Saturday, March 21, 2020

Signs, Portents, and Turnings

In September 2016 my wife and I were shopping at a Marshall's in Dallas. They had just opened, and there was a Halloween costume display at the front of the store. The outfits were all uniforms. Police, nurse, firefighter, military. I said to my partner "It looks like our culture is getting ready for authoritarianism." Sometimes I am spot on with my cultural predictions, other times there is nothing to them.

Weeks later in November 2016 the Event happened in America. Everyone who was supposed to know anything had been wrong in predicting the election. America rolled the dice and decided to take a chance on a game show host with racist authoritarian tendencies.

Later that month I was called for Jury Duty. I loaded up the book The Fourth Turning on my phone, and stood around at the courthouse all day reading it. I'm not going to summarize the whole book, but here are a few highlights. Every 80-100 years comprise 4 cultural seasons- The High, The Awakening, The Unraveling, The Crisis. The last Crisis was WW2, the previous was the Civil War. Our time's Crisis was due to arrive soon, and we'd know it when we saw it. It wasn't quite Trump. He was more of a symptom, or the catalyst of what was coming. Anyway, I got sent home without seeing the inside of courtroom and continued living in that weird twilight awaiting inauguration.

That year, I really, really got into Christmas. I am an atheist, but hey, I appreciate the ritual, the nostalgia, the childish delight of flocked Santa ornaments, Red Sovine and Montovani records, mulled wine, and painfully earnest holiday romantic comedies. I opined "Mass culture is re-embracing Christmas because we are sad and miss the old times before Trump." Maybe that was true, or maybe it is like when you finally binge Breaking Bad years after everyone has given up on you ever watching it. Which I still haven't, so leave it be.

What happened next? A lot, I guess. Our life as a couple was fully submerged in politics for about 15 months. Protests, organizing, vetting candidates, making videos for the cause, leading meetings, attending meetings, calling Congress, the works. We were in it. Then we burned out, dialed it back, and decided to wait for 2020 to ramp up again.

Every year my Christmas fetish got stronger. Family traditions were emerging. In 2019 my daughter and wife threw me a Christmas themed birthday party in early November. Liberace, Kenny Rogers, Dolemite, and all the other super-stars of the holiday canon played over a cheap turntable. Bliss.

Oh! I nearly forgot-  last year was the year all of our stories ended. The Marvel films came to a strong finish, wrapping up on film tales that stretched back to 1941 in the comic books, at the start of the last Crisis.  The "villain" was brutal but sympathetic, a force of nature coming to clear the way for a new authoritarian Utopia where everyone had enough, and no one wanted for anything. He just had to kill half of everyone, everywhere first.

Star Wars wrapped up it's 42 year long story. It was about, um, something. How the thing you didn't see coming has been stealth hoarding death ships so he could eat his granddaughter's force energy but it wasn't anything the spirit of her mentors and 2 laser swords couldn't fix? Sorry, still trying to find the big metaphor there.

Anyway, pop culture was tying bows around a lot of large stories, and those were the largest. My thought to my wife- "Now that the largest stories are done, what will replace them? What does it mean that they ended? Are they clearing the way for something new?" I knew it was something, but I couldn't see what could possibly be coming.

So here we are. In the Fourth Turning when the Crisis happens it fundamentally changes every aspect of our lives. The lens focuses and we can suddenly see all the smaller crises we have struggled with merge into the singular Crisis. Everything is different, and we all know it over night. Here we are- the threads of medical care, housing, income inequality, globalism, immigration, and absence of reliable institutions, all weaving together into one grand global pandemic.

About 2 fourth turnings ago, back in the 1880s, science-fiction began to flourish in England. These Novels were stories that reflected their time, while also laying the groundwork for the technological marvels of the 20th century. One book, War of the World, was about an existential threat to the world. It was laid low by a common virus. The citizens of Woking, England, and the globe saved by a tiny invisible agent of death that wiped away the alien threat.

Here we are.

The Crisis is followed by a new high as everything rebuilds, and all efforts are native to and in service of the new reality. Keep your hands clean, your socializing distant, and we will make it through together.

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