There is nothing new
History is a fickle mistress. They say that time and tide waits for no man, but I say the tides were meant to be ridden. Some people do seem uncannily adept at riding the waves of whatever happens the be hip and current at the time articulate moment. Then again some men having briefly crested the rising surf are sucked back under by the same surge that had lifted them. “That’s life,” goes the expression. Nobody ever said that it would be fair. Sink or swim, you cannot blame the water.
Every man’s life is similar in this regard it begins and it ends, and in between he experiences just what the world had always offered- laughter and love, work and toil, excitements and disappointments, friendships and enmity. As different as each man is from another, the two lives do swim through familiar currents. Life has its cycles, just like the tides which ebb and flow.
It isn’t all chaos and caprice. We sometimes take for granted the repetitive nature of our lives, preferring to focus on the forward March of time. If we really look, though, we will notice that last week looks like this week and the seasons pass in their stride and return again. Life turns on itself and circles back around. The year’s count increases, but the years themselves seem to stack on top of each other without much noticeable differentiation.
It’s about time…
We believe in linear time, the fact that we are moving in a certain fixed direction. Some call that direction forward. Some call it progress. I just call it tomorrow. It can’t be denied. But neither can the fact that as time moves toward tomorrow linearly, it also moves in a forward cycle.
The ancients believed in cyclical time. They observed the fixed structure of nature, seasons, sun, moon, and stars in eternal course racing. From this they inferred that time was a giant circle. We moderns laugh at this ideas, mostly because we choose to count years.
The best way we have to measure time’s forward march is the lifespan. Human’s get about 80 years on this planet; some get more and some get less. These 80 years are broken up into four 20 year “generations”. That means about every 20 years there is a new generation, and an average human can expect to live through 4 of them.
Here’s where it gets interesting. What if we moderns should amend our view of linear time? What if it isn’t a circle, or a straight line, but more like a corkscrew? Life seems to move forward, but does repeat familiar patterns of yesteryear. Now, what if I told you every 80 years this generational pattern repeats itself, like the four seasons… winter becoming spring. As the eldest generation in the 4 part cycle dies off, it has more in common with the newest. As spring supplants winter, but still must endure cold nights and late April frosts, so to the “spring generation” must have intersecting commonality with the “winter” one which just passed.
Why does any of this have to do with me?
Sociology actually shows this to be a credible theory. The book is called “The Fourth Turning”. According to the authors we are about halfway through the Fourth Turning. Fourth Turnings are characterized by movements, upheavals, political chaos, cutting edge advances, and faster than light social changes. They can lead to the start of great things or the utter collapse of existing structures. Either way they introduce new beginnings. Or, put directly, the new beginning of the same cycle, starting all over again.
For some mental reference as to the anxiety and population segmentation this might cause, imagine what it was like to live in the “roaring twenties”, as a member of the generation that had also lived through the turn of the century and World War I. It looked like a totally different world. Then imagine the imminent collapse of the stock market, and all the decadence, excesses and market frivolity dried up and blew away like so much chaff.
Change is coming, and you had better be ready. It can come as a friend, or it can swim up and bite you. If you are ready with a hook or a net, you just won a fish dinner. If you don’t see him coming, he may just make a meal of you.
The church has been facing special challenges these last 50 years. There have been revivals, but a great typhoon of atheism (and biblically illiterats pseudo-Christianity) has washed across the West. The world is a different place, and our place in it is jeapardized because we’ve failed to adapt. It’s called a storm surge, when a hurricane pushes the seas miles past there normal bounds. In our culture we called it the sexual revolution, the hippie and yuppie movements, and Barack Obama.
His elections happened toward the beginning of the Fourth Turning, representing the chaos and extreme social change portion of those cycle. Then came Trump, (whom many dubbed a “chaos candidate”) representing social mores once abandoned, and a return to law and order. Obama created Trump, but the cycles of Turnings wielded its influence over the moods of society which called both to prominence.
Characteristics of the Fourth Turning
- It is winter. Nature is dark, pitiless, and austere. Only the strongest of the social stepping stones will remain, the others dying off together. What it doesn’t kill off altogether it deals a crushing blow.
- Social order is failing, but demand for stability is rising. The old and passing standbys are found wanting and people turn to (what they think are) new (but are in fact really old) community safety and policing standards.
- It is a season of crisis, which leads to an unraveling of the fiercer kinds of personal independence, as people rediscover the values of cooperation, teamwork, and compliance with authentic authorities In the first half of the Turning the old guard abandons and eschews its responsibility to protect the public, so the community clambers for strong leadership.
- It is a pivot point, where on societies turn to the next revolutionary order. There is great hope and great chaos. It will be the rise and fall of many economic, social, political, and national institutions.
- There will be winners and losers, victors and fallen. As the prevailing order folds in on itself and eventually collapses, some will bet heavily on their forecasted future order. Some of those bets will pay off big, some will not, but those who bet on the prevailing order will lose miserably.
My place in time
In general I am optimistic about this Turning. I hate winter, and I’ve written before about how I feel my country slipping away. In my more somber moods I’ve wondered if betting on America is wise anylober, for maybe she is destined to slip quietly into the mists of time, unmourned and forgotten. But this sense of regeneration that accompanies Fourth Turnings has me hopeful.
I want to know my place in time that I might better crest the swells it brings. A skillful sailor navigates squalls and doldrums, and I want to acquire the skill of living life well, whatever the time or tides may bring. Knowing my place in time helps me understand my self, my community, prevailing sentiments, and even those who disagree with me. Also, it grounds me in the great swirling ocean of time, reminding me that, just as some came before me, surely others will come after me. I am not a period at the end of the sentence, but rather a comma signaling what is to come.
There is a power and a responsibility that comes with knowing what others don’t. Men of vision are endowed with awareness and culpability. In The Fourth Turning new leaders will emerge, and they will need advisors, and so on. An entirely different kind of society emerges, coffin like, from the decadent and decaying past. Those who can see it coming, prepare for its arrival, and capitalize on it’s eventual acceptance will be called futurists and impresarios. Personally, I like the sound of that.