To Everything There is a Season

The other night I finished reading Neil Howe’s book, The Fourth Turning Is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us About How and When This Crisis Will End (Simon & Schuster 2023). What an “aha!” moment! 

For well over half a century, I’ve been aware of swings in America’s moods and attitudes and how those patterns affect current events, public perception, and political actions. I always agreed with the oft-noted comparison of this phenomenon to a pendulum, but this book made me aware that it is, instead, a cycle.

Born in the mostly comfortable mid-1950s, I considered my childhood to be safe and peaceful. During the mid-1960s my youthful perception of life shifted to “uncertain and scary.” Too young to participate substantially in the awakening world of dissatisfaction and protest, I watched the news unfold: assassinations, race riots, the Vietnam War, bra-burning, and flower children. The Ohio River caught fire in 1969 which, in turn, set ablaze the nascent environmental movement sparked by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring. By the late 1970s, I’d seen enough, and I headed to North Idaho’s backwoods to hide from the world and try my hand at homesteading.

I emerged from those “lost years” in the mid-1980s, just in time to witness the beginning of society’s unraveling. A moralistic backlash to the 1970s’ permissiveness became entrenched over the next couple of decades, accompanied by an increased focus on individual gratification over community cooperation. Americans came together briefly after 911 and then resumed their slide toward apartness.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, public animosity and societal splintering have exploded. Courtesy and compassion have all but disappeared. Hate reigns. We’ve entered a crisis era.

Lately, I’ve heard commentators and historians compare these times to the years leading up to the American Civil War. Indeed, there are striking resemblances. Mark Twain once said, “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” And, “There is nothing new under the sun” is an idiom that sounds like Shakespeare but is actually from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Pete Seeger composed the music and adapted the lyrics from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The Limeliters recorded it in 1962, calling it To Everything There Is a Season. The Byrds adapted the song, renamed it Turn, Turn, Turn, and it became a hit in late 1965.
Many people have noticed patterns, but Howe’s book ties it all together. It follows Anglo-American historical trends since the 1400s and focuses on the archetypes of human generations that molded how these 80- to 100-year cycles played out. It’s an intense, five-star read. If you are curious about what may come next, check it out from your local library.

#seasons #cycles #pendulum #crisis

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