Remembering 2016

It was indeed a tumultuous year. And, I think a year that will be remembered as a turning point.

Straus and Howe argue that there is a four generation cycle to history. The basic idea is that people who grow up around the same time share similar attitudes based on their experiences of that time. Each generation faces certain pivotal challenges (that are called “turnings”) that shape these attitudes and which are cyclical.

Why cycles?  Why not straight line growth? Sir Kenneth Clark pondered that question in his Civilisation Series. He thought it was because old paradigms wear out and need to be updated. Straus and Howe would argue that the cause is more closely related to needs of generations to give up individuality to cope with crisis and the urge to re-assert individuality and autonomy when the crisis is past. Each produces an over-reaction. Too much conformity and then too much individuality.

The model seems to fit the period from 1945  to the present remarkably well. The first so-called turning in that period was a “high” after the war had been won and the peace took hold. This high went straight through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.

BTW, a so called “prophet generation” is born and raised during the end of the crisis and grows up during the “high”

Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening

The boomers?  As a boomer myself, this does seem to fit.

Then comes the “awakening”, a period when folks want more autonomy and attack institutions. This certainly started in the 1960’s and continued at least through the 1970’s. The so called Age of Aquarius? Again, the model appears to fit like a glove.

BTW, a “nomad” generation is born and raised during this period.

Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening adults,

Gen X? Ah, punk rock and grunge?

Then comes the “unravelling” when autonomy is at a peak and institutions are weakest. We saw this through the 1980’s and  1990’s evidenced by growing divisiveness in the public sector and “greed is good” morals in the private sector. Anything goes! It is interesting to think perhaps that the fall of the Soviet Union was part of the great “unravelling” of that period.

BTW,  a “hero generation”is born during the unravelling.

Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis,

Millennials?  It is too soon to tell if the millenials will take this role.

The final turning is a new “crisis”, where we face a renewed threat to our national, and perhaps international well being. We know form history that these sorts of crises incubate for a time. So did both the first and second great wars. And so too may be the crisis that shapes the period form 2000 to 2020 or so. We have certainly had events that appear as crisis including the rise of terrorism, and the 2007 financial meltdown,

BTW, those born in the new crisis fit the “artist archetype”.

… great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice.

Gen Z?

So, does the model give us any guidance to where we are in 2016? If it fits, the latest crisis period started somewhere around the turn of the century. It has festered now for more than a decade and may continue for another decade or so into the 2020’s.

So is it now coming to a head?  It is not beyond the realm of imagination to argue that the 2016 election is just that sort of concrete manifestation of institutional failure and crisis. Perhaps. If so, us boomers are doomed to play only a limited role as elders. Will Gen X  nomads lead us through this? Will millenials emerge as the “hero generation”?

Let us see. But even if the model is a less than perfect fit, I do believe that 2016 has given us a turning point in history. We are now in a new and rather unsettled era and there is no going back.


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