Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 40-Year Cycle of Cultural Change

The U.S. is due for another cultural revolution, led by the younger generations, perhaps including a fifth Great Awakening.

There seems to be a 40-year cycle of cultural change in American society. The classic exploration of generational types and cycles, The Fourth Turning, identified a four-generational, 80-year cycle of profound crisis and transformation:

1781 - end of the Revolution and establishment of the nation
1861 - Civil War
1941 - Global war and end of the Depression
2021 - end of the Savior State and debt-based "prosperity," Peak Everything and geopolitical conflict over resources

In terms of cultural revolutions, these seem to sweep through every 40 years or so, a two-generational cycle within the longer cycle. It's not an exact cycle, but consider these dates and eras:

1740: The First Great Awakening: The Protestant evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic concepts in the period of the American Revolution and helped foster a demand for the separation of church and state.

1776-1781: Revolutionary War, cultural shift away from the British Empire and toward an American identity.

1820: Second Great Awakening: sparks the rise of the Abolitionist movement which sets the cultural, social and spiritual stage for the Civil War.

1860: the Civil War

1890s: The Gay 90s, a period of American expansion and new freedoms of expression, clouded by the Panic of 1893 which sent the economy into a 6-year depression.

This era was the culmination of the Gilded Age, the industrialization of the U.S. economy between 1865 and 1900. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world, with per capita incomes double that of Germany or France, and 50% higher than Britain. Not coincidentally, the birth of the modern industrial labor union occurred around 1890.

1925-30: The Roaring Twenties, an era "marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity and a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, and as such the period is also known as the Jazz Age."

1967-1970: The Counterculture, which included the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth/expansion of the feminist movement, Eastern spirituality in the U.S., back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, rock music as a cultural force, the nonviolent anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement, experimentation with communal living and drugs, Futurist concepts, and a widespread expansion of freedom of self-expression and experimentation. Many observers believe this ear also launched a Fourth Awakening as evangelical denominations expanded and "Jesus freaks" found religious inspiration outside mainline churches.

The book What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer makes a strong case that this era set the stage for the ultimate technological medium of experimentation and self-expression, the personal computer, which then led irresistably to the World Wide Web (all the foundational technologies of the Internet were in place by 1969-- The first permanent ARPANET link was established on November 21, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute.)

Which changed the world, of course. Those darn hippies!

1970 + 40 = 2010: That takes us to the present. Right now the nation is wallowing self-piteously in a fetid trough of denial and adolescent rage/magical thinking that the nation's bogus, debt-based "prosperity" has crashed and cannot be restored, though Ben Bernanke and the clueless "leaders" the citizenry has fecklessly elected keep trying to glue Humpty Dumpty back back together again.

Unfortunately, all they've accomplished is to glue their own fingers together.

The "too big to fail" banks and Corporate Cartels effectively own the Federal machinery of governance, the Savior State's fiefdoms are expanding their reach and power like uncontrollable cancers, and the "leadership"--mostly self-glorifying. grossly incompetent, self-absorbed, greedy Baby Boomers, but with a few equally clueless 40-somethings present just to prove that age is no protection against self-delusion and supreme greed-- has resolved to surrender to the Financial Power Elites and State fiefdoms, and fiddle around with "extend and pretend" strategies until they can exit the stage with bulging bags of swag.

Their only goal is to not be the one blamed when the whole corrupt contraption finally collapses under its own weight. If there was ever a more pathetic, corrupt, cowardly and incompetent set of "leaders" in the nation's history, they must have done their skimming during periods of relative prosperity. Now we need real leaders, not TV-ready simulacra spouting bloated slogans that contain the magic word "change."

Gen X and Gen Y, this is your "lights, camera, action!" call, if not for political power, then for a cultural revolution. I for one am ready for a Fifth Awakening, a Cultural Revolution, and a restoration of self-rule and the real, non-financialized economy.

Happy Bastille Day. It's time we tore down the Bank Bastille that's imprisoning us all.

Note about email: Projects (replacing a water heater and a concrete pour) over the past two weekends absorbed all the time and energy I usually devote to catching up with email. I am also working mono-maniacally to complete my book and so my usual state of exhausted near-delirium has worsened. I greatly appreciate your patience and understanding of my limits.

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