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Howe: The cyclical character of generations

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We've found by looking at American history and also at the history of much of the modern world and even certain episodes of ancient history. We see that not only are generations very different, because they're shaped very differently by their location in history, by what's going on at the time, but they're very different in characteristics ways. That is to say, there's a typical sequence or cycle of changes in which one generation follows the other in a very typical, a very characteristic way. These differences follow each other in a very predictable order. Generations typically are born over a period of about twenty years or so. And these cycles come in sets of forms. So the time it takes for an entire set of generations to complete, this cycle is about eighty or ninety years. What we call a saeculum or the length of long human life, in our book of Fourth Turning. Corresponding with this cycle, the rhythm of generations, is a rhythm of historical errors. We call these errors Turnings. There are four Turnings, again, in a saeculum. Each journey corresponds with the coming of age of a different type of generation. We give these Turnings particular names. The First Turning is a High. This is a period in which individualism is weak, institutions are strong. A society feels a great sense of solidarity. A sense of public purpose about where it wants to go collectively. Vernon Parrington, who is an American historian, calls these the great barbecues of American history. Every one just wants to get together with each other. A Second Turning is what we call an Awakening. These are periods which often occur at the high tide of public progress. Everyone is celebrating new milestones of public achievement. Maybe we're taking trips to the moon. Maybe we're building the Erie Canal. We're doing something big. And at that moment people suddenly tire of all the social discipline. They want to throw off all of the obligations, all the civic obligations. And they want to refind themselves. These are periods in which we discover or start new religions. New heresies, new ways of looking at the world. These are periods that are very creative in a culture, are very creative in the realm of values. These are periods of arguments and debate. These are often unpleasant eras, eras to live through. Everyone is mad at each other. Particularly young people are mad at older people. Yet these are very important eras in American history. The most recent of these period was the Consciousness Revolution. The time of the 60s and 70s in which we changed how we talked, how we dressed. The values we believed in. But we've seen earlier periods like this throughout American history. The Consciousness Revolution is sometimes called America's fourth of fifth great awakening. So we see it's the end point in a long series. Profit generations come of age during this awakening periods. They often look back at First Turnings with a disdain. Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1830s and 40s once commented that when he grew up as a child there was not a conversation, an argument or a book worth reading. It was all so bland, and unenlightened. Until of course his generation came along and gave us enlightened things to think about. A Third Turning is what we call an Unraveling. This period is in many ways the opposite of our First Turning. The First Turning: institutions are strong, individualism is weak. In a Third Turning institutions are weak and discredited and individualism is strong and flourishing. We think of Third Turnings, we think of periods in which individualism is rampant. The civic authority feels weak. The culture feels exhausted. Personal live feels frenetic. We think of decades in American history. We think not just of the 1990s, but the 1920s, the 1815s, the 1760s. There are many decades like this in American history we can point to. And I think in European history as well. You think of it a little bit that First Turnings are post crisis eras. And we take with them the lessons of crisis. We have to ban together, have achieved solidarity, to protect our world. Third Turnings learn the lessons of the Awakening. And that is to get what you want in life you have to liberate yourself. Every person should go their own direction. These are periods in which the market place is often very strong. The forces of the market are often very powerful because people are basically going wherever they want to get what they need in life. They're buying low and selling high. These are periods just as the Prophet Architect comes of age during an Awakening, it's the Nomad Archetype, most recently Generation X, that comes of age during this Third Turning. History teach that Third Turnings almost always end, almost always issue, to a Fourth Turning. A Fourth Turning is the crisis era. The emergency era. The era when we rebuild not our inner world but the outer world. Not the realm of values, but the realm of institutions, political structures, the realm of empire. This is the issue that's at stake in our Fourth Turning. History teaches that during Fourth Turnings we tear down institutions, rebuild them from the ground up. Public history moves rapidly again after moving so slowly during Third Turnings. Look at a decade like the 1990s. What happened in the 1990s? I mean publicly. Did anything happen? Was there any public event that was worth noticing? No one will say that about the coming Third Turning. No one would've said that about the 1930s or 40s. And probably no one will say that about the 2010s. This will be a period packed with important and rapidly changing public events. Changes in public institutions. Fourth Turnings occur under the threat of urgency and emergency. We feel threatened in our very national or social survival. And if there isn't such a threat, leaders during Fourth Turnings will invent threats in order to mobilize public action. The people, individuals, will refind themselves as members of broader communities. The culture will re-achieve a new kind of freshness again, usually in the form of propaganda. I expect everyone in Hollywood to be invited to Washington. Just like they were during WWII to produce propaganda movies. Then it was to go fighting the war. Probably now it will be to do the right thing in your financial institution. It would be some sort of propaganda. In American history Fourth Turnings have been refounding moments in our history. The American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, WWII. Times which change human kind relationships to technology. We have changed America's relationship to the world. The government's relationship with technology. These big things change during Fourth Turnings. And of course during a Fourth Turning it's the Hero Archetype as a generation that comes of age. That was the G.I. generation during the 30s and 40s, during the Great Depression, the New Deal and WWII. That will be the Millennial Generation.

Added on 01 May 2017

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