More on The Fourth Turning

by Milo Clark

March 31, 2003


My friends tell me my humor is too dry at times. My enjoyment of Strauss and Howe's ways didn't make it through. May be a shadow kind of thing as Strauss' vocation, a wonderful theater of the absurd, is buried unless you know about the "Capitol Steps, a political cabaret." Howe plays a more overtly serious game through participation in the Concord Coalition. Their previous collaborations on generational issues underlay and overlay The Fourth Turning.

I suspect and hope that they plant their tongues firmly in cheek while writing. Yes, humor is a grand way to get some serious messages out. I like parody and irony myself. Witness Mark Twain.

I am delighted that this pair have read immense volumes of history, politics, philosophy and fictive versions thereof. They make internally consistent matrices. The doo-doo is hitting the fan.

There are indeed differences which make differences in generational perspectives. Today's younger people live in such a radically different set of actualities that I am at a loss to understand other than intellectually -- to a degree at best. The soups of influences which determine how and why they think and do I can see, if I will look, without comprehending meaningfully.

My experience with failed school systems was very brief back in early 1940s St. Paul, Minnesota, when teachers struck in desperation. I was instantly whisked off to an excellent small country day school. My years there molded my future. Never thereafter did I experience anything less than excellence in college and graduate schooling.

I have a peripheral view of the local schools in Hawaii. Friends tell me of closed departments at the local high school because of inadequate equipment in laboratories, wood and auto shop. There are not enough text books to give each student a copy. There are serious threats to close libraries in our district.

Yet, nearby in Kea'au, eleven miles away, there is a magnificent new campus with incomparably equipped athletic fields, stadium, team rooms, offices for coaches, etc. Seemingly there is always money for construction but little for instruction. The understocked library serving the new schools is staffed by only one librarian. The teachers struck last year and were defeated ignobly.

My first sojourn in Hawaii was in 1975 on Kaua'i. Politicians then as now all uniformly shout about educational reform and needs during campaigns while just as uniformly failing to appropriate funds during legislative sessions. The new Republican governor, Linda Lingle, is following pattern if anything more ruthlessly.

With virtually all states reporting budget shortfalls, from on high they are told no federal relief will be forthcoming. War has a higher priority.

Is this pattern cross-generational? Dumbing down of publicly funded education has been norm during my years in every state in which I have lived. Governor Ronald Reagan of California gutted the University of California and did everything in his power to deny state funding for local educational systems. As President, he gave priority to military spending which forced the country into the patterns of debt again being implemented. Are Reagan and Bush II of the same generation?

My response to the convoluted generational patterning whomped up by Strauss and Howe is a conditioned, "Yes, and. . . ."

Yes, there are generational differences. And there are other patterns at play -- many of which they include. Yes, there are numerous patterns converging which portend hard times are here and harder times coming. And significant numbers of those converging patterns are functions of deliberate political processes now being accelerated. Rather than work to mitigate, the political forces now in control are blasting full speed ahead toward quite predictable disasters. And much simpler explanations are available, if unheeded. I'll stick with Leopold Kohr's analysis that size is the problem.

Kohr doesn't sell well. Strauss and Howe are banking royalties.

Malthus, who postulated population disasters, is much misinterpreted as is Adam Smith and The Club of Rome. Adam Smith, in fact, extolled locally based entrepreneurial processes. (see "Adam Smith is on Our Side" and the updated version, "Adam Smith Is Still On Our Side.") The Club of Rome said that sooner or later finite resources would reach limits. Population growth, given no means to deal with local needs in proportion, is a disaster already upon us. It takes no genius to observe that misplaced priorities not only abound but are converging. Excesses exceeded are indeed absorbing finite resources at exponential rates.

Folks who do grand statistical designs, search for waves of processes, do regularly and routinely provide intersecting curves and rogue waves which may be interpreted as tsunamis. Should you be unaware that tsunamis, mistakenly called "tidal waves," are not waves rather impulses, responses to events often distant, even unknown to those inundated, then there is an attraction to the complexities woven by Strauss and Howe.

Whether called mercantilism, imperialism or globalism; saeculum or ekpyrosis, the processes involved represent convergences to gladden the hearts of newagers enamored by harmonics. And who is to deny the apparent resonances which Strauss and Howe celebrate?

Francis Fukuyama writes prolifically as a neo-conservative. He ordinarily would appear to be firmly within the Bush camp. Strauss and Howe are without classification in those terms.

Strauss and Howe: "Should the evolving crisis resolve itself signaling a higher plane of civilization. . . . a destination for mankind that Francis Fukuyama describes (with some irony) as 'an end of wars and bloody revolutions' in which, 'agreeing on ends, men would have no large causes for which to fight.' Is such an outcome possible? Probably not." [p. 331]

There is high positive value in their recommendations. They advocate preparing values, institutions, politics, society, youth, elders, economy and defense highlighting nearly every factor going in directions opposite to their concerns. Choices, alternatives available, at those levels are roaring beyond access. By design.

However, Strauss and Howe provide personal directions which are within reach. "Rectify: return to classic virtues." Get straight with yourself, your family, your community. "Converge: Heed emerging community norms." Look to your groups for definitions. "Bond: Build personal relationships of all kinds." "Gather: Prepare yourself (and your children) for teamwork." "Root: look to your family for support." "Brace: Gird for the weakening or collapse of public support mechanisms." "Hedge: Diversify everything you do." Excellent advice.

The hedge recommendation is starkly pragmatic. Develop generalist perspectives and perceptions. Assume that public support and services are vulnerable. Clean up your financial systems. Reduce if not abandon debt. Take no leveraged risks. Get your assets liquid and local. Notice that devaluation is already far advanced and accelerating. Hedge against all eventualities -- inflation, deflation, further market deterioration, defaults.

No such thing as a free lunch no more no how. So what else is new?

Look up Capitol Steps, a political cabaret. Delightful. Hard workers, those folks.


William Strauss and Neil Howe, "An American Prophecy, The Fourth Turning, What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny;" Broadway Books (Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group), NY, 1997 ISBN 0-553-006682-X.

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The Fourth Turning  (March 17, 2003)

Size Matters  (February 17, 2003)

Adam Smith Is Still On Our Side  (March 3, 2003)

Adam Smith is on Our Side  (Original essay published on May 14, 1996)


Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).

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Published March 31, 2003
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