01.07.19 | All In Our Lifetime
It's probably the best one-line take on the subject of history: History is just one damn thing after another. Yet, as we once discussed (MM 3/20/17), these damn things are said to occur in patterns. Our book subject back then -- The Fourth Turning -- stands for the proposition that history, far from being a collection of random events, moves in predictable cycles. Each grand cycle, a so-called saeculum spanning the length of a long human life of roughly eighty years, contains four generational "turnings" that arrive in a fixed pattern as life phases intersect with events and react to the generation which spawned it. Five hundred years of Anglo-American history demonstrate how history creates generations just as generations create history.
Now comes, for many, the most important seculum of the ages i.e. the current one -- at least the last seventy-three years of it, running from 1945 to today. Our focus article "How It All Happened" (link: 4,830 words) provides a wonderfully compact and highly readable retrospective look at America's signature phases along with the underlying dynamics, all the way from the end of WWII to today.
Particularly compelling will be the reaction of those MM participants whose lifetimes swallow the entire period in question but, from the perspective of one whose own life represents roughly eighty percent of the time covered, the article comes across as if speaking with an old friend. The descriptions, the quotes, even the picture on the cover of Life Magazine all took me back to the referenced points i.e. from Eisenhower's "the bland leading the bland" era through the hyperkinetics that characterize our world today.
But, far more than some simple nostalgic trip, the article is the story of the economic cycles underlying the American experience. It is here that the reader might grasp the significance of the earlier referenced generational "turnings," particularly as they relate to the central theme of the story -- the interplay between expectations and reality. Without going into the specifics here, let us just say we're going into uncharted territory.
By way of further background, here is a brief synopsis, courtesy of "The Browser":
“If you fell asleep in 1945 and woke up in 2018 you would not recognise the world. The growth that took place during that period is virtually unprecedented. If you learned that there had been no nuclear attacks since 1945, you’d be shocked. If you saw the level of wealth in New York and San Francisco, you’d be shocked. If you compared it to the poverty of Detroit, you’d be shocked. If you saw the price of homes, college tuition, and health care, you’d be shocked. Our politics would blow your mind. And if you tried to think of a reasonable narrative of how it all happened, my guess is you’d be totally wrong”
Let's accept the challenge of thinking up a reasonable narrative to explain where we have been and where we might be going.