I’ve been worried before. Big world or national events happen and it’s natural to wonder what the fallout will be. But time moves on and things get back to normal. The worry dissipates. However, this moment in time feels different. There are so many things that have taken a turn for the worse, it’s hard to see a path back to stability. For the first time in my life, I’m actually concerned about where we’re headed. Not just a yell at the TV and vote the bums out concern, but an oh shit I can see things turning very dark kind of worry.
I’d been thinking about this in an abstract way as we’ve watched the events of the last few years unfold. But I just recently finished a book that really made me think. It’s called “The Fourth Turning“. It’s not new – it was published in 1997. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but I devoured it. I read it on a Kindle, but wish I’d had a paperback version. It’s the kind of book you write in the margins, go back and re-read tables and charts, and place copious post-it notes.
In a nutshell, the premise is that human history runs in 80-year cycles that are broken up into roughly 20-year blocks, or “turnings”. What’s fascinating, and prophetic, is that the four turnings have repeated consistently from the beginning of human history. The four turnings are as follows:
- High – A period of stability, growth, prosperity, and conformity
- Awakening – a period of spiritual awakening and rebellion against conformity
- Unraveling – a period in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions
- Crisis – This is the fourth turning. War, revolution, and a profound loss of trust in institutions
The three recent crises in recent American history are the revolutionary war (1776), the civil war (1861), and WWII (1941). The last High period was the post WWII boom, the Awakening was the ’60’s to the early 80’s, and the Unraveling was 90’s to the 20’s. It certainly feels like we’re currently in or at the cusp of a new Crisis.
This was the author’s prediction in 1997:
“History is seasonal and winter is coming. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and the twin emergencies of the Great Depression in World War II. The risk of catastrophe will be high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort – in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it.”(The Fourth Turning, Strauss & Howe, 1997)
It’s not hard to see that our ruling class has led us to an abyss – financially, politically, and culturally. Bonds, treasuries, and stocks are in free-fall. We’re $31 trillion dollars in debt. The debt service alone will soon be eating into any entitlement or discretionary spending. And yet, we keep printing and spending money like drunken sailors. Inflation is quickly wiping out any savings and wage growth for most of the population. We’re clearly in a recessionary period, probably heading towards stagflation.
Politically, the world is extremely dangerous right now. World powers are jockeying for position, power, and control over global resources. We’re probably the closest we’ve ever been to a tactical nuclear engagement. Meanwhile, the public face of our own government is an inept octogenarian with dementia. It’s unclear who’s actually running our government, but that cabal has mismanaged (either via utter incompetence or on purpose) virtually every aspect of the American fabric. While I wasn’t thrilled with the election of the current administration, never in a million years would I have thought things could unravel as fast as they have.
And finally, we’ve lost the culture that maintains a society. I honestly believe we’ve abandoned any sense of ourselves as “Americans“. We’ve been driven into loose groups separated by race, gender, and political ideology. Wokeness and the onslaught of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity has driven a wedge into society that I don’t think we’ll recover from. There is no common ground anymore. Pick your camp and defend at all costs (via mean tweets and cancel culture).
We’re at the end of the Unraveling period. Society is divided, we’re at the brink of a financial collapse, and weak leadership invites global power shifts. The scope and scale of government overreach and authoritarianism we’ve seen the last few years really frightened me. Not so much that government would do it, but how willing many in society accepted it. The loss of trust in law enforcement, health services, and public officials is not recoverable.
So, what will the trigger be for the fourth turning? A nuclear move by Putin in Ukraine? The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines? A new “George Floyd” moment that spawns civil unrest? A resurgence of Covid and new lockdowns? The next 2008 financial crisis? Food or energy shortages? All seem possible right now.
This country, and the world, just doesn’t feel stable right now. I honestly don’t remember feeling that before. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure if there is one. History sure seems to be good at repeating itself. We’re just not very good at recognizing it. But maybe that book is hogwash? There’s no doubt that the danger of pattern matching is that it’s very easy to start seeing patterns everywhere to reinforce your desired outcome.
I just don’t know. But I’m worried.