Tag Archives: crises

Crisis Mode

Walapai Trading Post in Peach Springs, Arizona

There is a book titled Generations: The History of America’s Futureby 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.

What? Me Worry?

Somewhere Along the Gulf Coast (Alabama or Mississipi.)

Well, I worry some, because, well, after all, what if I’m wrong? But, in general I worry less than many about the current state of the Nation, Politics, and the Effects on My Creativity. As a public service, since I know many writers tend to be sensitive new-age liberal type people, here is why I’m not overly worried.

For more detail, a lot more, check out the book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1594 to 2069.  (The link goes to Amazon.) The authors make a reasonably compelling case that in a free society, history proceeds in a cyclical fashion. It might interest you to know that the book predicts that Boomers will be very conservative these days. No one can predict exact events or behaviors, but a pattern of attitudes and behaviors, especially when dealing with millions of individuals, is solidly predictable. It’s basic probability. The number of Americans is large enough that things truly will chug along the regression line of arithmetic average (mean) in terms of general zeitgeist.

As you can imagine from the title of the book, the history covers a number of total cycles. Not to scoop them, but there are four basic types of generation, two dominant, two, um, not dominant. Boomers are Idealists. The other dominant type is represented by Millennials, who are Civic. In between Civic and Idealist are the Reactives (Generation X,) almost always a cynical bunch (which doesn’t help things much.) In between the Idealist and the Civic are the Adaptives. The upcoming “Generation Z” or whatever they’ll be called is an example, but maybe if you consider the “Silent” generation of the 20th century you’ll understand them better. Think of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, rebelling, but, in the end, wearing his father’s coat. I pity the non-dominant generations. The “Silent” generation fought for, and gained, civil rights legislation, invented rock and roll, changed the very nature of our society, and who gets the credit? (If you’re screaming at that, you’re part of their problem — a Boomer.)

Every generation, of course, thinks that the world is as it seems to them when they come of age. Sigh. You’re a writer. You know better. The world is a lot of things, but not whatever a cohort of 10-year old kids think it is, and that’s for certain.

Now to the point: Every cycle, roughly every 80 years or so, something happens that makes society question its very existence. Something comes up that threatens the very fabric of society, to the extent that survival of the world as we know it is, frankly, not a certainty. And every time, in a free society, what seems afterwards to be an obvious reorganization and realignment of society results in a world that everyone, especially the Civic generation (who take the credit for what the Reactive generation before them actually accomplished,) thinks is a whole lot better than the world as it was before the crisis. So far at least, every time. Some examples of crises would include (this is not an inclusive list) The American Revolution, the Civil War, World War Two, and what is happening, or about to happen, now.

The new world will need stories from the old, stories from the struggle, and stories from the aftermath, and you and I are the ones to tell those stories. You hear that? Harbingers of a new world! Because we’re humans, and that’s how we roll. Sure, politically there has been some damage, maybe. And the planet needs some quick attention or we’ll be up the well known polluted estuary, (thank you Professor Hurst) but we’ll do what we need to do and things will be so much better when it’s over that nobody in their right mind will want to return to those old, dull days.

And that’s why I don’t worry so much as some people.

John C. Calhoun and Current Politics

I don’t mean the John C. Calhoun who was a Confederate advocate prior to the Civil War. I mean the John C. Calhoun who was an adviser to President Nixon on issues of mental health. My John C. Calhoun was essentially a biologist specializing in mammalian behavior. Okay, in how mammals act and why.

Assuming they have any, you can still buy a copy of his Space and the Strategy of Life. It’s way out of print. I got a copy for free from the man himself because somebody clued me into the secret method of getting one. That was, write him a postcard by hand asking for it. Now that, if you will, is sort of odd. But it was fitting, given what his research uncovered. My copy is just a photocopied reprint of a manuscript, I imagine you get covers and everything with the book.

Calhoun determined that any group of mammals has an optimum size. For different species the optimum number is different. For rabbits, it’s a lot. Really a lot. For humans, it’s eighteen. The optimum number seems to relate to how much food can be gathered and distributed, how much space the individuals need for their activities and things like that. For any mammal, when the number of group members gets close to twice the optimum, the group splits in two, hey no hard feelings, and now there are two optimum groups. Lucky groups, I suppose you could call them, keep splitting off and splitting off. Of course, sooner or later, if a species is really successful, it runs out of room to keep splitting in two.


In most cases, if that happens, then some groups just have to go. As in get killed off by other groups. Humans sometimes indulge in that solution, but mostly we don’t. Instead, we add a layer of complexity to our social lives so that we only meet roughly the same number of people we’d meet in an optimally sized group. That’s where social class comes from. After a while, not even that is sufficient, so we add layers of layers. By using these artificial seeming social dividers, we humans can endure population numbers that would be inconceivable to many species.

This relates to politics because, if you think about it, something has to give every time the population of a group of humans reaches eighteen times a power of two. At 36 (18 x 2) you either split, or come up with a class system. At 72 (18 x 4) you can so that again. Before you know it, you’ve got separate villages, a principality, a kingdom, an empire, each adding a layer and keeping individuals only meeting a manageable number of other people. How do you live in a city? You ignore the people you meet on the street unless you have actual business with them, or they are friends in another context. Sure, you’re all in New York or whatever, and you may be a heckuva bunch, but you keep out of each others’ business, because you have to to survive.

So, say your population is approaching 2,359,293, which is 18 times 2 raised to the 17th power. Go ahead and add it up, if you wish. Like say you live in the Las Vegas area, which population recently topped the 2 million mark. Hey, we’re getting close. It would be reasonable to expect that some tensions are developing, right? Well, some are. The City of North Las Vegas is in financial trouble and so is now using the County Jail to hold suspects for trial or whatever. There is talk of consolidating Fire Departments, also. As Calhoun points out, England and Scotland became the United Kingdom when their population was right, although that’s not obvious in a historical reading. In the same manner, Southern Nevada is having a crisis of government, where consolidation seems like the key to saving money all around. It is (gasp) another layer of government, but it also is being, mostly, welcomed. In the business world, all of us are eagerly awaiting the full consolidation of licensing. It isn’t fun paying a fee here, a fee there, another one over somewhere. What is being put together is a method to pay all license fees at the same time, and to one entity. Whee-doggie. Dang, biological destiny at work!

And, what if your population has recently exceeded 301,989,888? Like, say, the population of the United States of America did in recent years? Would you expect that things might be up in the air? Maybe a fairly significant number of people wouldn’t be happy with the way things are going? Maybe even that some people would simply go into denial about what’s happening and, oh I don’t know, say that they want to “Take Back The Country?” Why yes, you would expect that. And so, here we are. The problem for the super-conservative crowd is that there is no going back. They can learn to accept what the country has become, or they can fade into historical insignificance. That, friends, is why “Current Politics” is in the title. The question now isn’t whether we let all the immigrants vote or whatever, the question is whether we use their skills to keep America great. That’s what we’ve always done during past similar crises, and I’m pretty sure that is what we will do this time. Of course, I have been wrong before, but I’m pretty confident that we’ll come through the current crisis (which may get worse before it gets better) just fine.

*****Aside about creativity.*****

I said that getting an article from John C. Calhoun involved a hand-written postcard. That’s because he also discovered that people who move through a group quickly interact with a lot more other people during the day, while people who move through a group slowly interact with a lot fewer other people during the day. And, further, that “high velocity” people, meeting lots of other people, tend to be influential but not creative, whereas “low velocity” people, much more solitary (in general) tend to be creative but not influential. (This is  true in most species, not just humans.) Calhoun chose to be creative, which is why only an old-fashioned slow means of communication worked. Today, if any form of art is done by committee, no matter how much brainstorming and cross-checking they do, it’s going to more or less suck. Real art is the result of real creativity, and that, my friends, requires a passle of alone time. Which explains why nerdy folks like Jobs, Gates, and Zukerberg stomped all over corporate giants like Xerox and IBM in building the modern Internet. Bottom line: if you want to construct something that basically is a known quality, like a skyscraper or city hall, form a committee. If you want good art and innovation, be alone, be very alone.