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I’ll be frank: quasi-deterministic theories of societal evolution scare the hell out of me. (Marxism, anyone?) Human beings are not machines. Human systems, in their extravagant complexity, are poorly modeled by extravagantly simple models. Historical “forces” do not operate on populations with the linear elegance of the physicist’s force vectors operating on a particle. Having said that, we are all here locked into the era in which we find that time and chance have deposited us, and we can hardly be expected to ignore the questions: what is happening now, and where is it all headed? So, theorize we must.

I appreciate Lyons’ thoughtful skepticism, and I also appreciate the value, at the very least, of taking seriously the deep influence of contemporary culture on the striving of each generation. Americans may lack the sense of tragedy that informs the old world but we are just one cataclysm away from relearning it. That possibility alone commends consideration of the kind of cycles Howe lays out. At the very least it can knock us out of our absurd complacency and our profound ingratitude towards the past. Who imagined, in 1913, that the world would soon erupt in flames that would take thirty years to douse? Well, a few people actually did. I don’t hear anything usefully prescriptive in Howe’s analysis, but the warning is loud and clear: peace and prosperity are never guaranteed. We would be foolish to ignore the increasingly urgent bells that toll as the rich heritage of our culture disintegrates before our very eyes.

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All I know is, Jesus is Lord, and things don’t get better and better.

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Sep 5, 2023·edited Sep 5, 2023Liked by N.S. Lyons

"[L]acking any tragic sense, we have no antibodies with which to ward off the genuine calamities, hardships, and tyrannies that other nations have faced throughout time." That is a brilliant description of American's dangerous optimism. It reminds me of what Bernanos wrote about the difference between optimism and hope:

"The word "pessimism" has no more meaning, in my eyes, than the word "optimism" which is generally opposed to it [...] The pessimist and the optimist agree with each other in not seeing things as they are. The optimist is a happy fool, the pessimist an unhappy one. You can very well imagine them as looking like Laurel and Hardy - and after all, be fair, I would be quite right to say I resemble the second rather than the first... What about this? I know very well that among you there are people of very good faith who confuse hope and optimism. Optimism is a substitute for hope which official propaganda monopolizes for its own uses. Optimism approves of everything, submits to everything, believes everything; it is the virtue above all of the taxpayer. After the public treasury has taken everything away from him, even his shirt, the taxpayer subscribes to a nudist magazine, declares that he's going around that way for reasons of health and never felt better[...]

Optimism is a false hope, for the use of the cowardly and the stupid. Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength, and heroic determination of the soul. The highest form of hope is despair overcome."

I do believe that there is more hope in the US than in Europe because a large part of Americans are not yet full converts in the religion of the modern State worshiping that Pascal saw coming in the 17th century, explaining why there are still remnants of self governed communities in the US, unlike in Europe, where almost nobody sees salvation in anything else than the State. But that slimmer of hope is threatened by the utter incapacity of most Americans, even in these communities, to think tragically.

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You bring up an excellent point. A fourth turning means change, but not necessarily change for the better. Look at Britain's last turning after WWII: "Glorious" British socialism and a long steady decline and loss of the empire, culminating in what appears to be a disintegration of Britian itself into its constituent nationalities. The only real gains were made by the technocratic bureaucracy. Britain's biggest accomplishment during this period was to become the junior partner in the American empire. Perhaps the Unted States, or part of it, will become the junior partner of a new Chinese empire.

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One other thought - we have basically been living in a Progressive Technocracy since the last crisis. Perhpas it is Progressive Technocracy that is reaching its limits. If the Left was right about the weaknesses in the culture, perhaps it is in fact, the technocratic, and what is really needed is a renewal of the more human and individual centered set of cultural institutions that the countercultural revolution has been working to establish ... dunno.

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Haven't read this one, but have read Generations (their first book, published in 1991) more than once. Their timing is pretty remarkable, but there are several factors in this cycle which ought to concern us.

First, human longevity means that this cycle has far more Silent (Ameliorative / Compromise Generational Type) in power than at any earlier crisis, except the Civil War cycle (Buchanan was a Compromise generation member), which, in their own literature was something of a broken cycle. That too, was an odd cycle in which there was a reach back in Generation at the executive level.

Second and even more odd - there has already been an Xer (a Reactive / Nomad) in command - namely Obama. Obama, by their own admission and by their own generational scheme, is not a "boomer". But this is an incredibly unusual occurance - usually the Idealists surrender to the later generations only after the crisis period is coming to an end (Truman and Eisenhower being the Lost Generation presidents, for example).

In this case, we had a Reactive / Nomad be a key instigator of the setup. Why? Because the Boomers took power relatively early and young in this cycle (already in 1992, so 30 years on). Whereas, in previous cycles, the Idealists only came to power pretty late in life. After 16 years of Idealist rule, the country was already so repulsed by them that in 2008 neither major party nominated a Boomer. You had an Xer-Silent ticket for the Ds, and a Silent-Xer ticket for the Rs; an interesting mirror image. The country already yearned to move past the Boomers and so tried to resolve the looming crisis by moving ahead a generation - about 12 years too soon. Which experience was so irritating, that the country chose to put one of the more crass versions of Boomerism back in power, with a double Boomer ticket against another double Boomer ticket. This was the group that was supposed to provoke the crisis, and did, though not in the way Howe might have imagined.

All to install a Silent-Xer admin after all - a toady of the ancient regime - but also not an idealist - rather something of an anti-idealist; incapable of rallying the country, but only engaging in rank manipulation of the system that Silents mastered, to the point of completely discrediting it. Perhaps this is genuinely the objective.

Nevertheless, this cycle has had many oddities in their formula, so Howe should really spend more time considering how these might play out. Longer lifespans, shrinking populations, perhaps a smaller Millennial generation than thought (though perhaps it is much bigger and runs more like 2005 instead of 1998, as he predicted, more GFC than millennium, ironically enough).

And perhaps you are right - perhaps this is really a 500 year cycle of modernism - calling for total religious war akin to that of 1520s-1648/9. This time, rather than being branches of Christianity, instead Christianity will be pitted, once again, by the esoteric religions, as it was in the early Christian era of the atrophying Roman Empire. Esoteric religions repackaged for the industrial age; and justifying an industrial techno-feudal order.

Certainly, it doesn't seem a great outcome. And quite frankly, the South was reduced to 3rd world status for 100 years the last time the crisis was internal, as this one seems likely to be.

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There may be some validity in “Clio dynamics” or some sort of cyclical view of history- I am open-minded.

But there is zero evidence of his ability to predict the specific causes of meltdowns or the resolutions. Most of the book is simply tripe.

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Well, setting aside the child-like assumption that world history operates on some kind of clockwork-like system of predictable cycles, ignoring the rather large place chaos has played in human history, this piece, with its own conservative bias, just shows how bias from one political point of view or the other colors our view of what has happened in the past and what awaits us in the future. As far as I know, the only dependable lesson history has shown us, is that large empires or civilizations eventually fade and fall. How that happens, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, is very much based on subjective opinions.

FDR’s new deal, for instance, is seen both as the best of times and the worst of times depending on the political point of view of the reader. My best case is your worst case.

So creating a narrative in which our nation (or the world) will dependably swing from from crisis to triumph, over and over again, is simply not very helpful because we don’t know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Are we headed towards a cruel authoritarian hell-scape, with conservative laws restricting women’s basic health-care choices, enforced religious strictures and the celebration of the excesses of the rich, or will we see a squalid, self indulgent liberal world of governmental overreach, the evaporation of traditional family and gender roles, and the crushing weight of reverse discrimination against the new minority of white people?

What is undeniable is that America faces a number of very serious challenges right now and probably the least helpful advice would be to just wait until the next cycle and it will all be sunshine and roses…

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I spent 3 successive days at the beach over the long weekend reading the entire book. For my efforts, I earned a really nice tan and a mind abuzz with ideas, thoughts, questions, and possibilities. A thought provoking book; really enjoyed it. Thanks for your review!

My family includes me, a boomer; my wife, GenXer; and my children, Millennials and Homelanders. Over the years, we've gradually changed our thinking from "these are the last days; come Lord Jesus, come" to "even the early Christians believed they were living in the last days." So they were and so are we, but only in a broad sense.

There is no reason to believe that we won't survive this latest 4th Turning crisis; no reason to believe we have to, either. What I've noticed is that the character of the generations Howe describes does seem to be quite accurate and that the resulting impact on the generational turnings is also. I see in my wife and children much of the nature he describes and the return to family, solid values, realistic outlook and pragmatism is also notable. Makes me somewhat ashamed of being a boomer--as are all my older siblings, we even now seem to be oblivious to the impact of our generational thinking and the resulting damage to our culture, and how we failed to live up to our parents' GI Generation.

It would be almost impossible for Howe to predict the future and exactly what the 4th, and subsequent 1st Turning, will look like. But he has given us some relevant thinking and a viewpoint that will help us observe (and hopefully, shape) the outcome of each.

Reminds me of Yeats' "widening gyre" view of time and history.

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All human endeavor leads to failure. That’s it. You can call them cycles, turnings, epochs, or anything else, but if they are human systems, they will fail. New systems will emerge. They will eventually fail. There is no economic, governmental, or societal structure that will do anything other than, at some point, fail. Once freed from the utopian shackles of seeking the impossible, life and the inexorable march towards death begins with the fresh, clear-eyed perspective of someone who simply aims to live until he no longer does, for what is death but the failure to remain alive? How will I contribute to the possibility of a better future? By being kind to those I encounter on my journey and living as principled a life as I can given my constraints as a person who will fail continuously. This sounds like hopelessness and the darkest pessimism, but it is really the most optimistic posture I can possibly fathom.

Sincerely,

A Guy Who Recently Read A Lot of Camus and Thomas Mann 😁

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Some years ago, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about Strauss-Howe cycles and I think I may have discovered their underlying engine, which promptly led me to reinterpret the theory.

The engine, I posit, is a cyclical change in the optimal strategy for achieving success. In the previous 40 years - Awakening and Unraveling, there has been a large pile of societal surplus and the winning strategy has been to take. In general, you would win by taking more from the system then you put back into the system. This leads to depletion of the piles and an overall societal deficit. At that point, the winning strategy flips and you win by building up the system. You put in more than you take out. You build the system and then the system takes care of you. This goes on for 40 years until your society is again filled with massive caches of value to the point there's no point putting in anymore and the winning strategy flips back to taking.

In essence, I believe the Strauss-Howe cycles are better described as consisting of two plases to a cycle: a 40 year Individualism phase (Awakening and Unraveling) followed by a 40 year Collectivism phase (Crisis and High).

And this actually, if it turns out true, would also explain the origin of old age. As you know, one of the ways humans differ from animals is geriatrics. At some point, humans lose their reproductive capacity but continue living. Beyond that, they even lose the ability to provide for themselves but still don't die. In fact, they are being taken care of by other members of the species in what can't be explained by Darwinian laws of natural selection. Caring for their old parents (in addition for their young kids) puts a big strain on human adults that begs for an evolutionary explanation. And it's clear that one is needed because humans have a visceral reaction to all proposals for euthanizing their parents. Therefore, whatever natural force compels them to care for their parents HAS to be ingrained, gene-dependant and evolutionarily selected for. Yet I'm not aware of any explanations put so far. I think the best people have done so far is to propose it's a runaway effect of altruism which is selected for along the lines of the Selfish Gene Theory.

Yet if I'm right regarding these 40+40 year cycles, than geriatrics CAN be explained using evolutionary means. See, the life strategies in either the Individualism or Collectivism phases are diametrically opposed to each other. There's basically NO way for a healthy mentally well individual transitioning across their boundaries to discover the new winning strategy in time to adopt it. That's because the new winning strategy is EXACTLY the losing strategy from the previous cycle! It's maddness to even try it! Therefore, NOONE will try it on their own volition and - critically - no one will teach their children to do so! However... if your grandparents already experienced the previous time the big 80-year cycle was in this new coming phase... they could teach you, and your kids. They could tell you "sonny boy, that's not how you do things". And they would then explain to you how it used to be "in the old days" and even without knowing of these cycles they would impart to you the exact winning strategy for the age you're living in. Absolutely critical detail: the knowledge is transmitted directly from grandparent to grandchild, *bypassing the parent*! But this requires for your grandfather or grandmother to wait for FORTY YEARS, keeping the memory of the winning strategy so they could impart it to their grandchildren. So, since the point is to transfer knowledge over time, you could adapt to it by at one point shutting down the organism into a kind of low-power preservation mode. The only purpose of this mode is to retain information. All other biological functions are secondary. You can receive help in surviving from your children and to make it stick, they get genetically programmed to keep you alive even to their own detriment. Then, deep in the counter phase of the cycle, you impart your knowledge on young and impressable grandchildren (who are genetically programmed to uncritically belive everything you say) and pass away. By the time those grandchildren come to age, the counter phase of the cycle will pass and they, drawing on the stories their granny told them, will be able to *quickly* resynthesize the old-new winning strategy and win big time. Oh wait, you need extended families for this to work. Ah, I guess the West screwed itself with it's insistence on nuclear families. :)

Furthermore, there is good reason to believe the entire planet is synchronized in these Individualism-Collectivism cycles, because the cultures that are in contact and unsynced will probably cannibalize each other, or otherwise fail because in the area in interface, the opposite strategies will be in use in close proximity to each other - presumably preventing their competitivness to the parts of cultures outside of interface.

Which all amounts to this: if I'm right, we're in for 40 years of hard-on Collectivism, and the winning strategy will be to buildup rather than take apart, to give rather than to take. And if you want to experience Individualism again - all you need to do is survive for 40 years, and it'll come roaring back! xD

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Here's my prediction: there will be a Gulf of Tonkin event that will precipitate a declared war between NATO and Russia (as opposed to the undeclared one that is going on now). Both sides will suffer massive casualties, but the Russians will persist as they did against Charles XII in the 18th c., Napoleon in the 19th c. and Hitler in the 20th c. Those in the west who dragged their people into this war will be repudiated. It will be discovered that the reason AI looks "smart" is that the human screeds they are imitating were dim-witted.

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When I started reading this review of Howe’s “The Fourth Turning is Here,” I thought: Great, just what we need for a glorious future — a generation of “confident technocrats” in charge. Isn’t that what we almost already have almost everywhere? Then I read further where Mr. Lyons said it sounded to him like an extension of our present dystopia. Exactly, Mr. Lyons, because that’s what it is. I never read The Fourth Turning, although I had heard of it and was aware that it had gained a devoted following among some, yet a still small voice inside said, “Don’t bother.” Not that I wouldn’t listen to any of his ideas, just more a feeling of it being another futurist-style model that never really helps anything.

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"...he remains trapped within an inadvertently Hegelian progressive worldview." Don't we all? Lyons sums it up nicely when he says Howe doesn't even consider how all the West has been captured by 'run-away, progressive, managerial technocracy.'

We are blind to how utterly dependent we all have become on technology. Three-quarters of the world can't imagine eating without going to the store or relieving themselves without flushing the toilet. It's getting insane - true enough. But there is no road back. Howe can prophecy all he wants about the coming crisis, but if he doesn't take into account how vulnerable the global electrical distribution system is to space-weather, he's a false prophet.

Eugyppius calls them, 'pathologies of affluence.' They have made us blind to how, more or less instantly, a coronal mass ejection from the Sun can take down all the voltage transformers in the world. We have a solid historical record of massive solar flares bathing the Earth with trillions of tons of charged particles, plasma waves. Earth's magnetosphere will induce currents with these charged particles into all our conductor networks. All the transformers will be fried. Maybe God (time and chance) will give us a warning shot, (not the big one). But I am afraid we are globally sitting like the men of Lahaina. The wind is blowing hard. If a fire gets started, we are going to have a hard time finding the living amongst the dead. The technocracy that has captured us will be an incinerated corpse.

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None of this seems plausible and strikes me as a (possibly unconscious) way of massaging the conceit that we always have. Which is to think that we live in an especially pivotal moment in history.

My money is on incremental creeping change toward techno utopian ideals and lots of Substacks predicting a revolution that never comes.

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I think relying on Millennials to save the day is a bit tenuous. The Greatest Generation won the war, in part, because they had already been tested by the Depression. This generation has been raised in an era of unprecedented and largely uninterrupted affluence. Comfort produces complacency. Throw in the self esteem movement, safetyism, political correctness morphing into full blown wokeism and it would appear that the ground for future heroic action still needs tilling.

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