A few years ago, I read The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. In the book, Strauss and Howe theorize that American history can be described by a repeating cycle of four generations and their interactions with each other and the world.
“Generational change drives the cycle of turnings and determines its periodicity. As each generation ages into the next life phase (and a new social role) society’s mood and behavior fundamentally changes, giving rise to a new turning.”
“According to the authors, the Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.” – Infogalactic
It’s an interesting theory, and it does seem to fit American history. I see a lot of examples of crises here in the States. I see a lot of evidence that America is changing – TARP and the Great Recession; Obamacare; the polarized 2016 election and the victory of President Trump; Corona-chan, lockdowns, and unemployment, oh my. The cracks are showing faster and faster and getting wider and wider.
I’m not sure if Strauss and Howe got it all right, but they’re onto something. History does go round and round, and it almost always rhymes. Americans are losing faith in our institutions; the veneer of integrity is starting to peel away revealing incompetence and corruption.
What concerns me the most is the stark divide among people. Everything is political, and social media amplifies our disagreements. This divide isn’t just happening at the national level. It’s happening locally in small town America. People I know are getting more divided and more vocal about those divisions.
The latest Rona-inspired fight is over masks. Friends and acquaintances are posting maskies on social media and shaming people who don’t care for masks. People who dislike the masks are shaming the maskies folks for covering up when there isn’t much evidence that masks do much good.
“#WearAMask,” one side says. “No thanks,” the other side says. “Don’t be selfish!” the other side shouts. “Don’t tell me what to do,” the other side replies. “You wear seat belts don’t you?!? Why won’t you just WEAR THE MASK, YOU’RE KILLING PEOPLE!” the other side screams. “SCREW YOU!” the other side screams back.
This is life now in the Fourth Turning, and it sucks. I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of explaining the obvious. The gulf between the sides is too wide. The sides live in different realities, they have different thought processes; they have different morals and desires. They need to split.
No one can predict what’s going to happen. Trying to predict the future is stupid. My hope is that the sides decide to go their separate ways, peacefully. I hope that families, friends, and neighbors turn to each other and to the church for love and support. Americans have faced hard times before, and we can face them again if we work together and keep the faith.
Change is coming, and a peaceful split is just one path the Fourth Turning could take. There are many others, and some are much darker.