There is a book titled Generations: The History of America’s Future, by Strauss and Howe. (The Link goes to Amazon.) It is a book about the cyclical theory of history, and it posits four main generational types. What’s important for this writing is that the cycle repeats roughly every 80 years, more or less. (This is not absolute. The Civil War, for example, threw the entire process off by at least twenty years.) Eighty years ago World War Two had started, on September 1st. In fact, every eighty years (more or less) there happens a crisis that seems likely to end civilization, if not life as we know it. The authors believed that the next crisis (as of 1980) would probably be environmental.
One of the principal ways of determining the validity of a hypothesis is how well it predicts future events. Environmental crisis, huh? Imagine that.
We are most certainly at an environmental crisis. The only place on the planet where this fact is at all political is in the USA, and that’s because the Koch brothers and their friends want it to be, because they make their living (and a great one it is) from fossil fuels. Everywhere else, it’s science, not politics. Sigh. So, we find ourselves in a situation where life as we know it is threatened, and our fearless leader (I know, no comments, it’s sarcastic) is determined to return to the days of big coal and big oil. He’s on the side of climate change denial, politically. So, we may well be pretty completely screwed if we don’t figure out what to do and damned fast, huh? It absolutely consumes some people, this crusade to “save the planet” (a ridiculous term as the planet is perfectly healthy even if too warm for humans.) It is, in short, a marvelous distraction from what must be done in a free society every, oh, eighty years or so.
I mean, it is time to shift to a new paradigm on how we organize and operate as a society. And, as always, the opposition to the shift is extreme. And extremely obvious, except that we’re distracted by the crisis, as has been the case since the days of Queen Elizabeth I. Last time, the way out of the economic doldrums was consumerism, flagrant overuse of materials, automobile culture, and spending more than you make. It’s been fun, and that’s a fact. My generation, children of the Baby Boom that followed World War II, is an example of what those authors call an “Idealist” generation, given to introspection, social rebellion, and things like running naked through the woods. What, it happened before Woodstock? Oh, heck yeah. You ever read about the Transcendentalists? Ever wonder why Thoreau was so popular with Boomers? Fellow travelers, folks. The reason that Idealist generations get that way is because their parents, very Civic-minded and trusting of institutions, had a rough row to hoe, and they make damned sure that their children don’t suffer the way they did. In this cycle, this has led to, in recent decades, a belief that life should be fair and painless, which causes great distortion of reality, which is seldom fair, and never painless. Nobody, absolutely nobody, has ever been able to “have it all.” Besides which, the culture of Postwar America is now threatening to end our ability to live on this best of all possible planets. (We evolved here, so this is not hyperbole.)
One thing we’ll need is for everyone, and by that I mean everyone, not just “white” people, to contribute their knowledge, skill, and intelligence. Big paradigm shift there: everybody contributes to their abilities. (I know that sounds like Marx, but it isn’t. Karl was a nice guy, but way to much a dreamer to be useful.) They old idea of a “white” race lording it over other, inferior races, which goes back to needing an excuse for enslaving people, is one of the ideas that are going to need to fall. Also, the idea that bigger is better, that we need automobiles (we need convenient, affordable transportation, which doesn’t have to be automobiles per se,) and that the goal of any corporation is to enrich the stockholders, all useful since WWII, are also in need of replacement. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the current “Conservative” backlash evidenced in the current administration is due to the fact that, on some level, even the Koch brothers can see what has to happen. If your entire identity is tied up in the old paradigms, well, friend, you are not going to be happy about the change.
In conclusion, and you knew there would be one, we will overcome the crisis in climate. it will, in fact, provide a hell of a lot of work for a hell of a lot of people. And the new paradigm, not yet fully formed, will be slipped in behind all the fuss over climate. And, if past cycles are any indication, Generation X will provide the leadership, and Millennials the front-line expertise, to do it. Gen X will, of course, receive no credit, because such is the fate of those caught between Idealist and Civic zeitgeists. (I truly am sorry, but I’m only one guy.) The current Conservatives will, in fact, hate the next twenty years, and spend the remainder of their days complaining about how great it used to be and how awful it is now. Think the opening of All in the Family. And, yes, it appears, and will appear even more so in the next few years, that we have failed, and that civilization is doomed. And, in a sense, it is, as our no longer useful paradigms are tossed into the trash to make room for the new.
Well, that’s my opinion, anyhow.