It is fascinating to watch as more and more people make passing comments that touch on generational theory, yet none seem to put much weight behind them. Peggy Noonan, for example, makes such observations in nearly every column. Heck, just this week I happened to hear Howard Stern - of all people - go on a rant to the effect of "I knew that when my stupid generation took over everything would go to sh*t." Still, any connection to powerful historical cycles eludes them. Even the film Generation Zero, after outlining the cyclical nation of generational theory shifts to focusing on the Boomers, as if the current problems are unique to our time.
John has talked about his difficulty getting publicity and the reason seems to be that there is no bright side to the theory. No one wants to hear "the world is ending and there's nothing you can do about it."
Here what people want to hear:
A. Problem X was caused by idiots.
B. With our superior knowledge that they were idiots we can save the world
C. If we fail it will because everyone else was too stupid to embrace our solutions.
Even the most dire apocalyptic predictions offer something to do or reason to hope.
- Global warming will destroy the earth BUT if everyone recycles and drives a Prius there's hope
- Armageddon will bring a rain of fire and ravage mankind BUT you can repent and convert
- Mankind is overrun by a Zombie apocalypse BUT there's a chance someone will find a cure.
- There is a Generational Crisis every 70-90 years that will collapse the economy and lead to a genocidal world war...
Fascinating. What can we do with this information? Uhhh...hug you children and stock up on canned food?
People tend to be solution based. They desire usable information. Generational theory is fascinating, and, I believe, largely dead on, but it offers not obvious solution.
The book jacket on my used copy of The Fourth Turning has quotes from the some of the most prominent figures of the time - including both Al Gore and Newt Gingrich (Here's an interesting segment on the Strauss & Howe site about the public reception to their ideas:http://www.fourthturning.com/html/word_of_mouth.html.
and here are blurbs from across the political spectrum (note that a good chunk of them indicate the theory should lead to "action."): http://www.fourthturning.com/html/word_of_mouth.html
So, our leaders are
exposed to these ideas, but what can they do? Even if we had a president who fully accepted Generational Dynamics what would he do with that information? Give a speech to the nation explaining what a fourth turning is? As John has said of Ben Bernake, even if he knew what was going on he couldn't risk saying it. Maybe it could guide decisions behind the scenes, but, as we know, leaders are ultimately captive to the whims of the masses. President Xenakis would be thumped out of office by some sunny optimist with vague solutions.
So, let's say 50% of the population accepted this obscure academic theory of historical cycles? What would they do about it? Try to behave responsibly? Okay, so instead of 9 out of 10 bankers making reckless investments it would be 5 out of 10. Meanwhile, a good chunk of those young Generationalists who understand the theory will come to believe this knowledge gives them an advantage, which will justify taking risks (just look at the discussions on our Financial Forum).
Generational Dynamics is a Greek tragedy - the disaster is rooted in human nature. We are doomed to repeat mistakes because we are apparently wired to learn through direct experience. Our drive to ignore the lessons of our elders and take risks is the reason for our evolution, advancement and survival as a species - but it is also the seed our cyclical destruction.