The Long View

I'm annoyed, because this post has gotten munched twice, either by Blogger or more likely by Internet Explorer. I've REALLY got to download Firefox and give IE the heave-ho.

I'm reading Collapse by Jared Diamond, which is about "how societies choose to fail or succeed" in dealing with environmental issues like climate change, deforestation, soil and water depletion, pollution, etc. One recurring theme in the book is how societies settle in places where they can thrive when the climate is optimal, but where they may not be able to survive when the climate changes.

The Norse settlements in Greenland are a perfect example of this. The Norse settled there around 1000 A.D. when the climate was warmer than it is now, but died out when the climate became much colder in the 1300s. Another example is the Anasazi tribes of the American Southwest, who thrived when rain was plentiful, but died out during a prolonged drought, which recurred in that area on a multi-decadal cycle.

We are not well-equipped to discern those kind of long-term patterns. We see things as they are and we believe, deep down in our gut, that they have always been that way and more importantly, should always remain that way. We see the coastline and see it as something permanent, never mind the occasional hurricane that rearranges a barrier island or two. We see the continents and think of them as fixed and immutable, not as drifting around and even bumping into each other.

But the Himalayas continue to grow higher, and the northern portion of the North American continent also rises a little bit every year, because it is still rebounding from the crushing weight of the ice sheets that melted away more than ten-thousand years ago. The world is not in a state of stasis, nor has it ever been. The climate is always constantly changing between warm and cold, wet and dry. Nothing stays the same; everything is cyclical.

This all crystallized for me yesterday when I read a comment on another blog about the Middle East situation, which noted "After all, we are in a 'Fourth Turning' now." That brought to mind that book, The Fourth Turning, which I read back in 1996. It was eerily prescient:

The Fourth Turning offers this bold prophecy:

Just after the millennium, America will enter a new era that will culminate with a crisis comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. The survival of the nation will almost certainly be at stake.

Strauss and Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history as a series of recurring 80- to 100-year cycles. Each cycle has four "turnings"-a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling, and a Crisis. The authors locate today's America as midway through an Unraveling, roughly a decade away from the next Crisis (or Fourth Turning). And they recommend ways Americans can prepare for what's ahead, as a nation and as individuals

You might find their web site interesting, since it has several excerpts from the book. And again, nothing stays the same. Everything is cyclical.