Guest Post: 9/11 – A Fourth Turning Perspective

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Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

9/11 – A Fourth Turning Perspective

The four turnings comprise a
quaternal social cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and
rebirth).  In a spring like High, a society fortifies and builds and
converges in an era of promise.  In a summer like Awakening, it dreams
and plays and exults in an era of euphoria.  In an autumnal Unraveling,
it harvests and consumes and diverges in an era of anxiety.  In a
hibernal Crisis, it focuses and struggles and sacrifices in an era of
survival.  When the saeculum is in motion, therefore, no long human
lifetime can go by without a society confronting its deepest spiritual
and worldly needs. - 
The Fourth Turning

File:National Park Service 9-11 Statue of Liberty and WTC fire.jpg  File:Wtc-2004-memorial.jpg

Nine years after the attack on the World Trade Center the mood of the
country has transformed dramatically. I watched the horror on a TV in a
conference room at work with my colleagues. I remember being in a daze
for a few days after the attack. When it became unambiguous that Osama
bin Laden masterminded the attacks and was being protected by the
Taliban in Afghanistan, I wanted justice. The entire world rallied
around the US. There was worldwide support for the United States’ right
to attack Afghanistan and kill the perpetrators.

In the days immediately following the attacks, there were many
memorials and vigils around the world. In addition, pictures were placed
all over Ground Zero. A witness described being unable to “get away
from faces of innocent victims who were killed. Their pictures are
everywhere, on phone booths, street lights, walls of subway stations.
Everything reminded me of a huge funeral, people quiet and sad, but also
very nice. Before, New York gave me a cold feeling; now people were
reaching out to help each other.”

There was a feeling of unity in the country for a brief shining
moment. If the year had been 2007, rather than 2001, that unity may have
been sustained. Anyone who had read Strauss & Howe’s 1997 book The Fourth Turning was likely
trying to figure out if the 9/11 attacks were the trigger for the
Fourth Turning. But it was too soon. As Strauss & Howe relate in the
book, a turning can be sudden or subtle:

“The gateway to a new turning can be
obvious and dramatic (like the 1929 Stock Crash) or subtle and gradual
(like 1984’s Morning in America).  It usually occurs two to five years
after a new generation of children starts being born.  The tight link
between turning gateways and generational boundaries enables each
archetype to fill an entire phase-of-life just as the mood of an old
turning grows stale and feels ripe for replacement with something new.”

Unraveling Culture

The Unraveling, which had begun in 1984, had not run its course by
September 11, 2001. Turnings generally last for 20 to 25 years. In 2001,
we were only 17 years into the Unraveling. The mood of the country had
not developed to the point where a consensus could be built to address a
national Crisis. We had been attacked, but our very existence as a
nation had not been threatened. The 9/11 attacks heightened the feeling
of anxiety in the country and put us on the path towards a great Crisis.
Strauss & Howe explained the phases of an Unraveling in the
book:   

“An UNRAVELING begins as a
society-wide embrace of the liberating cultural forces set loose by the
Awakening.  People have had their fill of spiritual rebirth, moral
protest, and lifestyle experimentation.  Content with what they have
become individually, they vigorously assert an ethos of pragmatism,
self-reliance, laissez faire, and national (or sectional or ethnic)
chauvinism.

While personal satisfaction is high,
public trust ebbs amid a fragmenting culture, harsh debates over values,
and weakening civic habits.  The sense of guilt (which rewards
principle and individuality) reaches its zenith.  As moral debates brew,
the big public arguments are over ends, not means.  Decisive public
action becomes very difficult, as community problems are deferred.  Wars
are fought with moral fervor but without consensus or follow-through.

Eventually, cynical alienation
hardens into a brooding pessimism. During a High, obliging individuals
serve a purposeful society, and even bad people get harnessed to
socially constructive tasks; during an Unraveling, an obliging society
serves purposeful individuals, and even good people find it hard to
connect with their community.  The approaching specter of public
disaster ultimately elicits a mix of paralysis and apathy that would
have been unthinkable half a saeculum earlier.  People can now feel, but
collectively can no longer do.” - 
The Fourth Turning

The Clinton years were divisive and cynical. You knew the country was
adrift, but no one could harness the power of the realm to take on
the impending challenges. The nation divided into Blue states and Red
States. The Moral Majority raged against the Godlessness of the country.
The 2000 Presidential election was an example of a country deeply
divided, fragmented and unable to agree on anything. The election was
essentially a draw, and a partisan Supreme Court picked the winner. It
seemed like the country was divided as never before. But, a student of
history would have recognized the same issues, dilemmas and foul mood in
the 1760s, 1850s and 1920s. Strauss and Howe documented the prior
Unravelings in US history:

“The mood of the current Culture Wars
era seems new to nearly every living American but is not new to
history.  Around World War I, America steeped in reform and
fundamentalism amidst a floodtide of crime, alcohol, immigration,
political corruption, and circus trials.  The 1850s likewise simmered
with moral righteousness, shortening tempers, and multiplying
“mavericks.”  It was a decade, says historian David Donald, in which
“the authority of all government in America was at a low point.” 
Entering the 1760s, the colonies felt rejuvenated in spirit but reeled
from violence, mobs, insurrections, and paranoia over the corruption of
official authority.” - 
The Fourth Turning

The country went to war with a moral fervor, which quickly
dissipated. There was no follow through, as bin Laden was allowed to
escape. The appearance of unity in the country was wiped away with the
invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. Americans became more cynical
after 9/11. Instead of addressing the visible financial catastrophe set
in motion by political promises made decades ago, Americans deluded
themselves with visions of faux wealth created by the Federal Reserve
inflating the largest bubble in history. President Bush did not demand
shared sacrifice after 9/11. He instructed the American people to defeat
the terrorists by leasing a Mercedes SUV; buying a 6,000 sq ft
McMansion with 10 rooms, granite countertops, Jacuzzis, and a home
theater, financed with 0% down; and taking your ultimate dream vacation
in the Caribbean paid for with one of your 10 credit cards.

While Americans binged on credit and ignored the disastrous future
that awaited them with the approaching Fourth Turning, a brooding
pessimism began to blanket the country. A national paralysis overtook
the populace regarding vital issues. The popping of the housing bubble
from 2006 through 2008 revealed massive fraud on the part of Wall Street
bankers; corrupt politicians, bought off by corporations, in Washington
DC; inept bungling regulators; millions of morons wanting to be led
astray; and a Federal Reserve that provided the cheap credit to fuel the
mass delusion. The complete meltdown of the financial system in
September 2008 will be viewed as the catalyst for the current Fourth
Turning. The transition from Unraveling to Crisis has transpired.

Crisis Deepening

“A CRISIS arises in response to
sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but
which are now perceived as dire.  Great worldly perils boil off the
clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative:
The society must prevail.  This requires a solid public consensus,
aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice.” - 
The Fourth Turning

The current Crisis is deepening day by day. The ninth anniversary of
9/11 is revealing the dramatic mood change of the country. In the days
following 9/11 there was little anger against the religion of Islam.
President Bush went to a mosque and declared that Islam was a religion
of peace. He said forcefully that anyone who attacked Arab or Muslim
Americans in some kind of twisted attempt at revenge for 9/11 would be
met with the full force of American law. Most  right minded Americans
agreed with President Bush. After 9 years of waging wars against
Muslims, in which victory is unachievable, Americans are weary, agitated
and ready to lash out.

Contrast the reaction of Americans after 9/11 with the recent issue
of converting a Burlington Coat factory store into a Muslim community
center two blocks from Ground Zero. The mainstream media has been full
of vitriol and anger regarding an issue that would have gotten no press
in 2002. There have been protests, counter-protests, accusations and
lies spread across the airwaves. The anti-Muslim feeling in the country
is palpable. A nut-job pastor with a flock of 50 people threatens to
burn the Koran and sets off a firestorm across the globe. The reaction
to this inconsequential knucklehead would have been non-existent in
2002. The mood of the country has clearly changed. The anger building
against the ruling elite on Wall Street and in Washington DC is real.
Average Americans feel betrayed by politicians, bankers and corporate
America. The Tea party movement is a reflection of that anger. The
country certainly hasn’t reached a consensus about which direction the
country needs to move, but we are still in the early stages of the
Fourth Turning. A threat to our very existence will reveal itself in the
near future and generate the consensus necessary to meet the threat.

What is beyond a doubt is that the country is facing extreme peril as
it tries to maneuver its way through an economic Depression, a looming
peak oil crisis, unresolved long-term fiscal obligations, and antagonism
from countries throughout the world. The cycles of history do not
reveal the exact nature of the Crisis ahead, but previous Crisis periods
give us a flavor of what to expect. Based on our previous Crises
periods and knowing which national issues have been ignored for decades,
the likely threats to confront the nation over the next decade include:

  • Continued reduction in the national wealth of Americans as home
    prices drop another 20% and the stock market loses another 30% of its
    value.
  • A National Debt approaching $20 trillion within the next 5 years,
    potentially resulting in massive interest expense payments and/or a
    collapse of the USD.
  • When the Central Bank experiment in fiat currency fails within the next 5 years, a hyperinflationary depression is likely. 
  • The demographic headwinds of a rapidly aging population combined
    with the gutting of industrial America by corporate chieftains insures
    that the American economy will be stuck in low gear. The result will be a
    steady decline in the American standard of living.
  • The diminishing supply of cheap, easily accessible oil will
    fundamentally change American society. The entire suburban sprawl
    existence of America, with 260 million automobiles and food trucked from
    1,500 miles to grocery stores will disappear practically overnight.
  • The wrenching changes which will be required to localize, combined
    with the loss of wealth, will likely lead to social chaos, possible
    revolt, and the use of U.S. military forces against citizens of the
    United States. Geographic fragmentation of the country is a distinct
    possibility.
  • The desperate need for oil will provoke wars for precious resources.
    The Middle East is likely to turn into a battlefield. The combatants
    are unknown at this point, but China and Russia are likely to be
    involved. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, an escalation could
    lead to a catastrophic worldwide conflagration.

Fourth Turnings always sweep away the old order and replace it with a
new order. There is no guarantee that the new order will be better. It
could be far worse. As we honor those who lost their lives on September
11, 2001 we need to brace ourselves for the storm ahead. The clouds are
gathering and the time of great sacrifice is approaching. There are no
guarantees from God that the United States will always prevail. We have
gone far off course this time. I trust we can rise to the challenge.

“History offers no guarantees.
Obviously, things could go horribly wrong – the possibilities ranging
from a nuclear exchange to incurable plagues, from terrorist anarchy to
high-tech dictatorship. We should not assume that Providence will always
exempt our nation from the irreversible tragedies that have overtaken
so many others: not just temporary hardship, but debasement and total
ruin. Losing in the next Fourth Turning could mean something
incomparably worse. It could mean a lasting defeat from which our
national innocence – perhaps even our nation – might never recover.”  - 
The Fourth Turning