Sep 5, 2023Liked by N.S. Lyons

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.

Expand full comment

Human beings aren't machines, but what good is that if they behave like machines? They have to eat, yes? And they have to poop, yes? To sleep as well, and they need to work to produce. And what do they have, what do they own? If they want to get rich, how long will it take them to get rich? If they become spendtrifts, how long will it take them to spend what they have?

All of these things and more are machine-like. Time is machine-like. The speed by which I type words can be measured. 19 words per minute, if composing. The speed by which I read can also be measured. 300 words per minute. It takes you 15 times less time to read this comment than it takes me to write it. That is, also, machine-like.

Human beings aren't machines, but what good is that if you are constrained by machine-like parameters, measured and known by humans or not? What good is it that humans have free will and endless creativity if they don't know how to make spaceships? What good is your freedom to use Haiku if you don't know it even exists?

All of these and more are *material conditions* that set VERY hard limits and rules to human behavior. What good is our free will if that will will never be asked to make a choice? A facility unused - a facility nonexistent. Humans are machine-like, even if with free will.

Expand full comment

"Machine-like"? OK; in some contexts, from some angles, with a lot of squinting.

Machines? No. Never.

Expand full comment
Sep 7, 2023·edited Sep 7, 2023

"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."

Indeed. But not many. And especially not many economists or historians. The few who did were military officers like Helmuth von Moltke Sr, or technical analysts like Jan Gotlib Bloch, who argued in the 1890s that the firepower of new smokeless powder-operated magazine rifles and machine guns had rendered mass infantry maneuver tactics suicidally ineffective, and that entrenchment was the name of the game now. Prescient---too bad French officers didn't listen and remained enamored with the bayonet charge through August 1914.

They were doubly obtuse though; for the revolution in military affairs theorized by Bloch was proven fact a decade before the Great War, during the Russo-Japanese one. 20th century warfare was very different from 19th century warfare. And 21st century warfare is more different still. From Armchair Warlord on Twitter:

"The Ukrainian War isn't going to be 'the' war of the 21st century. It's probably going to be remembered as the minor war before WWIII that everyone observed very closely and then proceeded to draw wildly incorrect conclusions from, much like the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. The Russo-Japanese War showed exactly how combat was in the early 20th century and presaged the character of the First World War - [especially] the Western Front's [style] static fighting around Port Arthur. Machine guns, barbed wire, extensive trench works, hellish concentrations of artillery (including the "tactical" use of siege cannons) - and apocalyptic casualties - all featured during the extended Siege of Port Arthur. Each side lost over 50,000 soldiers in five months.

"There were of course foreign observers present on both sides - lots of them! They learned practically nothing. Much as in the American Civil War, Western European officers saw a battlefield that was simply too vast and alien to draw uncomfortable lessons from. Those conclusions that were drawn frequently reinforced preconceived notions of warfare. The French saw bloody but successful Japanese bayonet assaults, preceded by fire and careful infiltration, and came away thinking their own - far cruder - tactical methods had been validated. The Austrians completely ignored the war's lessons on cover and concealment, and drew their artillery up like they were fighting Napoleon in 1914. Russian artillery, firing indirectly from defilade positions they had learned at great cost to use, simply wiped them out. The British Expeditionary Force landed in France in 1914 with a mere two machine guns per battalion, weapons they regarded largely as tactical curiosities more suited to mowing down tribesmen than fighting "civilized" enemies in Europe.

"The officers of that age have been widely mocked for failing to learn such seemingly-obvious lessons, but perhaps we should be more understanding. Our own seem to be dismissing the Russo-Ukrainian War as a bludgeoning match between crude Slavic armies. Drones? A curiosity. Electronic warfare? An afterthought. Russian artillery? Crude. Trenches? We'll attack them. Mass casualties? We have better medkits. Russian air defenses? We have stealth. Conscription? Undemocratic. Industrial mobilization? Soviet inefficiency.

"Fortunately we have the benefit of history. Unfortunately our leaders seem determined to avoid learning from it. Perhaps they should stop coping and start adapting before the enemy decides to teach the necessary lessons."

Mr. Warlord didn't even mention the satellite-based integrated ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) system the Russkies are utilizing to conduct missile strikes against whatever Ukrainian targets they see fit. Nor how the Chinese would use their version of such a system to send any USN carrier strike group to the bottom of the Pacific if it came to that.

The post-WWII Long Peace (read: US military hegemony) which boomer professors like Howe and Pinker take for granted is over. This is a new era. If they want to predict its future, they might as well build an alter to Ares, ritualistically dissect a goat upon it, and read the spilt entrails.

Expand full comment

Thank you for this thorough and provocative post. It is unsettling to consider how far outside the scope of my own imagination the possibility of WW III lives. It seems... unthinkable. But Verdun was unthinkable once too. There is something about the image of aircraft carriers drifting to the bottom of the Pacific that shakes me. I don’t think I am unusual in wanting to look away.

Well, here we are again. I honestly have to sit with this a bit. War feels in the abstract to an American of my generation either winnable or in the worst case like a tedious and frustrating stalemate. I know that’s not how it actually works, obviously, but there are layers upon layers of “knowing”. There is more to upheaval than cancel culture, media bias and trans activism. It’s time to wake up.

Expand full comment

"There is something about the image of aircraft carriers drifting to the bottom of the Pacific that shakes me."

Imagine having served on one and knowing people who still do. I finished my 4 year enlistment in the Navy in 2014, so this subject is more near and dear to me than the average American. And don't get me wrong---aircraft carriers are awesome. Launching ordinance-laden F-18s from them to carry out strike missions in Iraq and Afghanistan is a monument to American engineering and military prowess. But they are obsolete vis-a-vis WWIII.

One of the most perspicacious observers I've found in the past couple years, and one of the best prognosticators concerning the conflict in eastern Ukraine, is Will Schryver, because he focuses on hard-nose military affairs. I encourage everyone to follow him on Twitter and read all of his essays. And if you want some idea of the revolution in military affairs concerning naval surface combat over the past couple decades, start with his essay about aircraft carriers, titled Dinosaurs of the Deep Blue Sea:


Expand full comment

Thank you. I read the linked article and also watched the simulation. I’m now subscribed.

Expand full comment

Their idea is more Hegelian - it has an Idealist generation and a Civic (Statist) generation that perform two of Hegel's trinity: the Idea, which gets instantiation on Earth as the State, which gives rise to Society - Hegel's Holy Spirit which provides the dialectical opposition to the most recent Idea and creates the space for the Aufhebung of the prior idea (fulfilled by the other two generations - particularly the Artists, who both give voice to societal concerns and operate the machinery of the Civics state ... like our present octogenarian gerentocracy.

The reactives do as well, tho more as a warning and a jeremiad of how the state is going to misbehave. Look no further than Tolkien and Lewis (esp Abolition of Man) to see it. But in the 1690s it was Increase Mather).

Expand full comment

Doug, help me out here: to whom does “Their” (the first word in your post) refer? I know next to nothing about Hegel, so without that context and without understanding the initial referent I can’t seem to grasp the point you’re making, and I want to!

Expand full comment

Strauss and Howe. The generational model is a warmed over 4 type model that can be corresponded to hegel's dialectical interplay, ideas are embodied in the statewhu EU

Expand full comment

Thank you!

Expand full comment

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

Expand full comment

What Lucy said in a nutshell can be expanded. We have had seers (with the vision of Christ) show – in broad, vague perspective – what is to come. N.S. Lyons fleshes out the vague with keenly discerned details, supporting the broad perspective, even if not a believer.

The consensus of Christ's seers is that the dystopia attending the end of this age will be demonic – producing vast destruction and ruin – and that the only sector that survives will be those who cleave to Him in death and resurrection. For the ruin will be global, utter, and awful.

What survives will be the prophesied New Earth paradise. All these developments will bring Humanity itself to its moment of truth. The battle is cosmic – the Saviour and the destroyer speak on this battleground – blessed is the man or woman who is not offended in Christ.

Expand full comment

Now that I’m 73, I’m better at nutshells. Either it’s endtimes or the Lord has something else in mind. The demonic attack on male/female, children, and real marriage, that is, on the Good Creation, cannot continue.

Expand full comment

Hope springs eternal that man will save himself. On the contrary, Jesus said that without God’s intervention there would be no flesh left alive.

Expand full comment

That's a tricky one; there's always an element of individual free will and personal decision in acknowledging the presence of G~d, and the attendant responsibilities. Unless one is a predestinarian, a theological position that I've always found to be too fraught with contradictions to accept.

I've also known people to be so burned by elements of their religious upbringings that they can't get to do it, at least at the overt level. I've heard their stories; I can't judge them for their rejection of theism. I can't speak to judgements made by the supreme being or the divine purpose on that question. And theodicy has always been the great quandary for moral montheism, at least for the religion of Christ. It resists easy reckoning.

Expand full comment
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.

Expand full comment

Hope / optimism: a great distinction. Thank you.

Iain McGilchrist, in "The Master and His Emissary," writes about two 'personalities' or 'styles' of knowing the world. One is driven by the non-negotiable requirement that all complex organisms effectively manipulate the world in order to survive. In McGilchrist's formulation "manipulate" includes everything an organism must do to survive. That includes obvious things like finding food and and mates but also a whole raft of activities that require the world to be observed as a dis-integrated assembly of parts. The complementary style of knowing apprehends the world as an integrated whole, without which adaptive responses to complexity are impossible.

The whole exploration is really too rich to summarize effectively in a few sentences, but I raise it here because of one fascinating claim that McGilchrist makes which speaks directly to your comment. He repeatedly characterizes the personality of the manipulative style of knowing as exclusive and optimistic. It is exclusive in that it addresses only those elements it sees as distinct. It is optimistic in that it orients towards outcomes it positively anticipates. In a sense, it has to be optimistic in the sense you describe above. The complementary, integrated awareness the author often describes as "sad" or "melancholy." I honestly can't remember if he also uses the word "tragic" - it's a long book - but the feeling is certainly there.

In any case, to get to my point, McGilchrist offers nothing like a cyclical theory of history. He does, however, make a persuasive case that human cultures can become radically unbalanced towards either pole. Modern technocratic culture delivers a prime example of this unbalance in the direction of mechanistic ideology. The ridiculous faith people have in the efficacy of bureaucratic solutions to the tragic conditions of existence is so ordinary now that people scarcely notice it at all. I read somewhere once that Americans are "solutionists": we encounter no problem so difficult that a campaign to remedy it cannot be launched. I suppose this is part of our strength. It has certainly delivered many great outcomes. At the same time it enforces a very real blindness to the constrained and finite nature of human existence. Our historical suspicion of the State may protect us but, as you write above, it isn't something we can take to the bank.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

I don't really think that CW1 or WW2 were a great outcome for the American people either though the Empire grew and the oligarchs prospered. The War for Independence was a plus at least if you weren't a Tory. But the Founders were perhaps unique in the history of the world in their collective wisdom.

And, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Expand full comment

Our Constitution was also made for citizens who had skin in the game

Expand full comment

I agree. The best way to look at it is; does the good outweigh the bad? After CW1, I think it did. After WWII for Britain, it did not.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

This is my thought, the only interesting moral theorizing I see these days is coming from people promoting a virtue ethics. The technocrats are actually pretty bad at managing at this point and so can neither offer a moral argument for their power or an effectiveness argument.

Expand full comment

well, i think they DO offer an effectiveness argument - basically it is economic optimization: i.e. efficiency. This is quite a different economic argument than tradeoffs. It is the technocratic "solution" (we have figured out the best outcome and will align everything to achieve it) which is quite different from the way most microeconomics works, recognizing that there are tradeoffs to any position (i.e. strategy where you may look to be a focus/differentiator AND a cost leader - for your segment at least - but chosing to be one thing means chosing not to be others). Most of our politics have abandoned this idea of tradeoffs and it started with the Boomer technocracy of the 1990s. Suddenly, trade policy wouldn't have winners and losers, everyone would win, albeit in different ways. I don't mean to single it out, just that this was the sort of utopian technocratic optimism and how it manifested itself.

I agree that moral theorizing is coming from virtue ethics - that there are in fact real hard choices to be made; that excellence requires discipline and requires foregoing quite a few things that might well be gratifying, right before they destroy your life.

I find that as it has become increasingly clear that technocracy is a religion - and one of hate - it seeks the elimination of friction, obstacles and opposition - that people are starting to reconsider whether abandoning religion as superstitious nonsense might actually have been a very bad idea, indeed. And that, if religion - the need to declare some things sacred and others profane - is fundamental to human organization (and I think there is much evidence to say that it is) that we would be better off returning to some of the religious tradition that built the amazing system that is The West - namely that we return to a religion of hope and charity, that is, love. The faith part is the difficulty to overcome. But there is immense benefit to being able to unburden yourself of things that you can just hand over to God.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

Great points. Keep in mind the four turnings theory timeline (which I believe in) doesnt match up with American generations as theyre commonly defined. If a saeculum lasts say 88 years then it would map onto 4 generations of 22 years each. But our generations are 18-15 year cohorts each. So an American saeculum would have 5 generations.

If you defined millennial as 1982-2001 and Gen Z as 2001-2020 then the theory might match up better. However we dont.

But even then I think his love for millennials is misplaced, I think they missed their window and are a weak generation (historically). Or one could view Millennials as the left wing technocrat regime hoping to supplant the Constitution and Gen Z dudes as the reactionary right wing regime restorers. I think thats one of many contours that internal crisis could play out. But Howe hates specifics, because thats where horoscopes are weakest.

Expand full comment

Thanks for the comment. I have to disagree with you - there are four generations to a cycle. On this point, Strauss and Howe are quite clear and quite right. The typologies are Idealist, Reactive/Nomad, Civic, Ameliorative/Artist. In the previous cycle we ended on the GI/Grubber (Civic) and Silent (Ameliorative/Artist) generations. In our cycle, we have Boomers (Idealist), GenX (Reactive/Nomad), Millennial (Civic) and GenZ (Ameliorative/Artist). I have to say, I think they are all playing to type, though in fairness the model was established thinking about exactly this group, then they wrote it back into history. The years the selected - rightly I think - are Silent 1926-1942, Boomer 1943-1960, Xer 1961-1980 and Millennial 1980-1999 or so. They sketched out GenZ and beyond in Generations and I don't know if they have tweaked the endpoints. I think broadly they ought to.

Silents, I guess, might have started 1 or even 2 years later (basically never got to see combat, tho might have been in basic training when the war ended, 1926 kids got in 1944. Their argument is actually a bit different, it was that by the time Silents got any action, it was quite clear the Allies were going to win).

Boomers were born starting in the optimism that came with the certainty of American victory, which was all but assured in 1943. Moreover, there were huge differences in draft deferments for those born in 1942 vs those born in 1943. if you were born in 42 and went to college you weren't going to be picked. The changes in 1965 meant that you needed a good draft number.

Xers definitely run to the end of the 1970s, tho I think sometimes the very late 70s kids had too many Boomer parents to fit in X. A 1974 kid with a 1978 younger sibling might feel like different generations, so possibly Millennials start a bit earlier, but it isn't hard to quibble. X definitely runs to 76 or 77, 78-80 is borderline. The real question is, did Reagan's first two years already start producing the cultural optimism that carried over for the next 20+ years from "Morning Again in America" or not, but that is clearly the beginning of the inward era of focus on making a career and competitive parenting, of focus on the self and one's own that is where Millennial specialness originates. Let's keep 1981, regardless. So far, we have two generations that are 18 and 21 years inclusive, and very close to 22, but we are short a few years, so some generation is going to have to get some extras, and it will be the millennials. one of the tropes has been to cut off the millennials sometime around 1998 - basically those who would have been 3 and sensed the change in the mood of the country after 9/11. But I think that may be wrong. I think there was actually good feeling in the country then. It was actually the financial crisis and the malaise of Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2006-2009 era that really marked the opening of the crisis era. It was the response to those things that set up the present conflict. I mean, yes, the security apparatus that 9/11 empowered is also part of it, but even so, I have a sense that the millennials will be a long generation from 1981-2006 or so. This is similar to what happened with the GI gen - which ran from 1901-1925 (or maybe a year or two more) so basically a 25 year or even 27 generation. Very powerful. But the success and influence was very unevenly distributed. Most of the political and economic power was held by the 1917-1923 cohorts - these were the primary WWII combatants and got the most benefit out of the suite of postwar programs - they had the longest postwar career and the least interruption form the war plus, they got and got the benefits of, the GI Bill. The 1903 kid wasn't going to go and get a BA at 44. the 1920s GIs didn't lose work years to the depression, either.

With GenZ running 2007-2027; if so, that makes this cycle a bit shorter, but not much. By 2027 and into the election of 2028 we will be coming to a resolution of the crisis period with new idealists being born as we head into the future state of 2030. But let's see. I think we might get a busted cycle - not like the Civil War cycle (which didn't have a "proper" civic gen.

But it is the last cohorts of the Millennials who will "win" the victory and secure the future. Alas, I think this is among the wokest parts of the generation so what glory there will be will redound to the kids born after 1989, and perhaps those born after 1999.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

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…

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

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.


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

Expand full comment

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

Expand full comment

Individual interest and group interest are better considered as a balance resulting from open-ended negotiation than as enemies of each other.

The error of most of the political ideologues I read is that they've made an assumption that one or the other must dominate- and that the conditions of social relations are to be viewed as static, rather than dynamic. Consider how many political "science" poll surveys ignore the possibility that humans might be capable of learning new things and becoming more intelligent over time, sometimes fairly quickly. Both as individuals and as groups.

The most rigid and fanatical ideological extremists implicitly cast individual interests and group interests as sworn opponents, involved in an ideological cage match with only one survivor. Puerile thinking, but at present it seems to be very popular puerile thinking.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

"...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.

Expand full comment

Additionally the technocracy weltanschauung has destroyed the economic rationale for the family. We are barely human without families structured for purpose. The ancient purpose was life, survival. It was economic. You needed a family, you needed a tribe. Now you need drugs and Netflix. The family just gets in your way. I'm telling you the truth. I can't see a road back.

Expand full comment

Are you talking about Everybody, or just your own personal situation?

Expand full comment

I am talking about life immersed in technology. My own family situation is a little different. I own my own business and most of my children work for me. A little different, I said. We don't understand the world through the lens of family. You go to school, not to be a good father, or good son. You go to school to prepare for service to the technocracy.

Expand full comment

"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."

I'm not an expert in the physics of coronal mass ejections. If you are, please elaborate on the probability of such a massive CME occurring. I can't find anything on the Internet indicating anything other than what I already knew: 1) that solar particle ejections sometimes cause noticeable but minor electrical interference; and that 2) "trillions of charged particles" isn't very many, in the grand scheme of things.

At any rate, if the electrical grid really is that fragile and vulnerable, then In'shallah, as the Arab Christians say.

Expand full comment

Sorry trillions of tons of charged particles, my bad.

I am not an expert in particle physics. I am curious about the past. We can start with the Carrington Event in 1859. Then there is 1921, 1941, 1989. Then there was the near miss in 2012. Congress has held hearings on the potential destructivness of CMEs and EMPs. And yes, almost everybody dies in the big one scenario.

But these years are nothing compared to auroras that lit up the tropics for weeks in the age predating electrical networks.

It's all confirmed by the elevated C14 in the tree-ring dendrochronology. 773-774 was a big one. It's not that the big one might happen, it's a just a question of when. "big ones are in the ACB, astronomical cuniform Babylon.

Jesus asked, "when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?"

So chalk it up to time and chance. The Sun just does it's thing. It's not like the Creator created a problem. We just don't like to think about our vulnerability. Or parting with our grid/Mammon.

Expand full comment

For me, such scenarios are addressed by the Serenity Prayer: if there isn't anything to be done about a risk, it simply has to be accepted as part of the game rules of material existence.

If I prefer to not dwell on it, it's because it's pointless to do so. Sometimes "the wisdom to know the difference" between what one can change and one can't change is a very close call, but not in the case being discussed.

Expand full comment

Very true,

Unlike modeling the greenhouse gasses and mobilizing mankind to put out the fossil fuel fires. (switch it all to electric). We can do something about greenhouse gasses.

In the past man saw ominous lights in the heavens. And went about his business, wondering what it meant. It destroyed no electrical grid, because they had no electrical grid.

We could do a great deal to shield the critical components of our conductor networks and that is precisely what Congress directed the military to do.

It's neither cheap nor easy. But it's sensible. It's real unlike the "climate crisis."

It's sort of dumb not to dwell on it. Like living Pompeii and ignoring the smoke coming out of Mount Vesuvius.

Expand full comment

If we can shield these transformers, we should do it.

I don't think it makes much sense to deny global heating any longer. Most people with a long track record of decades spending time in wild nature realize that it's happening, even if they were formerly skeptical. And the arguments against it routinely ignore impacts in the realm that comprises the biggest heat sink on the planet, the oceans. Anyone who isn't considering the oceans can be dismissed as an ignoramus on the issue.

I think we have to recognize the importance of a role for nuclear power as a bridge fuel. But the ultimate answer appears to me to be deep geothermal power, tapping the superheated mantle of the planet.

Expand full comment

Ah, the oceans, yes they might have something to do with climate. Speaking of which... If you are going to heat up a pan of water on the stove, do you turn up the heat or do you get out the hairdryer?

The oceans are undoubtedly the hottest they have been since at least the satellite record. Perhaps the warmest since we started measuring ocean temps period.

It correlates with our measurements of increasing atmospheric CO2. But... Warming oceans would release more CO2, so it may be a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. I am not at all convinced we understand the complexities of the carbon cycle well enough to even guess. You know, photosynthesis, phytoplankton and all that.

Now back to the stove and earth's hot mantle. The MOSZSA - the mid-ocean spreading zone of seismic activity - became dramatically more active a little more than thirty years ago. It's stayed that way. Unlike global concentrations of atmospheric CO2 which are the simplest thing to measure and observe, because, well... It's the air we breath. Nobody has much of a clue what is going on with the ocean floors. Climate models have no skill because they can't model the oceans. The just make things up and put in numbers.

As for ignoramuses. Yes, they don't know what is true. I know I don't know. But I know I don't believe in their climate models. Believing in prophetic guidence, from models that have no skill, well that's kinda dumb.

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

We live in one of the quietest periods in history currently. And things are seemingly getting more unstable and tense in different theaters around the globe. The smooth transition of power is in fact the anomaly of history, and I think there will be less democracies in earth 20 years from now rather than more

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment

The american generations dont properly map onto the timeline. Millennial cohort is only ~16 years. They are the preponderance of the weak men, per the meme. The younger generation is obsessed with lifting weights, not IPAs and collectibles.

Expand full comment