Did You See the Crisis Coming?

Can you guess the year?

  • Scottish scientists cloned a sheep named Dolly
  • President Clinton signed a bill barring federal funds for human cloning
  • Bank robbers in Kevlar suits staged an epic gun battle with Los Angeles police
  • The English Patient wins Best Picture Oscar
  • Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister of England
  • Timothy McVeigh convicted of pure evil
  • Titanic bounced off the iceberg and hit the box office

The year was 1997. Monica Lewinsky still enjoyed relative obscurity. Dot coms had not yet bubbled.

How old were you? How old were your kids?  What was your favorite song? How much money did you make that year, and what was your retirement account worth?

In 1997, did you think America would be teetering on the edge of another Great Depression in 2011?

The word “crisis” is overused.  Everything isn’t a crisis.  But there are crises. We’re in one right now.

You knew that. But you probably didn’t know how long it will last. Or that it’s happened before and will happen again, if we survive this one.

Read this brief passage from a very important book:

Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 147-149). Three Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.

Howe and Strauss wrote those words in 1997—fourteen years ago.  They aren’t soothsayers or tea-leaf readers; they’re historians. Their prediction from 1997 came not from looking at the conditions of day, but at the pattern of history since the Etruscans.

Even more sobering:

Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.

That means we have about 15 years of turmoil before we overcome the great, final obstacle to a “new normal.”

It’s easy, of course, to dismiss predictions as speculation. It’s comforting to believe that Howe and Strauss sensationalized history to scare people into buying their books.

But something about The Fourth Turning simply feels true today.  Or, maybe, something about today makes  the book feel true.

If these historians were right, then we have a long, hard row to hoe.  We will need with us people we can trust.

We’ll also need a roadmap toward the better world, not a treasure map to a misremembered past.

St. Louis Tea Party Coalition is launching The After Party program to create this network of trust and to paint that roadmap toward the next iteration of our republic.

We’re inviting you to join us.  Each month will involve a short meeting that will introduce an action to be completed before the next month’s meeting.  Then we’ll have a long social hour.   We hope that everyone will stay, have a dinner or appetizers, and talk about the future.

The action plans will be very simple. They will leave time for other civic or political actions.  Those actions will be more effective as your network of trust grows larger and stronger.

We need to get to know each other better. We need to develop stronger bonds of trust than we’ve known in generations—since the 1930s and 1940s to be exact.

If you want to be fully prepared for the next 12 months and the next 15 years, read The Fourth Turning by Howe and Strauss.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny

Why Does Leadership Response to Disaster Always Suck?

I just heard on BBC that the Japanese government is only now dealing with the Fukushami nuclear problem appropriately. 

I’m a little surprised they responded this quickly.

  1. Obama golfing while Japan burns, Middle East rages, and Oil spikes
  2. The White House took weeks to treat the Gulf Oil Spill like a disaster
  3. The White House and FEMA treated Katrina like a local problem until long after disaster struck
  4. FEMA took weeks to bring relief to South Carolina following Hurricane Hugo (but did much better following Andrew)

Today—on the fifth day of crisis—Japanese utilities officials are still reluctant to ask for help, according to the AP:

Late Tuesday, officials at the plant said they were considering asking for help from the U.S. and Japanese militaries to spray water from helicopters into the pool.

It seems that foreign countries—away from the disaster scene—respond more appropriately to disasters than the affected countries do.  But this time, even the US president seems too aloof to bother with Japan.  In short, leaders just don’t seem to lead in disasters.

Why?

Is it because leaders are afraid to appear frightened?  Perhaps, but appearing indecisive seems even worse.

Is it because leaders overestimate their own country to deal with problems?  Perhaps, but many of the slow responders are leaders, like Obama, who believe no one can do anything without government supervision. 

Or is it because we have so many processes and procedures that we can’t respond? 

In The Fourth Turning, the authors describe Artist generations—particularly the Artists who comprise America’s Silent Generation—as process gurus who prefer following a defined process to producing good results. (Previous post.) The Carter administration was pack with Silent Generation.  So was George H. W. Bush’s.  Reagan preferred GI Generation, Clinton Silent and Boomer. 

If the authors are right, most of our institutions and agencies are saddled with 25 years of Silent Generation executive paperwork and process.  That would apply to every country involved in World War II, including, of course, Japan.

That’s a lot of process. That’s a lot of forms.  That’s a lot of red tape to cut through before grabbing the fire extinguisher and dowsing the flames.

Generation X is sometimes too quick to act. Fair point.  But when hell breaks loose it’s no time to fill out the right forms.  It’s time to by God act.

Don’t Look for Quick Fixes

According to a book by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, history follows a fairly predictable pattern, rotating in cycles equal to a long human life. The book, The Fourth Turning, was written in 1997. Read it.

If Howe and Strauss are right—and so far, they’re dead on—then we recently entered a Fourth Turning in the current saeculum which they named “millennium.”

What is a Fourth Turning?

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.

We’re not talking about an election cycle; we’re talking about an entirely reformulated society.

So far, America has experienced three significant turnings.  (Four, really, but the first was long before the Revolution.)

The Revolution, when the colonies declared independence from Great Britain and formed a democratic republic under the Constitution.

The Civil War, when we established the impossibility of secession and ended slavery.

The Depression-WWII, when we effectively abolished Constitutional government and re-ordered the entire world for increased security.

With the exception of the Civil War, each of these saecula lasted the length of a long human life—80 to 100 years.  That’s also about four generations.

Fourth Turnings—Crisis turnings—begin not because of chronology, but because of generational attitudes.  Fourth Turnings begin when the Boom children from the last Crisis reach Elderhood.

Think Bill  Clinton as elder statesman.

Behind that Boom generation is a generation of Nomads—the Gen Xers in this saecula.  My generation.  Reality Bites people.  Wild risk-takers. Generals George Patton and George Washington were the Generation Xers of their days.  So was Francis Marion.

Next, ready to do battle, is a Hero generation. These were the foot soldiers and Marines and sailors of WWII.  They’re also the kids fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq today. They’re the Millennials whom we too easily dismiss. But they’ll receive our ticker-tape parades someday. They’ll be the next Greatest Generation, if Howe and Strauss are correct.

Those born after about 2002?  They’re the next generation of artists.  The last generation of Artists were the Silent Generation who came of age just after WWII. They were too young to fight, but too old for Vietnam.  This generation is great at following orders.  It is the only American generation never to produce a President.  (We skipped from the GI generation of George H.W. Bush to the Boomers with Bill Clinton, George W., and Obama.)

So the stars—and the players—seemed aligned for a Fourth Turning: 20 to 25 years of total upheaval and, possibly,  total war. Those who think the worst is over, as I’ve said repeatedly, have another thought coming.  The debt problem that caused the 2008 crisis was not solved; it was papered over and compounded. February’s deficit was 40 percent bigger than the entire deficit for 2007.  The March deficit will be larger still.

I know some people believe that we can end the crisis with a single election—2010.  That’s beyond wishful thinking.  It’s irresponsible thinking.  Our troubles go deeper than an election cycle.  Or even two.

That doesn’t mean we don’t start now, though.  In fact, the Tea Party movement was really a recognition of the Crisis, though I didn’t know it at the time.  (Maybe some of you did.)

With spiraling debt, rising international tensions, Japan melting down, and public sector unions demanding the power to take even more away from the producers, we’re just beginning a long generation of turmoil.

Read The Fourth Turning this week.  Learn your role and the risks we face.  Then, we might as well get started.