Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Fourth Turning and cyclical time and history

The remarkable 1997 book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, argues that the familiar linear approach to history taught by most of Western education and academia is actually a fairly recent paradigm and one that contains dangerous flaws. They argue that seeing history in terms of recurring cycles provides insights which the modern linearity obscures -- "one year's (or one saeculum's) winter is more like the prior winter than like the autumn that came right before it," they explain (21).

The authors argue that by perceiving these cycles, we can perhaps become more aware of impending change, and point out that linear thinking often causes its adherents to be completely blindsided. Using American history as an example, they point out that as late as December of 1773, the idea that the American Revolution would begin in the near future would have seemed nearly impossible, and the same can be said about November 1859 (about the start of the American Civil War, which broke out in 1861), or even about the beginning of October 1929 (when virtually nobody was expecting the sudden end to the Roaring Twenties caused by a catastrophic crash of the stock market, beginning on October 24 ["Black Thursday"] and accelerating on October 29 ["Black Tuesday"])(Fourth Turning, 5-6).

Writing in 1997, and based upon their observation of generational cycles occurring every four generations going back through history literally for millennia, the authors predict that the current mood of pessimism and disillusionment is typical of a certain point in the cycle, and will precipitate a major crisis beginning sometime between about 2005 and 2025. They write:
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. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share a regret about recent mistakes -- and a resolute new consensus about what to do. 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 twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II. 6.
Reflecting on these words on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, it is clear that many of these predictions are coming true, particularly the prediction that "political and economic trust will implode." It would appear, however, that so far no "great Crisis" as momentous as the Revolution or the Second World War has yet been sparked. The two authors' warnings that those living in 1929 or 1859 or 1773 did not see the impending Crisis of their age should give us cause for concern that such a Crisis may yet be around the corner, and cause to pay attention to the cycles that the authors outline in their book.

Whether you agree with all of the conclusions and predictions in The Fourth Turning, one of the most noteworthy features of the book is the way it reveals the peculiar modern faith in linear progress as something of a historical anomaly. They find evidence that "nearly all non-Western cultures accept the periodic regularity of time" (as opposed to a view that time is linear rather than cyclical, which is a relatively modern development in their analysis) (32).

Authors Strauss and Howe argue that this modern linear view of time really took hold during the Enlightenment, during which it grew into "a complementary secular faith [. . .] -- the belief in indefinite scientific, economic, and political improvement" (9). They argue that this faith in linear progress reached its height at the end of the nineteenth century, and that it has always been strongest in America, where a widespread belief developed that mankind had finally broken away from "any risk of cyclical regress" (10).

They state: "Triumphal linearism has shaped the very style of Western and (especially) American civilization. Before, when cyclical time reigned, people valued patience, ritual, the relatedness of parts to the whole, and the healing power of time-within-nature. Today, we value haste, iconoclasm, the disintegration of the whole into parts, and the power of time-outside-nature" (10). These are broad generalizations, and any book of this nature will test the reader's patience with such sweeping categorizations, but these broad generalizations do appear to capture some truths worth considering.

Interestingly, this very belief in unbroken linear progress which has gripped Western thought since the Enlightenment is reinforced by the dogmas of Darwinism and the conventional teachings on mankind's ancient history, which supposedly progresses in a generally unbroken upward line from primitive ape-men to modern humans, who then progress from early hunter-gatherers to simple villages to increasingly complex civilizations.

As we have discussed numerous times in this blog, and as is discussed in greater detail in the Mathisen Corollary book, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this linear timeline of human history is completely incorrect. In fact, compelling evidence supports the conclusion that mankind was extremely advanced in the distant past (long before ancient Greece and Rome) and for some reason fell into relative ignorance for millennia thereafter -- a very nonlinear view of ancient history.

Almost every previous post deals with this radically different view of mankind's ancient past, but posts which are especially pertinent to the linear / cyclical thesis offered up by the authors of The Fourth Turning include this one, this one and this one.

It is quite likely that the faith in linearity that Strauss and Howe detail in their book has blinded scholars and others to the possibility of an ancient advanced civilization and created a bias towards the acceptance of Darwinian biological theories, which in turn lead to linear anthropological theories as well.

Interestingly enough, Strauss and Howe note that ignorance of the cyclical nature of time, or even massive attempts to deny these cycles and live as though cycles do not exist does not actually free us from the cyclical nature of time at all. On the contrary, they find evidence which suggests that cultures which embrace cyclical time are less buffeted by the waves of the changing cycles, while cultures which try to suppress the cycles only exacerbate their effects, so that they experience even greater volatility, which is all the more painful because it is unexpected (unlike the cycles experienced by cultures who expect and respect the cyclical nature of time) (33-35).

It is also worth pointing out that the analysis of the brilliant R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz uncovered numerous cyclical patterns and harmonies between generations living hundreds or even thousands of years apart (at similar distances from precessional turning points), which he often points out in his own books. In Sacred Science, for example, he notes that:
Since the Middle Ages, our Occident has been blinded, particularly by the cerebration of the Greek Eleatics who preferred reasoning to experimentation. The beginning of this disquieting period of "arguers" can be situated with the Eleatic school around 550 or 500 BC, a school founded at about the same time as the Pythagorean order, of mystico-religious character. Those five centuries before the precessional passage from Aries to Pisces stand in curious correspondence with our sixteenth century, also five centuries before the next precessional passage from Pisces to Aquarius: Toward the year 1500, with the Renaissance, ancient Greece was again raised to honor in the West. 18.
Their [the Stoics'] champion was Zeno of Citium, who lived from 362 to 260 BC, which is about two hundred years before the precessional transition from the vernal point of the sign of Aries to that of Pisces. In the Stoic pursuit of freedom, we find a curious similarity to the ideal of the revolutionaries of 1789, a revolution which was also situated about two centuries before the new precessional transition of the vernal point from the sign of Pisces to that of Aquarius. This brings to mind a similar great revolution which took place at the end of the Old Empire of the Pharaohs, about 2400 BC, two centuries before the passage of the vernal point of the sign of Taurus into that of Aries. 43
In light of these and other seeming harmonies, de Lubicz declares, "The history of the world is strangely cyclical" (30).

It is also worth noting that adherents of the binary model of precession believe that these cycles are influenced by the sun and solar system's relative distance to a proposed binary star to our sun (possibly the Sirius system), just as other cycles on earth are caused by the rotation of the earth (night and day) and the orbit of the earth (the seasons).

While Strauss and Howe seem to indict Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire as primary causes in the adoption of a linear-progressive view of time and history, it is perhaps more appropriate to ascribe this hallmark of modernity to the more atheistic and mechanistic secular faith in progress that began to arise during the Enlightenment and the following centuries (especially as Darwinism took on all the trappings of an intolerant and aggressive cult or religion).

For evidence that Christianity is not inherently or automatically linear, one need only examine the writings in the book of Ecclesiastes, included in the Christian canon of Scripture since the beginning, which contains (among other declarations of the cyclicality of time and history) the famous lines in chapter 3 (which the authors of the Fourth Turning do quote at the end of their discourse):
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
All of these observations are extremely noteworthy, and bear upon the questions explored in the Mathisen Corollary. Special thanks to my good friends Mr. and Mrs. MDS for sending me a copy of this remarkable text as a gift.