gratification. Paraphrasing writer Blythe Gryphon, targeted marketing based on psychological desires and needs
result[ed] in feeding the rapacious capitalism that dehumanized us, exalted hatred, and put a malignant narcissist in power.
In other words, we got the government we deserved.
America is sliding backwards in almost every way imaginable. Like it or not, as a country we have become far more superstitious, fearful, intolerant, and tribal than we were twenty, forty, or even sixty years ago. Such a worldview is incredibly dangerous to any real progress and the sustainability of democracy.
The following article will provide a background of why this happened, its historical roots, how our situation compares with the rest of the world, and what, if anything, we can do to reverse our destiny and restore democracy as we used to know it.
The Middle Ages.
Hundreds of years ago, tribalism and irrational fear of the “Other” was the norm in the West. During the Middle Ages, the only form of government was basically a theocracy with “one party rule” by the medieval Catholic Church. Feudal lords ruled over the serfs with an iron hand, with meager benefits, such as a small patch of land for a family to subsist on, handed out in return for loyalty and backbreaking labor. There was very little to no chance of a common peasant or serf escaping their grim reality, or ever rising to the merchant class and certainly not the nobility (the oligarchs of those times). For almost all who weren’t part of the nobility or merchant class, life was “brutal and short.” Harsh punishments were meted out liberally against those who dared question the regime or their overlords. It was a life not much better than slavery. Science was considered heresy and education was discouraged. Higher education was limited to the clergy and the nobility, and even that was primarily religious education.
During these “dark ages,” which lasted approximately a thousand years following the fall of the Roman Empire, there was little to no progress, scientifically or otherwise. Each generation lived pretty much the same way as the one that came before, and people did not live very long. Daily life revolved around religion and the church and people were very superstitious. Women were considered the property of men, their only role (besides backbreaking labor alongside the men) was producing as many children as possible as quickly as possible. Most of those children died of illness before the age of 5 or so. In fact, infant mortality was so common that medieval women didn’t bother to name a child until he or she was several years old, and more likely to survive. Not naming a new child made it possible to not get too attached to the child and enabled the mother to take its death in stride without undue grief.
Modern feudalism and third world countries.
Today, there are such societies. But they are not in the West. You can find feudal-like living conditions under harsh dictatorships and theocracies in third world countries in South America, Africa, and other parts of the undeveloped world. Unlike advanced western democracies, these developing countries have not advanced in any discernible way, and do not contribute knowledge to the rest of the world. The vast majority of their people live much as Europeans did in medieval times. The rulers and kings of these impoverished nations may themselves be very wealthy, but they keep their wealth for themselves at the expense of the populace, who have no chance to ever live a good life within their own countries. These regimes are rife with corruption, oppression, sexism, and violence. They are societies where hatred, fear, tribalism, and often religious superstition take the place of rational and enlightened thought and higher values such as inclusiveness and empathy for others.
Random violence and harsh and unforgiving laws are common in these societies, and people live in fear of their own government, who care nothing for them and treat them as vermin or at best, as inconvenient burdens. Some people have been fortunate and able to escape from these regimes. Many of those refugees emigratred to America for what they believed would be a better life, and for the most part, they have not been disappointed.
Tyranny outside the third world.
Islamic theocracies in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran are slightly better as far as quality of life than impoverished third world countries (most people have access to modern technology and generally have at least the basic necessities for survival), but are still rigidly authoritarian states that tolerate no dissent from the national religion and Sharia law. These regimes especially fear feminine power — a power which draws from the higher human values of empathy, altruism, and inclusiveness — and so women have been oppressed and denied a voice. The rulers of such nations are always men, and they rule with an iron fist. Toxic masculinity, where power, wealth, violence, and complete control are lauded as virtues, ensures that the “feminine” is kept silenced and where qualities associated with the feminine are dismissed or even considered evil (in medieval times, these qualities were usually associated with witchcraft). Keeping women in line and obedient safeguards against the risk that the power of the feminine could ever threaten the hypermasculine regime’s control.
While these harsh conditions used to exist in the West during medieval times, since the Renaissance and Enlightenment they have gradually been discarded. Since then, the West has come to embrace rational thought and democratic, humane values over superstition and religious intolerance — and has changed their beliefs and laws in keeping with that. The recognition that science (over religious dogma) is about truth and secular and higher education is valid and desirable, coupled with the idea that different kinds of people can and should learn from each other — and that difference is not something to be feared but something to be celebrated — paved the way for western countries to establish new policies that greatly enhanced the quality of life for all their citizens. Policies that recognize that each human being is intrinsically valuable and worthy (instead of valued only for what they own or the power they wield) and should therefore be nurtured and encouraged to develop their full potential instead of punished and controlled for attempting to assert that potential has led to greater happiness, prosperity, and longevity for almost all people who live in those societies. This recognition by the west that the “feminine” is as important (or more important) to the advancement of humanity as the “masculine” is the foundation for democracy, the most spiritually advanced and humane form of government that currently exists.
“Manifest destiny” and the roots of American tyranny.
America was, unfortunately, founded at least partly through the invasion and oppression of the native people who lived peacefully and sustainably on this continent for thousands of years. This unpleasant reality has always hindered us as far as advancing in democratic values as easily as other western countries have been able to do. There has always been that undercurrent of violence and intolerance of the “other” that has darkened our path to true progress — even though our Founding Fathers did everything they could when writing up the Constitution to protect against tyranny, whether religious tyranny or some other form of it.
Since the Enlightenment, this reality has been concealed, even to ourselves. We have convinced ourselves America is the most advanced, prosperous, and humanitarian democracy that ever existed, a concept known as “manifest destiny.” We have long believed we are the one shining example of morality, liberty, and prosperity to the rest of the world — and that they should follow our example (even if by force at times). But the reality is, while we lurched toward democracy with the rest of the west, we were never a true democracy. We have always been more hubristic and narcissistic than other countries, believing ourselves to be morally and in every other way better than anyone else, but it’s proven to be a slippery slope that has led to the serious problems we are facing right now. In fact, our narcissism and belief in “manifest destiny” is causing us to slide back into a more medieval, almost feudal, type of society. We are being sucked into a moral vacuum that was formed by our fear of the “other” and the feminine strengths that, for at least a while, forced us to face those fears and attempt to toss them on the ash heap of history. The Roman Empire fell for the same reasons we are now. In fact, America’s system of government was based on ancient Rome, and just as the ancient Romans did, we are eating ourselves alive with our wrongheaded belief that we are the rightful Masters of the Universe and should be treated as such by the rest of the world.
True democracy cannot exist when there is a moral vacuum where feminine qualities and higher human values that recognize all humans are intrinsically valuable are dismissed, ignored, or oppressed. Toxic masculinity and “strongman” policies are, ironically, born in a crucible of fear. Fear leads to nationalism and tribalism, which leads to hatred, which inevitably results in violence, oppression, and even tyranny. The undercurrent of terror and superstition that has always existed in America is poisoning our fragile democracy, which never had a chance to fully flourish and become what it could have been. Other western countries are far ahead of us in this sense, and now we are falling even farther behind. We can no longer even pretend to be the “shining light on the hill” to the rest of the world, and to do so would only make us even more laughable to the developed world than we already are.
For over 240 years, in spite of our issues with narcissism, we were still able to make much progress — but we never let go of our need to regard ourselves as superior and make others treat us that way. And because of our prosperity, our enviable technology, and our comfort with great power and wealth, other countries did in fact look up to us as the rightful leaders of the free world. Yet most of this was their perception — that being nothing more than an acknowledgement of the glorified image we wanted to project — not the actual reality of things. No other western country ever had any concept of themselves comparable to “manifest destiny.” The erroneous belief that we are “best” and should be admired and emulated by the entire world has kept us from developing sufficient humility to be able to empathize and take care of each other, never mind those “foreigners.” Humility — the opposite of hubris — is necessary for the development of the feminine and the humane in any society, and that is why other western countries have had a much easier time adapting to true “social” democracy and the concept that good governance means “we’re all in this together” and not “I’ve got mine, screw you.” Power and wealth has become more important in America than compassion and inclusiveness, and probably always was, if truth be told. Democracy and unbridled, unregulated power cannot coexist. Since the days of Reagan, the idea that deregulated power and unlimited wealth trumps compassion, inclusion, and humanity (demonized by the right as “socialism”) has increased exponentially.
Our experiment with democracy.
“Spirit of America” by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978).
For a relatively short time — from sometime in the 1940s through the late 1970s — we experimented with social democracy. Following FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, American life and prosperity improved immensely for most (though racism and sexism were still issues, no one anywhere had really recognized those things as problems yet — reform was to come later). The middle class grew and poverty diminished greatly, though it was never completely eradicated (and probably can’t be anyway). Still, the uniquely American concept that some people were “better” or more “deserving” than others by virtue of their wealth, social status, or what they owned were still the true measures of human worth, even though this remained hidden or denied during those decades where we experimented with real democracy. The truth is, we were never entirely comfortable with democracy. Reaganism came as a relief to many people who feared the kinds of changes democracy could bring about. Reaganism also began the slow unraveling of our developing, but still fragile and easily derailed, progress toward a more fair and humane society. Forty years later, we are confronted with the terrifying spectre a near- fascist regime whose moral bankruptcy, brutality, ruthlessness, and lack of any semblance of conscience and empathy seems to have no limits.
We all know (or should know) how Reaganism eventually morphed into Trumpism, so I won’t detail the whole story of how that happened here. Trump is not really the problem, nor would his immediate removal stop the hemorrhaging. Trump is merely a symptom of a very deep and pervasive problem we have always had and that has become cancerous in the past four decades. Other western democracies don’t have this problem, at least not to the extent America does. Because humility and “feminine” values (seen by tyrants as “weakness”) are not anathema to them, and narcissism and hubris hasn’t taken over their concept of themselves, they have always been more immune than we are to backsliding into tyranny. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen in other countries, but it is less likely and their far right factions wield less power. Our own fear and narcissism is destroying us from within. We are regressing.
America is no longer a first world country.
We have arrived at a point where we are not far ahead of places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Russia. While these are not third world countries in the strict sense, they are second world theocracies or dictatorships where the common people have no freedom (though they may be told they do and believe they do), lies are passed as the truth, history is rewritten, the free press is replaced by state propaganda, and fair elections are either outlawed or a sham, dissent is punished, journalists are jailed, and the “different” are ostracized or even eliminated. Such regimes have a number of things in common: oppression of women, criminalizing perceived “immorality” (homosexuality is an almost universal example in all these regimes), general intolerance for outsiders, an emphasis placed on buildup of the military, police states, suppression of the arts and humanities, disdain or hatred for scientific thought, silencing the free press, revisionist history, the merging of religion and state, and state propaganda (whether religious or not) that passes itself off as “education” (in Communist regimes, atheism is treated as the state “religion”).
Lies are their currency; truth is always the enemy. Compassion is seen as weak and toxic masculinity (violence, controlling others, harsh punishment) is seen as “strong.” Higher human values — gentleness, inclusiveness, empathy — are not just regarded as weak, but sometimes as outright evil. Such regimes are prone to constant wars and violence. Poverty is a given. The wealthy few rule. There is no middle class and it is not possible for a person to move upward from one class to another. The “values” that are rewarded — wealth, power, total control — are often aided and abetted by authoritarian religion whose beliefs dovetail with the regime’s hypermasculine values. American evangelical right-wing Christianity has much in common with radical Islam and organizations like ISIS. In theocracies, whether the state-sanctioned religion is Islam, Christianity (so far, we have managed to avoid a religious theocracy here, but it existed during the Middle Ages and in Puritan times), or something else, there is no separation between religion and state and the leaders rule over the masses with an iron fist. Any deviation is not tolerated. As I mentioned earlier, this was par for the course during medieval times, but this form of governance was discarded by Europe hundreds of years ago when rational thought supplanted superstition, tribalism, and fear. America, though denying it, was never able to completely let go of it.
Looking in the mirror.
Trump did not cause our decline, but through his hyper-masculine “strongman” words, actions, and tweets, has emboldened those who have always secretly wished for a return to authoritarian, medieval-like conditions and have never been comfortable with democratic values because such values demand we accept those who are different or more vulnerable than we are. It also demands we embrace so-called feminine values, and that we recognize that every human being is intrinsically valuable. To be able to recognize the value in all people requires empathy, a quality that may be lacking in many Trump supporters, or seen as a “weakness” by people — usually men — who cannot accept any feminine softness within themselves.
But the proverbial phoenix rises from the ashes. Fortunately, those of us who believe in true democracy and embrace higher human values over base ones like wealth and power greatly outnumber those who do not. Trump, as bad as he may be, has done one very good thing: he has provided a mirror for us to see ourselves as we really are, and how sick a nation we have become. Sometimes the cure for cancer is painful, sometimes more painful than the disease. Trump has woken us up from our complacency and our apathy — which, had they continued, would have allowed the incipient authoritarian regime to take full control. Though unwittingly, he gave us a window of opportunity to recognize the truth and finally take action against the horror that faced us. Had Clinton or someone else been elected, we might have missed the opportunity. There would have been no Resistance movement, we would have continued to sit home during elections, and the thoroughly corrupted new Republican party would have continued to consolidate power and increase their stranglehold on our democracy without us ever realizing it until it was too late. The cancer America is battling would have metastasized to the point that our destruction was inevitable. Yes, Trump is extremely dangerous and yes, we could still self destruct just like the Roman Empire did, but I think with things having happened as they did, such an outcome is actually less likely, even as close as we are to destruction now.
We have a long and difficult journey ahead, if we are ever to liberate our country from the jaws of fascism and return to the democratic, humanitarian values that leaders during the WWII and postwar years recognized were necessary for us to thrive and become a real inspiration to the rest of the world, instead of a flashy sham of one.
There may be war. It’s inevitable people will die. No revolution ever occurred without bloodshed and great sacrifice. We can’t be cowards and just wait for things to change, because they won’t on their own. Inaction is death. America’s soul is in the balance: do we want democracy or tyranny? The choice is ours.
Like his hippie predecessors, Steve Bannon wants to take down the Establishment — only this time from the far right. (credit: Huffington Post)
One day back in 1997, while I was a stay at home mom and my kids were both in school, I felt bored, so I decided to visit the library and find something interesting to read. The book that caught my eye and I decided to check out was called The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, written by two political sociologists named William Strauss and Neil Howe. Little did I know how this book would change my entire view of history and in many ways, change my life. The predictions Strauss and Howe made 20 years ago were spot on — almost all of them have become reality. I can honestly say I’m a believer and have been for a long time. Their theory seems to make a lot of sense and the predictions made in their book are uncannily accurate.
Many people dismiss The Fourth Turning as bunk or even hocus-pocus. Some people regard it as not much better than superstition — on par with the worst conspiracy theories, astrology, reading tea leaves, or Nostradamus prophecies. But Strauss and Howe’s theory that history runs in cycles that keep repeating themselves are based on sound research and their own and others’ observations of history over hundreds of years, since well before the founding of America. In their view, history is not linear — it seems to repeat itself in varying forms approximately every 80 -100 years, with each cycle containing four distinct turnings — lasting about 20-25 years each– and in which four distinctly different generational archetypes (themselves created by child rearing methods in fashion during the turnings each generation was born in) both foment and affect each of the turnings –and how the generations themselves are affected by the turnings.
Before I get to the main point of this article — which is about Trump’s right hand man Steve Bannon and the ways he is misusing and even abusing Strauss and Howe’s theory of history –let me spend some time describing how the theory works for those who may never heard of it. A few months ago, I wrote an earlier article that focused more on Millennials’ role during the crisis we’re now facing (we are in a 4th turning right now and reaching its climax). From that article, I’m going to copy and paste the part that gives an overview of how the theory works so I don’t have to write that part again from scratch.
Generational and Turning Theory: a four-part repeating cycle of history.
Turnings throughout American History.
We are currently in the Millennial Cycle, the fourth cycle since the Revolutionary War. We have been in this cycle since V-Day at the end of WW2, in 1946 — more than 70 years ago. We are reaching the end of the Millennial cycle, and about to begin a new one, once the fourth turning we are in is resolved. But things are going to get a lot worse before they begin to improve. It’s not necessarily going to be Armageddon; it’s just what happens in 4th turnings.
The last 4th turning (which was actually the final turning of the “Great Society” historical cycle) started suddenly in 1929, with the financial crash on Wall Street that plunged us into the Great Depression. In 1942, America entered WW2. We came out victorious in that war with newfound prosperity and confidence and we were now a world power to be reckoned with. Full of optimism and confidence, we entered the first turning of the Millennial cycle — the booming (but conformist) postwar years of the 1950s and early 60s. Lots of victory babies (Baby Boomers) were born, who were very much indulged, and the first turning of this current cycle saw shining new suburbs, brand new scientific discoveries, and a brand new, modern infrastructure where kids and families felt safe.
Approximately 8o years before the Great Depression/WW2 was the Civil War, and 80 or so years before that was the American Revolution. It goes even farther back than this, but I won’t go into detail about those cycles here, since we weren’t fully “American” yet.
One example from earlier times was the Renaissance, actually a first turning that occurred after The Black Plague (a 4th turning) that set civilization back into motion for a variety of reasons. Prior to the Plague were a thousand years of dark ages (more commonly known as medieval times, which lasted from the 400’s to the early 1500’s). Dark ages are eras when time seems to stand still and turnings do not occur. Generations don’t follow the archetypes we’re familiar with — they don’t change much over time because there are no historical turnings. One generation pretty much follows the same life pattern as their parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and most progress comes to a screeching halt. People live very difficult and short lives, eeking out an existence as best they can. The middle ages were the result of a disastrous 4th turning — the Fall of Rome. It could happen that if this turning ends badly, we could be thrust into a new dark age, but it’s not likely. The Protestant Reformation was the Awakening (second turning) of the same cycle the Renaissance (or the Plague) began. There were other cycles after this that led up to the Revolutionary War and the founding of America, but I’m not as familiar with those.
We are about halfway or more than halfway through the current crisis (which as yet, has no official name). It started (depending on who you ask) with either 9/11 in 2001 or the housing crisis of 2008 (most followers of the theory believe 2008 was the real start date of the current 4th turning — which means we’re only about halfway through).
4 Generational Archetypes.
A Boomer at different life stages criticizes (from left to right) “square” GI/Silent parents; “hypocritical” fellow Boomer Yuppies; “materialistic” Gen Xers; and finally looks to her Millennial kids as future saviors. (credit: Millennials Rising, 2000).
The four generational archetypes are Prophets, Nomads, Artists, and Heroes. The most recent Prophet generation are the Boomers, born during the prosperous postwar years (their predecessors were the Missionaries born during the Gilded Age). Prophets are born in a First Turning (a time of prosperity and conformity) and tend to become narcissistic and moralistic as they age.
The current Nomads are the Gen-Xers (who correspond with the Lost Generation), who are born during a Second Turning (the most recent was the Consciousness Revolution, which took place in the ’60s and ’70s). They grow up feeling neglected and unworthy and as a result become apathetic to world issues and lack trust in their leaders. As children with self involved Silent and Boomer parents they were often left to fend for themselves from a young age. They have collective low self esteem. Think back to the Lost Generation, the last Nomad archetype before them. Those were the orphaned kids, young toughs, Chicago mobsters, and the poor newsboys who roamed the streets during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Artists are the Silent Generation (the oldest generation still alive but are dying off fast), They are always born during a Crisis, or a Fourth Turning (the new Artists are still being born now). The current Crisis began either in 2001 with 9/11, or 2008 with the housing crisis (the jury is still out on the start date). They are overprotected as children (today’s helicopter parenting) and strictly disciplined. They grow up to be peacemakers and believers in checks and balances. We have never had a Silent president, but they have provided reason, empathy, and logic, and worked behind the scenes to keep us from going to dangerous extremes — until now.
Heroes are born during a Third Turning (the most recent one being the Culture Wars of the ’80s and ’90s), when individualism is high but institutions built during the First Turning are beginning to unravel. The last generation of Heroes were the GI Generation, also fondly known as The Greatest Generation, who are remembered as our WWII heroes and the builders of the prosperous America of the midcentury. Almost all of them have died off by now. They have been replaced by the Millennials.
This may sound like hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The overall character of each of the four generational archetypes is influenced by the turnings in which they were raised and came of age in, and the parenting styles of that particular turning. In turn, the generational character combined with the life stages they happen to be occupying at a given time (what S&H calls “generational constellations”) both foments and influences each of the four turnings themselves.
Prophets, born in a time of prosperity, conformity, and increasingly indulgent parenting, become self confident but by adolescence, they begin to rebel against the stultifying conformity, and set off an Awakening (Second Turning). During young adulthood, they are experimental idealists. As they rise to power during midlife, they have become vocal, highly opinionated, and passionate about whatever values they have adopted, leading us into a Third Turning (culture wars mentality). They tend to be judgmental and engage in black and white thinking, convinced that only their way is the right one. Prophets’ parents are usually Heroes or Artists.
Nomads, born in a time of questioning traditional values and changing social mores, are often neglected by their self involved parents who seem more interested in their own personal growth instead of them. In reaction, they become self sufficient early on (latchkey kids), but become cynical and reach adulthood with collective low self-esteem. They tend to distrust the system, which they regard as having failed them and of all generations, they are both the most conservative and least likely to be politically involved. They care more about pragmatism and “just getting things done” than about values and ideals. Their parents are usually Artists or Prophets.
Heroes, born in a time of institutional failure but increasing choices and the beginning of the cultural polarization of a nation, are increasingly protected by their stressed-out parents (who perceive the world as more dangerous), and are encouraged to achieve great things but also tend to be micro-managed and overly controlled. As they rise into adulthood, they realize the things promised them are not going to materialize, and take matters into their own hands to change the system to one that will work for them. Their parents tend to be Prophets or Nomads.
Artists, born during a national Crisis, are overprotected (“helicopter parenting”) and strictly disciplined. They are the children most likely to be told to be quiet, stay out of the way and not bother the adults, who are trying to deal with a dangerous world. Artists tend to be obedient conformists until midlife, when they finally begin to rebel, often spurred on by the Prophets born right after them. But caught between two more powerful archetypes (Prophets and Heroes), they tend to never take one side or the other, and learn to be sensitive peacemakers instead, concerned with checks and balances, and “reasonable”and “fair” policies that don’t make waves. They attempt to bring people together. Their parents are Nomads and Heroes.
It’s interesting to note that no Artist has become President during the Millennial Cycle (the 80-year historical period we are currently still in), but Bernie Sanders, a textbook example of the Artist archetype, came awfully close.
It’s also interesting that a Crisis forms just as peacemaking Artists are at their lowest point of influence–when they are in early childhood and very old age. In other turnings, their peacemaking and diplomatic character keeps us from heading into a real crisis, so nothing really gets out of control, no matter how bad a situation potentially is. It all gets handled somehow, and America remains intact. Not so in a fourth turning, when Artist diplomacy is almost completely missing and things become chaotic and there seem to be barely any checks and balances left to keep warring factions from doing real and permanent damage.
I’ve posted this video before, but it’s a very easy to understand overview of how generational and turning theory works. There’s nothing woowoo about it. It’s based on sound historical observations that repeat over time.
The 4 Turnings.
The four turnings are approximately 20 – 25 year time periods encompassing a particular national mood, which is shaped by the generational attitudes and the age brackets they happen to be in at the time. Whatever generation happens to be in their prime adult years (midlife) and in the most important leadership roles, tends to set the overall tone for the turning in question.
A First Turning, with Heroes in midlife (and Artists as their helpmates), is concerned with institutional building, scientific advancement, prosperity for all, family life, and indulgent parenting. Children are highly valued and given pretty much whatever they want. Remember, their parents just came out of the worst time in history and never want their children to have to experience what they had to. There is a narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest. Individualism is not encouraged; it’s a time of conformity. Sex roles seem to be at their least ambiguous. A first turning tends to be unconcerned with matters of a religious or spiritual nature, idealistic values, or social change. Building bigger and better institutions, a government that works for (instead of against) the people, and scientific discovery seem to be priorities. The last First Turning we experienced were the prosperous post-war years (“Pax Americana”), until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. We are due to enter a new First Turning within 5-15 years, or whenever (and if) the current Crisis is resolved. The Gilded Age, with its indulged Missionary children, was the earlier analogue to Pax Americana. The romantic myths we still have of Christmases of “olden times,” with Santa Claus and sleigh rides for well bundled rosy cheeked children and their loving families arose during that earlier first turning. The Nutcracker story is a great example of what life was like for the indulged Missionary children of the Gilded Age.
A Second Turning, with peacemaking Artists in midlife (and idealistic Prophets in rising adulthood and adolescence), is a time of great social upheaval and a greater focus on matters of a religious, spiritual, or social nature. Less value is placed on institution building, bureaucracy, and scientific advancement in favor of things of a more esoteric nature, such as discovering altered state of consciousness (through drugs, meditation or other means), civil or womens’ rights, and rebelling against the “establishment.” There is a great deal of experimentation with different lifestyle choices, but children born during this time tend to be dismissed as burdensome to self-development. The most recent Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, which started with the first campus protests and the civil rights movement, and ended with either Reagan’s election in 1980 or his “Morning in America” speech when he was re-elected in 1984. The earlier analogue to the most recent Consciousness Revolution was the Romantic movement back in the 1880s and 1890s. Women’s suffrage, communal “back to nature” living (think of Walden), campus protests(!), and lots of religious groups (including modern Christian charismatic groups and fundamentalism as well as “the social gospel”) sprang up during this time.
A Third Turning, with impassioned and judgmental Prophets in midlife (but with Artist checks and balances still in place and disaffected Nomads just trying to get by), is in some ways a continuation of a Second Turning, except that the pendulum begins to swing back to greater social conservatism and more law and order. The left and right tends to become polarized, with both sides thinking only they are right and setting off ugly culture wars. Institutions, which still thrived in the Second Turning (though they may have stopped being built) begin to atrophy and unravel. Distrust abounds, especially toward government, which seems to take a backseat to shallow entertainment and “bread and circuses.” Escapism into shallow entertainment continues into the Fourth Turning (the reality shows that have been popular since the ’90s are the modern equivalent of the circus freak shows, vaudeville acts, and dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s.) Sex roles are at their most ambiguous during this time, and the gap between the wealthy and less wealthy widens. The most recent Third Turning started with Reagan’s presidency in the early 1980s and ended sometime in the first decade of the new millennium (the most likely dates are 2001 or 2008). The last Third Turning before the most recent one is characterized by the excesses and opulence of the 1920s, the worship of money and material wealth, the jazz age (considered rebellious music at the time and the Lost incarnation of rap and hip hop, a musical form that was later incorporated into the Big Band music of the GI Generation, much as hip hop has been incorporated into Millennial EDM and dance pop), and the brazen “bad behavior,” political apathy, and disrespect shown by Lost young adults toward their Missionary elders.
AFourth Turning, with now-pragmatic, non-nonsense Nomads in midlife (and Prophets in high level leadership roles as early elders) is a national crisis, with no Artists to keep things in check. No matter what the Crisis itself is, things tend to go awry and quickly go out of control. Children are overprotected in this newly dangerous world, and adults just try to get by as best they can, but have little trust in their government or the people who run it. But it’s also during the Crisis that the seeds are sown for the new cycle that will begin in the First Turning: renewed community spirit and people in crisis helping each other. This could be seen during the Great Depression and WWII. What worries me is that so little of that is seen during this Crisis so far. But maybe it’s still too early.
On crises that don’t end well.
If a Crisis ends very badly, it could spell the end of or the fracturing of that particular society, or even–in a very bad case scenario–the end of modernity or even civilization as we know it. If a Crisis ends well, it will lead to a First Turning and a brand new historical cycle (we are currently in the Millennial Cycle, and have been since 1946). If the Millennials are thwarted in their efforts to rebuild society to one that will work for them (and for everyone), we could fall into a Dark Age or a banana-republic-like dystopia with an accompanying loss of progress, or even of modernity. In the very worst case scenario (should humanity survive), we could even revert to barbarism and the complete loss of technological and scientific progress.
Who is Steve Bannon and what does he know?
Steven Bannon is Trump’s chief strategizer and adviser. He seems to have so much influence over Trump’s decisions that people have jokingly (or not so jokingly) referred to him as President Bannon. I’m sure this doesn’t sit well with Trump, but I’m not going to discuss Trump’s narcissism; we already know all about that.
Steve Bannon is a filmmaker, businessman and far-right (now known as alt-right) activist who has no political experience. However, he is intelligent and has read Strauss and Howe’s books and considers The Fourth Turning his bible. He is also a white supremacist and heads up the alt-right, neo-Nazi news website, Breitbart News. Breitbart News is populated by neo-Nazis and people affiliated with the KKK. For all I know, Bannon might himself be a member of the KKK; I know many of the Trump administration’s supporters are.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, Bannon made a film called Generation Zero. Given the fact it’s really subtle propaganda for the far right, it’s actually a well made film, and is palatable enough (no racist slurs) that I could see how it might have been used to win gullible or ignorant people over to his side. While the film addresses the excesses and abuses of Wall Street in the film (so you almost think he might sympathize with the Occupy protesters even though it’s really more Tea Party), he also seems to blame the entire financial crisis on the narcissism and excesses of the hippies of the 1960s, who morphed into these greedy Wall Street bankers. Like all propaganda, there are grains of truth here, but they are intended to disguise a far right agenda that is far from benign (which I will get to later). I recommend watching the film, especially because of its detailed discussion about the four turnings and Strauss and Howe generational theory (which is a valid theory in my opinion), but please be mindful of the hidden alt-right message here.
Bannon is not only a white supremacist and outspoken member of the alt-right, he is also a great admirer of Vladimir Lenin, a Russian Communist dictator from the early 20th century. It’s jarring how this administration seems to regard certain dictatorial Russian leaders (such as Putin) as mentors at best, and possibly even as heroes. But I digress. In one of his most damning statements to the press, Bannon said,
“I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” — Steve Bannon for The Daily Beast, 2013.
There is also a video of him being interviewed on Fox and Friends in 2014, in which he says something along these same lines, but I’m not able to find the video now. Perhaps it’s been removed. In that interview (which I did see so I’ll paraphrase), Bannon said that the only way to enact change was to create mass rioting and chaos.
How Bannon is using historical turning theory for his own dystopian agenda.
Bannon appears to be using fourth turning theory for purposes of destroying our democracy and, knowing we are at such a vulnerable point in history and bloodshed is more likely than not (there is always bloodshed in any fourth turning), he seems dead set on using what he knows to instigate mass unrest, suffering, strife and upheaval by enacting outrageous policies that enrage the left and any people of reason (the way I see it, the Left are now the real conservatives, who don’t want to lose what little democracy and freedom we have left). He seems to want America to become a permanent hellish dystopia run by authoritarian rulers who allow no freedoms to the people and no mercy shown to anyone who isn’t white and Christian.
An article appeared on The Huffington Post the other day, which I will link here. It goes into more detail about Bannon and the Trump administration’s real intentions and it’s disturbing reading.
This article deeply disturbed me for a number of reasons. Bannon seems to be cherry-picking S&H’s theory, using it for his own evil ends, and in the process totally discrediting a perfectly good theory of history that until now, was almost unknown. William Strauss died several years ago, and I’m sure would be turning in his grave if he knew the ways his theory is being used and may soon be associated with the alt-right and extreme racism, even though it was never intended to be used that way. Bannon completely leaves out the fact that, in any fourth turning, there is also (toward the end) an increase in a sense of community, with people helping each other, and this renewed sense of community helps sow the seeds for the first turning to come (if the crisis ends well). Fourth turnings are always bad, but they don’t have to be completely devastating, and they do have their good points such as strengthening community spirit and fomenting a desire for families to stay together and protect each other. I also think it’s incredibly immoral of Bannon to “stir the pot” and actually attempt to instigate chaos and bloodshed that is bound to happen on its own anyway.
My comment under this post:
To be fair, there is validity in 4th turning theory. I read S&H’s book in 1997 (also their excellent “Generations’); these 80-100 year cycles are pretty obvious, and S&H nailed the timing of the 4T — many years ahead of time. So it all seems pretty valid. You have to read the book with an open mind and not through Bannon’s dark filter. That being said, I completely disagree with Bannon’s racist, authoritarian politics and I also do not believe this is a war of Judeo-Christianity against Islam. It’s a war alright, but it’s a civil war between those on the far right (like Bannon), who want to see a new authoritarian, xenophobic regime with all our freedoms removed, and those who (like me) want to see a more European style social democracy that puts the people first. There’s no telling how things will resolve and what sort of first turning will result in a few more years (or ten more years, if you go by the 2008 start date). Bannon’s vision of a new America is hell to me, and I think, to most. I do agree it may not end well, and at the very least, many will die and our physical borders may be altered. I also think that Bannon mis-using 4T theory to his own ends to create global chaos is evil beyond belief.”
I’m not giving up hope for a better future.
Credit: Norman Rockwell (member of the Lost generation) — “The Golden Rule” (1961)
In spite of the country feeling like it’s cracking up like a bar of Turkish taffy, I’m not giving up hope. Perhaps this unfortunate presidency is actually the wake up call we all need for change to actually happen. Already, there are new movements getting under way that show no signs of stopping. The new and growing Indivisible movement seems to be the Left’s answer to the Tea Party, and seems better organized with clearer goals than Occupy was. Demonstrations are taking place in every major city and are spreading to the suburbs. There’s a huge one going on in Raleigh here this very weekend (I wish I was there!). I think people are finally waking up to what is happening. To quote the movie Network, they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! The sheep have become tigers.
Here is another comment I wrote on a Facebook group about 4T theory. It describes what I would like to see happen in the future and how this crisis might be resolved, if things go well:
If the 4T began in 2001, it has only a few years left. We have reached the peak of the crisis, and it’s a wake up call to a lot of people. It will get worse, but is not unresolvable. We will have 4 years of hell under this president (or whoever replaces him, such as Pence) and quite possibly, California and other states (perhaps the entire west coast) will secede. All this will happen very quickly. For a short time it will be absolute hell. I don’t have to describe that — I think we can all see what sort of hell it will be. In 2020, Sanders runs again (he says he will) and this time, Millennials who sat out this election (and are all of voting age by then) go to the polls in droves — and Bernie wins (I simply cannot see Trump winning over Bernie after all the damage he will do and is already doing). Also, more of the Boomer generation will have passed on and will have less influence than they do now. Millennials, now reaching midlife, rail behind Sanders (or whoever rises to power to replace him, since he is quite elderly even now) and begin to enter the political sphere and have some influence. The New Silents [the kids being born now who are entering their preteen years or early teens] will be their helpmates, as S&H predicted. They begins to rebuild society with the help of those of us older generations who want the same). This brings us into the 1T. But instead of celebrating victory, this time, the first few years will be about recovering from trauma and helping each other recover. It will be about reconstruction more than victory, so perhaps Millennials won’t become as hubristic as GIs were. The infrastructure will be repaired and rebuilt, and for the first time, we will have socialized healthcare, in addition to some modern version of those things we are about to lose (Medicare, social security, good public schools, etc.). If the 4T began in 2008 and not 2001, it’s going to take longer. Things could get much worse and we could be destroyed completely. So I hope we’re nearing the end of it. I also don’t see us being as much of a world power as we were the last time around, we will have learned humility. That’s actually a good thing. We need to put an end to our lack of humility, narcissism and greed, once and for all, and relearn empathy and community spirit, even if it means our borders are smaller and we have less power in the world.
Neil Howe Interview: Inside Bannon’s Brain
After writing this post, I just came across this video. It’s an interview with Neil Howe, one of The Fourth Turning‘s authors, setting the record straight about his theory. (Sorry, I am not able to embed this video).
394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Not too long ago, one of my regular readers spoke of seeing a bunch of military tanks practicing for a martial law takeover. In America, I am hearing of an increasing number of incidents like this. I try to avoid the news, but there’s an increasing and unavoidable sense of panic that our nation may be on the brink of a removal of all our freedoms as martial law becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s very frightening.
But what I really want to talk about is the feeling of unreality and dissociation that accompanies seeing something like what my reader did. She said when she saw the tanks, she felt as if she was dreaming. It didn’t seem real to her. I know that feeling, and I think almost everyone who is old enough knows that feeling: it happened on September 11, 2001.
I think just about everyone remembers exactly what they were doing the moment it happened. I’m not sure of the psychological reasons why whenever there is a major historical disaster — JFK or MLK getting shot and killed…Pearl Harbor…The Challenger disaster…9/11 — we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing with unusual clarity. It’s as if our mind takes a picture at the moment we hear or see bad news.
Here’s how I remember 9/11. It’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago, because my memory of it is so clear and sharp edged. Yet I can’t remember what I had for breakfast that morning.
That day was a brilliant and beautiful, filled with sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It was warm as early September can be, but the oppressive humidity of high summer was gone. Fall was in the air.
I was at work, in the lunch room, making myself a cup of coffee when I heard. A coworker came in, looking pale as a sheet. He said one of the Twin Towers in New York was down, that a plane had crashed into it. I stared at him, thinking he must be joking. But I could tell from his face he was not. I forgot all about the coffee, and followed him into one of the offices where a TV was on. Everyone was gathered around the TV, and there was an eerie silence. No one said a word.
On the TV they were showing a replay of the plane crashing through the first tower. I felt like I was dreaming. No, this couldn’t be real. It looked like a movie — an action movie like “Independence Day.” No way was this happening. It had to be a movie, with phenomenal special effects.
As I stared at the screen, I saw the second tower go down in black smoke and flames. A plane had crashed through it too. No, no, no, this wasn’t happening. It was some elaborate set-up, like the “War of the Worlds” bogus radio newscast back in the 1930s.
In a fog, I slowly walked back to my desk. I only had one phone call that day. Although the office didn’t close, no one was working…and no one cared. No other customers called. No one talked, except in hushed whispers. There was a lot of crying going on, even for those who had lost no one in the disaster and had never been to New York City in their lives. As for myself, I felt nothing. I just felt numb. I didn’t feel like myself at all. It wasn’t until the next day that I burst into tears thinking about it. I can’t even imagine how it would have felt to have been right there, watching these horrible events unfold from a New York City apartment window, as many did…or worse, be just outside the towers when it happened.
Whenever we hear bad news, whether it’s something that affects only us (such as when someone we love dies) or something that affects an entire nation like 9/11, we remember these events with the clarity of a movie. I’m not sure what the reason is for this, or what purpose it serves, but I believe it’s a form of dissociation–when we temporarily split from ourselves and feel as if we’re viewing the events from an outsider’s perspective. That accounts for the surrealness of these moments. It’s why we have a photographic memory for them. Maybe this is a way we protect ourselves from the shock of unbearably bad news at the moment it happens — and can’t grieve properly until our minds are ready to process it.
How does everyone remember 9/11 and what was your experience of it like?