San Diego — I love it! I have been questioned closely as to why I appeared so gloomy about our nation and culture’s future prospects in last week’s post on the 4th of July vis-à-vis what is at stake in the upcoming elections. It means some are at least exercising their brains which is something we need more of. I never, ever, asked anyone or demanded of anyone that they agree with me — I am indifferent to that. I only asked that you THINK about it and research the answers for yourselves rather than take ANYONE’s word for it, including mine. So the question is a valid and serious one, asked in a respectful way, and therefore one worthy of a serious response. This may be long but, hey, you asked for it.
Let me first provide some context for my answer then get into some specifics.
Many historians firmly believe in the theory of “Anacyclosis,” a Greek word set forth by Polybius in the first century BC while holding that the story of history is a story of repeating cycles that inexorably follow one another down through time. According to Polybius…
Originally society is in anarchy but the strongest figure emerges and sets up a benign monarchy. The monarch’s descendants, who because of their family’s power lack virtue, become despots and the monarchy degenerates into a tyranny. Because of the excesses of the ruler the tyranny is overthrown by the leading citizens of the state who set up an aristocracy. They too quickly forget about virtue and the state becomes an oligarchy. These oligarchs are overthrown by the people who set up a democracy. Democracy soon becomes corrupt and degenerates into ochlocracy (mob rule), beginning the cycle anew. (paraphrased from Polybius’s “Histories, Book VI”)
The various theories and their believers range from serious to, well, let’s charitably say “exotic.” Famously Marx presented his theory of economic system cycles which is followed and encouraged by communist and socialist idealogues even today. It was inevitable, he thought, that civilizations cycled through the following economic systems:
“primitive communism, barbarism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and stateless communism.”
Theories of cycles such as these fall into a general category of historical theories called “Stage Theories.” They are so popular that a great one was devised recently and given life through the internet that was, to give it some credence, ascribed to the Scottish Historian Alexander Tyler, even though it does not appear in any of his books and the modern version does not come even close to his normal phraseology. Nevertheless. In spite of being shown to almost certainly not have originated from its claimed source, it is repeated endlessly and it does, as do many of the others, seem to reflect a reality. It sees the stages of governance as follows:
- From bondage to spiritual faith;
- From spiritual faith to great courage;
- From courage to liberty;
- From liberty to abundance;
- From abundance to complacency;
- From complacency to apathy;
- From apathy to dependence;
- From dependence back into bondage”
Allegedly this was not a broad set of stages but an internal one and reflected the stages in the rise and fall specifically of democracies and republics, i.e. those states governed directly or with indirect representation by the will of the people.
And less we forget… of course in this potentially fateful year of 2012 we are all familiar with the alleged impending doom implied by the ending of the Maya calendar on 12/21/2012 where, we are to believe, they could foresee the end of the world several thousand years ahead, but did not see the end of their own civilization in a vastly shortened time span.
A major criticism of stage theories generally is that they do not take into account the random advent of wild cards such as prophets, maniacs, geniuses, disasters, etc. that can potentially turn the current stage off course into something completely new and unexpected. In examining this criticism, in the 1980s historians William Strauss and Neil Howe studied geopolitical events with its progressions and declines as well as their underlying events juxtaposed with generational attitudes and thinking and developed what they came to call, “The Four Turnings.”
A “Turning” in sociological/historical terms is an era with a characteristic social mood, a new twist on how people feel about themselves and their nation. This was a far simpler listing than those above. Strauss and Howe’s four turning were
- The HIGH,
- The AWAKENING,
- The UNRAVELING, and finally
- The CRISIS.
Fascinated by this perspective on history, technical writer and historian John Xenakis subsequently spent more time studying the generational attitudes going back to the late dark ages to identify major crises as the end points that launched each new turning. He wanted to understand WHY these turnings happened and why those “wild cards” noted above seemed to sometimes have major short term effect but little or no long term effect in changing the nature of the turnings.
He came to believe it lay in human responses to those events noted by Strauss and Howe. In the process he developed his theory of Generational Dynamics which is based on the idea that societies and nations make mistakes and then learn lessons from those mistakes. Those wildcards may appear for awhile, here and there, but in time, as generations grow older, retire and die, they are at some point replaced by new generations who are too young to remember those wild card people or events or the mistakes and those lessons. When that happens, the mistakes are repeated. He then redefined the turnings of Strauss and Howe with generational labels that coincided with the turnings. His generations were:
- The Hero Generation
- The Artist Generation
- The Prophet Generation, and
- The Nomad Generation
What fascinates me about all of the various views is that, taken together and overlaid, they all — ALL — are in the final or next-to-final stages now. Even though they range in identified stages or cycles or turnings from 13 (Mayan Katuns) to 8 (Tyler?) to 7 (Marx) to 6 (Polybius) to 4 (Strauss & Howe and Xenakis) they are all in the last or next to last steps.
The truth is I have not the faintest sure knowledge that any or all of them are either complete hokum or actually reveal underlying truths of historical cycles… or something in between. The mere fact that fantasic theories have points of overlap does not, in itself, offer definitive proof for any of them, much less for all of them. Correlation does not equal causality. Day follows night in a pretty predictable manner but one does not cause the other.
Yet… There are no doubts that civilizations and empires rise and fall and that the triggers for their declines tend to be easily identifiable in hindsight and found to be very nearly identical and that, as Xenakis points out, we tend to forget the previous mistakes or, perhaps more likely, reach a point of such hubris we refuse to believe it could happen to us.
So why would I give even sufficient credence to these theories, singularly or together, to even write about them here as context for my conclusions below? To me, it is a bit unnerving to lay those various stages over the history of our own country and then to see how well they have fit. With the exceptions of the Maya Katun stages and Nostradamus’s Quatrains, which are both hit and miss in their descriptions of events to come, the stages and turnings of Polybius, Marx, Strauss and Howe, and Xenakis have been pretty consistently accurate and they have their own internally workable sequencing logic that works with human nature as I believe it to be.
Additionally and more importantly, anyone who does not understand that we as a country (and California as a State) are staring down the barrel of the potentially perfect storm of crises on the very near term chronological horizon is simply not looking. Need I itemize to make the point? OK… here are but a few issues coming down on us…
- The Bush Tax Cuts are due to expire. All sides think that will create some huge economic problems but the parties are in grid lock as to what to do. Obama wants to lower the limits and do a one year extension, Pelosi and Schummer’s group with a far greater understanding of middle class and small business wants to raise the cut off to $1 million, and Republicans want to extend the cuts indefinitely for everyone. For rationale’s they aid gridlock by arguing past one another. The left says the taxes will help the economy and debt but Obama’s plan would, according to GAO stats, annually pay for 8.5 days of deficit growth. In fact a 100% tax on the same people would not significantly diminish the deficit. The other side says lowered taxes will encourage productivity but if it is offset with inflation and unemployment it will accomplish little to improve attitudes necessary for improved productivity. That is all sort of moot since on this Sunday’s interview shows they all admitted they were in stalemate. if that continues the cuts will expire on their own. No decision IS a decision.
- At the same time, the jobless benefits and a payroll tax cut are set to expire. Since the U3 filter of unemployment (those on unemployment insurance) will then drop as benefits stop you can count on an argument that employment figures improved. And partisans will act as if it were true even when they know it is not and generate the “statistics” to show how much better off we are.
- At the same time a $1.2 Trillion across-the-board program cut is set to go into effect since Congress failed to solve the budget crisis. Whopee. We concentrate on a debt of $15 trillion in borrowed money, but, in the background, our brilliant congress has approved over $119 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities, i.e. mandated programs which create liabilities for the treasury but for which there are no funds. $1.2 trillion in cuts is a slap in the face insult to the American people.
- At the same time, we will hit our debt ceiling and will clamor to raise it making any cuts pointless.
- At the same time credit agencies are already warning of another credit downgrade for the U.S. so a rising of the debt ceiling again may be pointless if we can only borrow at such rates as to make mob loan sharks seem generous.
- At the same time we will be presented two treaties worked out by our Secretary of State that, if ratified, will cede Constitutional rule to a hostile international set of rules. This time it is over gun control and oil revenue. But if the precedent is allowed to set then what?
- Powerful arguments from progressive strategists on the interview circuit are already arguing that what we need is for more stimulus spending and not just a little but a lot but in no case that I listened to was there a suggestion as to the location of a source of such money. With, as noted, even 100% taxation turning us into a complete slave nation would not have all that much effect on the debt, the money can come from only two sources: printing it or borrowing it.
- But at the same time, a growing ground swell from major trading nations is pushing to drop the American Dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Already China and Brazil have made serious proposals for a replacement of the dollar and offered ideas for the replacement. China has been replacing its dolar holdings with other currencies and securities. But it is that reserve status alone that makes loaning money to us still a pretty good idea even if our personal/national credit rating drops. But if we all woke up one day and at the daily begging for loans China said, “No thank you!” and declined to loan us more, our house of carefully laid cards would crumble virtually overnight.
- But why would we need more money and more debt? Simple math. Presently in America, nearly half of all households receive either a salary or substantial benefits from the government. Presently in America, nearly half of all adults pay no federal income taxes. Presently in America, the half that pay no income taxes receive the bulk of their income courtesy of the government, but ultimately from the half that do. This money is extracted involuntarily from the paying half by a permanent bureaucracy that extracts and gives away more each year no matter who is running the government. The recipients of these transfer payments rely upon them for subsistence, so they have a vested financial interest in sending to Washington those who will continue to take money from the productive and give it to the parasitical. Harsh words? i don’t think so. i am in favor of helping those blindsided by life, but you will never convince me in the age of OSHA, fully half of our population is unable to work AT SOMETHING even if it is a short term strategy instead of demanding to live off of the government slop trough.
- The Fed is clearly setting the stage for more money creation which has never in the history of human economics failed to result in inflation. This is masked for the populace by replacing the old measures of unemployment and inflation with new ones that allow for data cherry picking. Inflation used to be measured by the Consumer Price Index based on the costs of identical items over time. Now it is based on a “substitution” scheme, i.e. when an item’s cost increases it is replaced on the list with a lower cost brand or version or redefined as an improved or upgraded item. And we no longer use the government’s previous “U6” view of unemployment which counted ALL people out of work (now at 15%) and replaced it with the “U3” statistic (now at 8.2%) that only measures applicants and enrolees for unemployment insurance.
- California has already proposed a budget that includes tax increases and makes clear its own philosophical priorities based on what is maintained and what is having it funding cut further. Funds are maintained for spotted owls but not for fuel refining and extraction; maintained for prison needs but not for law enforcement, maintained for fantasy bullet trains but not for existing highway and bridge maintenance, maintained for union support but not for businesses, maintained for homeless care but not for education. But remember the old cliché asserted, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” Though not a “stage” theory it has been fairly reliable over the years on a number of fronts.
- At the same time on the geopolitical front we are at a dangerous ignition point in multiple places as we work hard at degrading any ability to deal with them and instead, against the rules laid down by the Constitution, insert ourselves in economy strangling wars, governmental overthrows, and other events designed, in my opinion, to further cripple the system and provide the cover of distraction from the transformation happening at home.
- All of the issues started with previous administrations. There is no getting around that. But the current administration has, on every single front and by every applicable measurement, worked tirelessly to make it worse. And now they are proposing measures to further accelerate the growth of debt, deficit, and the death of capitalism to a growing crowd of entitled and dependent citizens who are the victims of one of the world’s worst education systems and in one man-on-the-street interview after another cannot name the country we gained independence from or when, think Lincoln was a founding father, cannot point to Russia or China on the map, or, for that matter, Washington, DC, and yet will bring that systemic ignorance and idiocy to the polls next November.
So, since I am by nature a contingency planner, I think forewarned is forearmed.
And what is especially maddening to me is that close examination of historical examples shows that in nearly every case, the final crisis or failure need not have happened if the nation under review had simply remembered and learned from the lessons of those nations that came and went before. And, as startling, there were nearly always some voices in opposition who were shouted down by the crowds fearful of losing their goodies.
As I have written before and often, I see us doing precisely the same thing now: refusing the lessons of history and following the paths of apathy and dependence, opening the gates to the Visigoths and Vandals of our day, debauching our own sovereign currency, legislating immorality by the removal of consequences for actions, promoting the concept of outcome equality while ignoring the concept of opportunity equality, developing dependencies instead of self reliance, and refusing to accept the concept, even as it might apply to societal survival, of good and evil. From Herodotus to Josephus to Toynbee those things are clearly at the root of the internal rot that over and over brought civilizations to a point of such weakness that they were easy prey to the enemies from without. But we are not just doing one of those historically successful suicide techniques, we are avidly pursuing ALL of them! In the end, the playing fields were leveled all right, EVERYONE lost.
When looked at from a historical perspective we are being led to the hammer by a bellwether, a political Dr. Kevorkian with us as the gasping patient; and astonishingly to me, a majority of us are begging him to proceed with his apparatus.
On September 18, 2008 under the previous regime, ironically, the one crying most fervently in favor of capitalism while at the least the left was more honest about wanting it replaced, we effectively drove a stake through the heart of capitalism, the economic system based on private risk and reward. Both parties had become so tangled with business and drew so much money for re-elections from business that they did the unthinkable in terms of capitalism’s inherent self checks and balances of rewarding success and punishing failure. With total bipartisan support (in itself revealing) the government married big business and big government by privatizing profit while nationalizing risk. In one giant bipartisan pandering we exchanged capitalism for corporatism and we allowed the weak minded to then think they were the same thing to further weaken support for capitalism. They are NOT the same any more than a democracy and an oligarchy are the same.
In order to pull off the fallacy that the two (capitalism and corporatism) are the same, we had to further debauch an already debauched and floating currency by simply printing more and lending it to ourselves to cover the risk. Leaders on both sides had to convince you that some things were “too big to fail” rather than let bad management pay the consequences of failure it should have. If those businesses were critical to the economy and promised, if run properly, to return a profit, then the shells and infrastructure of those failed business whether a bank or auto maker would have been picked up and rebuilt.
But those bailouts were not about saving capitalism or saving the economy. They were about saving the bankers and saving the unions… the major sources of political money. And less you also drank the mental kool-aid that sees those as separate issues, follow the money trail, in this case the money flowing in to the union coffers and wall street vaults and see what they have done with it. Don’t just believe me or the union thug or the wall street apologist, look into it yourself and then connect the dots for yourself.
But there is an even bigger issue at play. With capitalism essentially on its death bed, no other economic system has ever been able to provide the cultural “fire” to support a Constitutional Republic and, to my mind, our leadership has knowingly and purposefully moved us closer to Marx’s identified next stage. Those readers wishing to be coddled and protected should be thrilled. Get what you can quickly though, because this is happening at a stage where the governments, both federal and state, are close to running out of other people’s money. Demanding the productive carry the unproductive has historically always been the start of an end game for that society. And with the “occupiers” we have already seen the first attempts at mob rule a la Polybius.
Einstein is alleged to have said that insanity was continuing to do the same thing and expecting the results to change. Toynbee warned, because he saw it so commonly in action, that failure to learn from history would doom a people to repeat it.
In the last post I wrote that I believed we were in decline and this next election was only between an incumbent who would accelerate it and a challenger who might, at best, slow it down a little. I do not think it has to be that way; I think it would be possible to get us back on the rails with good leadership and a return to sound policies. But I see that potential utterly missing in both candidates and, in fact, not even readily apparent anywhere in any direction on the political horizons.
I’ve read countless Facebook posts and even gotten several emails from readers who, unburdened by historical information, truly wish for us as a nation to embrace the idea of a government “nanny” state that will provide us all needs and shield us from all risks. That there are enough of them out there to have voted as they did in the last presidential election and now will probably carry this one merely reinforces the stages and cycles noted above. So how could I draw a conclusion that to me, since I am so opposed to that system and believe it flies in the face of human nature (which it has failed at every attempt) not believe we are headed in a way designed for cementing the doom of the system created by our founders and not be gloomy, much less be happy about it?
Some seem to believe you can have it both ways but thus far there are no – zero — examples to support that. You can have the sort of no-risk, warm and fuzzy system of Europe, especially Sweden, or you can have a potent vibrant but risk filled system that can move the world forward such as America was. However in trying to do both, all sides are left unsatisfied to some extent, unhappy, and it soon degenerates into mob action and failure.
For those readers that ARE happy about our transforming into a “Sweden Lite,” enjoy it while you can. Had this Turning happened in better economic times or on the upswing of a productive period you might have had a couple of generations of entitlements covering all aspects of your life to enjoy and ossify the soft spot in our national soul. But the fiscal cliff we are racing toward may be so steep and closely upon us as to undermine even real efforts to save us or to foot the bill for a nanny state. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that we are being herded over the cliff purposefully to allow this system to completely collapse (otherwise I would have to believe the leadership is just stupid and I don’t believe they are).
Individuals and collections of folks wanting to nationalize/socialize, whether a little or a lot of their country’s functions, have, by expressing that desire, openly admitted that they refuse to take responsibility for their own behaviors and choices. If we, as a people, cannot function economically without needing our country to create an artificial and precarious balance using fiat stimulus and overt taxation, then we can no longer claim to be even remotely free OR self-sufficient. Get real! Only a population filled primarily with pathetic, over-indulged whiny children would actually need government to enforce mandatory charity: welfare, healthcare, etc. A healthy society supported by strong and self-sustainable individuals would not beg to be parented by government. Once a people become so weak and culturally immoral as to stoop to socialism, then the cancer that rots their perspective has already metastasized beyond the point where even the best leadership could cure it.
Socialism is an admission of defeat. It is a waving of the white flag by a society and the assertion that they are willing to trade that culture’s liberty for the illusion of security. It is the act of an adolescent and naïve populace groveling for an allowance from their “motherland.”
Once collapsed it will be easier to rebuild this socialized state upon the backs of a traumatized citizenry just wanting some relief – ANY relief. Just remember, as you roll the dice in the upcoming months, both communism and fascism are simply variant forms of socialism.
I would deeply like to see that dire prediction fail to come true. I do not believe it is cosmically inevitable, but on our current path I see it as inescapable because as I also indicated in the last post, I do not believe we have the political will or personal strength of purpose to start the combination radiation and chemo treatments necessary to kill the cancer rotting our system.
This internal rot started long before Obama came on the scene, but based on his own words, writings, and actions he is absolutely dedicated to accelerating its spread so he can get on with, in his own words, “transforming” America to better coincide with the dreams of his Marxist father.
Some of you are, based on your posts, comments, and Facebook postings, blissfully and even deliriously happy at that prospect. Sometimes it is the fervent desire, as noted by Conrad, to lounge safely through existence; sometimes it is a blinders view of a single issue such as here in this state where we will happily bring the state to its economic knees, drive off businesses and kill revenue sources before we will further endanger the Delta Smelts and Snail Darters, or use our own resources to alleviate fuel issues. Sometimes it is just blind accession to peer pressure (as in the experiment noted in the last post) and sometimes it is simple stupidity. How else to explain why we will joyfully spend money on indigents that neither produce nor promise anything positive and yet slash funding from education, the only real salvation, so we have the money to do it.
Why else would we rush to open our gates to people who generally take only the jobs that the poorest of us need to survive unless we wanted to strengthen the public doll and those on it, thereby inceasing dependencies. How else can we interpret the statistics that show in a day and age when our nanny state overlords have made the workplace increasingly safe from even our own negligence and stupidy and with fewer of us employed anyway, that the disability insurance rolls have absolutely skyrocketed except to note that if your standards are low enough, policies now make it easier to NOT work than to work?
If we were sitting on overflowing coffers it would be different, but when the coffers are empty and we exist, day-to-day, on borrowed money, then sane policy demands you perform a hard, perhaps even hateful economic triage on your projects and prioritize them in terms of positive return and help to the country and state.
I think that many of the warm and fuzzy projects are actually very good things to do… IF the basic services specified in the Constitution and state charters are met first and then enough money remains to do them. But I do not for a heartbeat think they should EVER supercede, in importance or priority, the basics of security, infrastructure, and education. If the money is not there it is not there; unfunded liabilities are an abomination and are proving to be self destructive to the governments that allow, much less encourage them.
A government, no matter how well intentioned, cannot help anyone if it collapses. The two major political philosophies stemming from Rousseau and Locke on down represent two very different ideas on how a government and a country should be structured both philosophically and economically. History has given us plenty of real life examples of how each system has performed when tried outside the classroom and in the real world. I ask only that you look at that history before deciding automatically that something that sounds good when its benefits are noted out of context and with no discussion of cost or contraindications, is the best and most workable approach.
But if you do not think the future of our country and, by extension of your children if you have any or want any, is worth such research effort; if you are willing to abrogate your thinking ability to the talking spokesmouths who are openly and overtly biased and who have their own vested economic interest in the outcome to provide the talking points; if you give more credence to celebrities than trained historians and sociologists because they make it simple for you; and if, in fact, you are pining for the day government on federal and state levels realize that you are a victim and desperately need to be taken care of fiscally and shielded from your own choices and behaviors, then fine; it looks very much like you are getting your way and are gleefully bringing both state and country to ruin to do it. Brick by brick, stone by stone you are helping our dear leader to dismantle the country given us by the founders so a new one can be rebuilt better suiting his view of how things should be.
The good news for you of the parasitic class is that each new freedom you give up will be easier than the last and less noticeable since you have fewer and fewer to worry about or count. The great news for which you should be overjoyed is that you appear to be winning.
But you will never be able to count me as among your ranks. I do not believe we need a “kinder, gentler” society as Bush the elder pronounced, but instead a leaner, tougher one. No great civilization in the history of the world has even been able to pull itself back to its former glory and power after its collapse. I think, and fear, we will be no different. I see a national hourglass with far more sand in the bottom than in the top and an astonishing number of my fellow citizens pounding on it to make it run faster.
Does that answer the question?