Posts Tagged ‘The Fourth Turning’
History cycles


Our 2010 claim that “Strauss & Howe’s The Fourth Turning is looking more prescient by the day” is holding up well. As is the view that “we are currently witnessing the latest populist revolt against elitist authority” extracted from Lee Harris’s “The Next American Civil War”. It appears we may not be the only ones thinking along these lines:

President Trump’s chief strategist (Steve Bannon) is an avid reader and that the book that most inspires his worldview is “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy.”

The fourth turning takes a view that history is cyclical. It is made up of 4 cycles, which correspond to four human generations. The cycles are driven by human experience and have common themes, resulting in similar manifestations:

The cycle begins with the First Turning, a “High” which comes after a crisis era. In a High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, even if many feel stifled by the prevailing conformity. Many Americans alive today can recall the post-World War II American High (historian William O’Neill’s term), coinciding with the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies. Earlier examples are the post-Civil War Victorian High of industrial growth and stable families, and the post-Constitution High of Democratic Republicanism and Era of Good Feelings.

The Second Turning is an “Awakening,” when institutions are attacked in the name of higher principles and deeper values. Just when society is hitting its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of all the social discipline and want to recapture a sense of personal authenticity. Salvation by faith, not works, is the youth rallying cry. One such era was the Consciousness Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s. Some historians call this America’s Fourth or Fifth Great Awakening, depending on whether they start the count in the 17th century with John Winthrop or the 18th century with Jonathan Edwards.

The Third Turning is an “Unraveling,” in many ways the opposite of the High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Third Turning decades such as the 1990s, the 1920s and the 1850s are notorious for their cynicism, bad manners and weak civic authority. Government typically shrinks, and speculative manias, when they occur, are delirious.

Finally, the Fourth Turning is a “Crisis” period. This is when our institutional life is reconstructed from the ground up, always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. If history does not produce such an urgent threat, Fourth Turning leaders will invariably find one — and may even fabricate one — to mobilize collective action. Civic authority revives, and people and groups begin to pitch in as participants in a larger community. As these Promethean bursts of civic effort reach their resolution, Fourth Turnings refresh and redefine our national identity. The years 1945, 1865 and 1794 all capped eras constituting new “founding moments” in American history.


In their 1997 book, “The Fourth Turning”, they predicted that “starting around 2005, America would probably experience a “Great Devaluation” in financial markets, a catalyst that would mark America’s entry into an era whose first decade would likely parallel the 1930s”. Their book incorporates the promise of renewal, before the cycle repeats.  One of the authors, Neil Howe, adds:

Despite a new tilt toward isolationism, the United States could find itself at war. I certainly do not hope for war. I simply make a sobering observation: Every total war in U.S. history has occurred during a Fourth Turning, and no Fourth Turning has yet unfolded without one. America’s objectives in such a war are likely to be defined very broadly.”

Thus far, at the grand strategic level, everything is proceeding exactly as I expected. There are blips on the trend, but the trend train is remorselessly rolling down the tracks. This also appears to accord with The Fourth Turning and The Next American Civil War.

Variable intelligence

Politically correct policies such as quotas and the welfare state make people stupid and negatively impacting them in a whole host of ways. How we perceive the world affects how we act and perform in it. Political correctness negatively impacts peoples perceptions and actions. It spreads the belief that some people cannot improve themselves and their circumstances. They therefore need a hand out and/or some type of legislated assistance.

It matters little if the induced helplessness is supposedly produced through a belief  in genetic deficiency, bad circumstances, poor upbringing, racism or sexism. The effect is the same, it dis-empowers many of those who take it to heart. There are many paths by which welfare creates welfare dependency, as it does with both individuals and corporations.

Some people may not have the innate ability to better themselves. But the vase bulk of the population can,  as in all probability can the vast bulk of beneficiaries of government largess. What holds most “healthy” people back are their own mental conceptions of themselves and the reality in which they live. There is no prison as effective as one we impose on ourselves. Carol Dweck has unintentionally demonstrated how toxic many politically correct beliefs and policies are. Political correctness alters peoples views on their ability and where it comes from:

Individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and learning, are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence. Individuals may not necessarily be aware of their own mindset, but their mindset can still be discerned based on their behavior. It is especially evident in their reaction to failure. Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved. These two mindsets play an important role in all aspects of a person’s life. Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life.

This is important because (1) individuals with a “growth” theory are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks and (2) individuals’ theories of intelligence can be affected by subtle environmental cues. For example, children given praise such as “good job, you’re very smart” are much more likely to develop a fixed mindset, whereas if given compliments like “good job, you worked very hard” they are likely to develop a growth mindset. In other words, it is possible to encourage students, for example, to persist despite failure by encouraging them to think about learning in a certain way.

Dweck’s views are not just arm chair philosophizing. They are based on 20 years of research and behavioral experiments:

In many of our studies (see Mueller & Dweck, 1998), 5th grade students worked on a task, and after the first set of problems, the teacher praised some of them for their intelligence (“You must be smart at these problems”) and others for their effort (“You must have worked hard at these problems”). We then assessed the students’ mind-sets. In one study, we asked students to agree or disagree with mind-set statements, such as, “Your intelligence is something basic about you that you can’t really change.” Students praised for intelligence agreed with statements like these more than students praised for effort did. In another study, we asked students to define intelligence. Students praised for intelligence made significantly more references to innate, fixed capacity, whereas the students praised for effort made more references to skills, knowledge, and areas they could change through effort and learning. Thus, we found that praise for intelligence tended to put students in a fixed mind-set (intelligence is fixed, and you have it), whereas praise for effort tended to put them in a growth mind-set (you’re developing these skills because you’re working hard).

We then offered students a chance to work on either a challenging task that they could learn from or an easy one that ensured error-free performance. Most of those praised for intelligence wanted the easy task, whereas most of those praised for effort wanted the challenging task and the opportunity to learn.

Next, the students worked on some challenging problems. As a group, students who had been praised for their intelligence lost their confidence in their ability and their enjoyment of the task as soon as they began to struggle with the problem. If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not. The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash. Only the effort-praised kids remained, on the whole, confident and eager.

When the problems were made somewhat easier again, students praised for intelligence did poorly, having lost their confidence and motivation. As a group, they did worse than they had done initially on these same types of problems. The students praised for effort showed excellent performance and continued to improve.

Finally, when asked to report their scores (anonymously), almost 40 percent of the intelligence-praised students lied. Apparently, their egos were so wrapped up in their performance that they couldn’t admit mistakes. Only about 10 percent of the effort-praised students saw fit to falsify their results.

Praising students for their intelligence, then, hands them not motivation and resilience but a fixed mind-set with all its vulnerability. In contrast, effort or “process” praise (praise for engagement, perseverance, strategies, improvement, and the like) fosters hardy motivation.

Telling people they can’t get ahead because they are colored, Hispanic, female, gay or whatever will impact on their beliefs and behavior. It disempowers them. Generally if we think we lack intelligence and that intelligence is relatively fixed we will do less well than if we believe we can get better and brighter. Our perspective matters. Undermining our self confidence and the innate potential of the individual is one of the ways the welfare state undermines those it is intended to help.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized some of Dweck’s research in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. The book explains how people’s performance can be influenced by the broader circumstances around them. Living in a country which has experienced many decades of capitalism is far more empowering than living in one which has not. Your options and chances are far greater, as is your life expectancy. It is worth remembering this as we cast aside core components of capitalism in the name of political correctness.

The is  not to deny the role of luck, which is ever present. Rather it seeks to put it into perspective. It is not just luck that resulted in your living in your current society. The society you live in results from decisions of its citizens and their forebears. The opportunities presented to you because of the society you live in do not just result from luck. Arguably if the Whitlam government had continued then Australia could have followed the Argentinian precedent. Given the competence of its current government it may yet do so. If it does decline then people born in a poor rather than wealthy Australia will be wrong to think this is just due to luck. As individuals and collectively as a society we do to some extent make our own luck.

The example uses Australia, but it could apply equally to America under Bush/Obama or a Britain under Brown/Cameron. No nation is automatically entitled to a relatively high standard of living. It has to be worked for. As for individuals? Folk wisdom provides some insight:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • The harder I work, the luckier I get

What is interesting is that much of the developed world seems to have chosen particularly poor politicians at the same time. It could be due to random chance, cognitive biases on our part or the politically correct currents which flow across the developed world. It may be a combination of them all. But it seems likely the pernicious effects of decades of political correctness are coming home to roost. Even conservative parties often no longer know the values and culture they should be conserving. No one seems to debate the risks being taking as we trash our cultural intangibles.

The possibility of tides or cycles in the affairs of man is not new. We also touched on it in our post on The Fourth Turning. The current downturn is likely to create a new generational attitude:

The Go-Nowhere Generation: But Generation Y has become Generation Why Bother. The Great Recession and the still wenew ak economy make the trend toward risk aversion worse. Children raised during recessions ultimately take fewer risks with their investments and their jobs. Even when the recession passes, they don’t strive as hard to find new jobs, and they hang on to lousy jobs longer. Research by the economist Lisa B. Kahn of the Yale School of Management shows that those who graduated from college during a poor economy experienced a relative wage loss even 15 years after entering the work force.

Perhaps more worrisome, kids who grow up during tough economic times also tend to believe that luck plays a bigger role in their success, which breeds complacency. “Young people raised during recessions end up less entrepreneurial and less willing to leave home because they believe that luck counts more than effort,” said Paola Giuliano, an economist at U.C.L.A.’s Anderson School of Management. A bad economy can boost a person’s weighting of luck by 20 percent, Ms. Giuliano found.

It will be sad if economic realty reinforces distorted views of the capacity of individuals to rise above their circumstances. History is replete with examples of individuals born in dire circumstances who have risen to achieve great things. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. But this requires people able to conceive of meeting challenges by dint of their own efforts. Absent this and necessity will just leave people hungry. The economy and political correctness could work hand and glove to reduce peoples capability and functioning.

We must not let political correctness undermine potential sovereign individuals. Individuals who know that it is not just intelligence that is mailable. We need more of the caliber of Diedre McKlutsky who embodies our power as true individuals to shape not just our environment, but ourselves. The mess government policies are making is not surprising. McKlutsky has long pointed out that the emperor has no clothes:

 The progress of economic science has been seriously damaged. You can’t believe anything that comes out of the Two Sins. Not a word. It is all nonsense, which future generations of economists are going to have to do all over again. Most of what appears in the best journals of economics is unscientific rubbish. I find this unspeakably sad. All my friends, my dear, dear friends in economics, have been wasting their time. You can see why I am agitated about the Two Sins. They are vigorous, difficult, demanding activities, like hard chess problems. But they are worthless as science.

The physicist Richard Feynman called such activities Cargo Cult Science.

While the validity of much mainstream economics may be in doubt, there is no doubt about our malleability and its ability to change our future:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Graphic courtesy of Jottings.

Interesting reading

Graphic curtesy of Boing Boing

Not that I am suggesting the two are connected. Actually I am. There is only so much abuse any society can take. The Fourth Turning is still looking prescient.