Sunday, June 30, 2013

This Time Isn't Different

Chris Martenson recently interviewed Neil Howe, co-author of The Fourth Turning. Howe explains his (Talcott Parson's inspired) model of social change, driven by recurring cycles across generations. He discusses why America has entered the The Fourth Turning (again), and what it means (from crisis to war to regeneracy). America's last Fourth Turning, in case you're curious, included the Wall St Crash, Great Depression, and climaxed in World War II. So hold on tight and don't worry, it'll all by over by 2029...

I find cyclical models of history fascinating, even if most historians dismiss them. One of the greatest theoretician of history's cycles was Oswald Spengler. John Michael Greer (my favourite blogging druid) has recently written a series of fascinating posts about Spengler and the implications of the civilization model first described in Spengler's book, written one hundred years ago, The Decline of the West.

Spengler outlined a wider-sweeping story of human history, and the repeated cycle of Pre-Culture, Culture and Civilization that he observed right up to the start of the 20th century. He sees Civilization as the phase in which things start to get worse rather than better due to insurmountable internal as well as external pressures. Spengler was not exactly optimistic about the trajectory for Western Civilization - this time isn't different - and he expected democracy to give way to what he called Caesarism (i.e.: dictatorship) as the problems of holding everything together became too much for politicians to handle. Of course, he didn't expect it to happen overnight (he reckoned it could be a two hundred year process before we got to total despotism). Then again, he was projecting forward from a century ago...

Indeed, Greer himself posits a process by which our technology-obsessed civilization might fail in the form of a catabolic collapse. Following on from Spengler he does not expect everything to fall apart overnight. Instead, he anticipates a period of downward, step-change adjustments in living standards, played out possibly over decades, with accompanying changes to political, social and economic structures along the way. But he definitely expects Spengler to trump Howe this time round. Alternative explanations might include peak innovation - but either way, Western Civilization won't be getting a pass on the fate of previous civilizations just because we have science and they didn't.

What does all this mean for Ireland? Given how integrated we are into the wider world economy, then inevitably our fate is tied up with the rest of the West. Appropriately enough, Spengler ended Volume 2 of The Decline of the West, quoting Seneca:

Ducunt Fata volentem, nolentem trahunt.
Which translates as:
The Fates lead the willing one, the unwilling one they drag.

Ireland won't so much have a ring-side seat as a stool in the corner of the ring.

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