|Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's|
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These pages contain the complete manuscript of the new book
Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny,
written by John J. Xenakis.
This text is fully copyrighted. You may copy or print out this
material for your own use, but not for distribution to others.
Comments are invited. Send them to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
"And the only answer is: because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time and the task is yours to do."
-- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, addressing a joint session of Congress, on July 17, 2003
For the past 60 years, since the end of World War II, America has led the world in seeking freedom and democracy for everyone, in all nations.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 served to focus and refine this role. As the quote above from British Prime Minister Tony Blair shows, most Americans and many people around the world today see America as having a unique place in history, as having a "manifest destiny" to bring the world from terrorism to freedom and democracy.
The 9/11 attacks profoundly affected America, but it turns out that another change, a generational change, has been occurring in the early 2000s, and this generational change is having an even more profound affect.
Who are the nation's leaders? The President obviously, but there are many others. There are politicians in Washington and in all the state capitals; there are teachers, journalists, businessmen and women, labor leaders, investors, authors, TV script writers, mentors, and so forth, all of whom provide leadership to other people. And the ones who make most of the final decisions are the senior people, the workers in the 55 to 65 age group.
Now, what happens if, by magic, you could change all the country's leaders from being indecisive, conformist and risk-aversive to being assertive and demanding, willing to risk everything for what's right?
Well, that's exactly what's happened in the last few years, and there's nothing magic about it.
The babies born in the 1930s and 1940s were originally called "depression babies," but in the 1950s, Time Magazine gave them a new name: the Silent Generation, because they valued conformity and loyalty above all else, and didn't complain about much.
The members of the Silent Generation were too young to fight in the war, so they lived in the shadow of the G.I. Generation, their older brothers and sisters who became heroes who actually fought in the war, and are now called by Tom Brokaw and others "the greatest generation of the 20th century."
Meanwhile, the Silents had to deal with a new generation, the Baby Boomers who were born after the war. The Boomers were very sure of themselves, and led the antiwar riots and demonstrations during the 1960s and 1970s, rebelling against their parents in the G.I. Generation. The Silents were sandwiched between these two warring generations, and served as mediators and compromisers.
The G.I. generation were our nation's leaders during the tumultuous days of 60s and 70s. As they retired and died, the Silent generation became the nation's leaders in the 80s and 90s.
Now, in the decade of the 2000s, the members of the Silent generation are retiring and dying, and being replaced as leaders by the Boomer generation.
Now let's repeat the question: What if, by magic, you could change all the country's leaders from being indecisive, conformist and risk-aversive to being assertive and demanding, willing to risk everything for what's right?
Well, that's what's happened, but there's no magic. The indecisive, conformist and risk-aversive Silent generation was leading the nation in the 80s and 90s, and the assertive, demanding, risk-taking Baby Boomers are the nation's leaders today.
That's why the American public is more willing to risk war today for what they know is right: That America must be the country that leads the world from terrorism to freedom and democracy. As the most powerful nation the world has ever known, that's America's manifest destiny.
Is it possible to predict the future? Yes, of course - we do it every day. But we can only do it for certain things that involve the actions of large groups of people, and usually only approximately.
For example, we can predict pretty reliably that approximately 130 million Americans voters will vote in the 2008 Presidential election, even though we can't predict whether any particular person will vote. That's an example of a prediction that is approximate as to number.
Shortly after 9/11/2001, I became aware of a prediction that America was headed soon for another world war, based on the fact that previous major crisis wars -- the Revolution, Civil War and World War II -- had all occurred at roughly 80-year intervals. The prediction was made in an oddly named 1997 book, The Fourth Turning, an American Prophecy, by William Strauss and Neil Howe.
I decided to do my own research. Was this crystal ball stuff, or was there solid evidence? Did this apply only to America or to other countries as well? Could a solid theoretical framework be developed, or was it all guesswork?
Generational Dynamics and this book are the result. There is solid evidence presented throughout this book. Generational Dynamics evidently applies to every nation and society throughout history. And there's now a full theoretical framework, highlighting its areas of validity as well as its limitations.
In his 1995 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington showed how the Christian and Jewish western civilization appears to be heading for a worldwide conflict with Muslims around the world. The phrase "clash of civilizations" evokes an image of one billion Muslims fighting with one billion Christians and Jews, even though that's not the image that Professor Huntington wished to evoke.
Still, we'd like to know, what are the most likely scenarios? What does America's manifest destiny means in terms of the "clash of civilizations"?
Nothing ever happens as planned or predicted, but there are some scenarios that are more likely than others are. To arrive at these scenarios requires a basic principle called the Principle of Localization, which is discussed in chapters 3 and 4. This principle shows how particularly violent crisis wars tend to be cyclic, with a roughly 80-year cycle length, but only when viewed and analyzed on a local basis -- typically a single tribe, society or nation. These chapters show how the Principle of Localization works with another principle, Identity Group Expansion, described by Professor Huntington in his 1995 book. These two principles can be used together to explain the causes and timing of regional wars, and how regional wars either get extinguished or else expand to larger wars, possibly world wars. They can also be used to forecast the timing of new wars, using the Generational Dynamics Forecasting Methodology. With regard to the "clash of civilizations," this methodology tells us what the most likely scenarios are.
An important part of the theoretical development is to distinguish between crisis wars, the bloody, violent, genocidal wars that occur every 80 years or so, and the numerous other mid-cycle wars that occur all the time. A fascinating illustration of the differences between the two kinds of wars is Tolstoy's description of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in War and Peace. This is discussed in chapter 5, along with extracts from the novel.
Generational Dynamics is not just about wars. Every 80-year cycle begins and ends with a crisis war, but midway between the two crisis wars is an awakening, a period of civil unrest, but with a flowering of new ideas and new policies. America's last awakening occurred in the 1960s and 70s, and gave rise to the antiwar movement, the environment movement, antiracial laws, and women's lib.
Chapter 7 discusses some of the greatest awakenings in history -- the Golden Age of Greece, the ministry of Jesus Christ, the life of Mohammed, and the life of the Buddha.
Unfortunately, Generational Dynamics has some more bad news for America in the 2000s decade: it's predicting that we're in a new 1930s style Great Depression. This is discussed in chapter 6, and it's discussed again using mathematical forecasting techniques in chapter 11.
The next three chapters provide histories of Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia, respectively. Of particular interest is the history of Eastern Europe, which is presented as a centuries-old conflict between Islam and Orthodox Christianity. If we have a new "clash of civilizations," it will probably be related to Eastern European history.
There are many people, especially some Christian fundamentalists, who believe that the next world war will be the end of the world as described in the Bible. Although I don't believe that the next world war will bring the end of the world any more than World War II did, those who do will find plenty of material in this book that will make you feel the end might be coming. War does that to you. However, the next-to-last chapter of this book, "The Next Century", does make some surprising predictions about the world to come.
The last chapter tells what you can do -- you as an individual, you as a community leader, and you as a national policymaker.
Although this book is written for the general public, there's a fair amount of rigor behind it. My own educational background is in mathematical logic, and so there's an "axioms, proof, theorem" kind of structure in my mind that is presented in the book in an accessible non-mathematical manner.
When I first was developing Generational Dynamics, my original intention was to either validate or refute the generational theory. What I found validated the theory.
If I had found that there were examples in history that violated the generational paradigm, I would have dropped this project very, very quickly. In fact, if it even turned out that the generational theory only applies since the 1500s, as some people claim, that alone would have been enough to cause me to abandon the entire project.
Writing this book has been a fascinating journey for me. Studying and analyzing each new period in history served to refine and clarify the theory, but never to contradict or refute it.
As I was completing the book, for example, I decided to add some material to Chapter 8 (on Western Europe) to respond to the claim by some people that the generational paradigm doesn't apply prior to 1500. I analyzed England's timeline back to 1066 and found, not to my surprise, that the generational analysis clearly applies. I say "not to my surprise" because by that time I'd done so many similar analyses that the surprise would have been if the generational theory were violated. As long as the Principle of Localization (described in chapters 3 and 4) is honored, then the generational paradigm applies to all societies at all times in history.
The general exposition of the theory behind Generational Dynamics is presented in chapters 1, 3 and 4. I've proven the generational methodology almost as a mathematical theory, or as much a mathematical theory as it's possible to have when you're dealing with human behavior.
This approach also permits me to clearly see the limitations of the generational approach.
For one thing, any conclusion or forecast derived from Generational Dynamics must be based on mass population beliefs and attitudes, not the beliefs and attitudes of any particular person or group of politicians. (The example I like to give is the one that I gave above: that I can predict, fairly reliably, that about 130 million people will vote in the 2008 Presidential election, but I can't predict whether any particular person will vote.)
This means that there's no way to forecast terrorist acts. Terrorism is committed by individuals or small groups of individuals, and there's no way to predict the actions of individuals.
Even more important, there's no way to forecast mid-cycle wars. We could have predicted the Civil War and World War II, and we're predicting a new major war in the next few years, but there's no way that I know of, using this or any other methodology, to predict mid-cycle wars like our Korean, Vietnam or Gulf Wars. That's because those wars do not come from the people; instead, they come from the nation's leaders.
Another limitation in Generational Dynamics is that it's a medium to long-range forecasting tool. That means that when a forecast is available, it's a forecast of what our final destination is, but I can't tell you what road we'll take to get to that destination.
Furthermore, it also means that I can tell you what's going to happen within a time range of a "few years," but I can't tell you with any greater precision than that.
This requires a great deal of care in making forecasts to make it clear what's certain and what's uncertain about each forecast. Thus I can forecast, with very great certainty, that there will be a major war engulfing the Mideast, threatening the existence of Israel, as well as the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, resulting in a major transformation of the Mideast, probably with new national boundaries. But when will this war occur? History shows it will be within two or three years after the next generational change occurs. And when is that? I can only guess that it will be signaled by the disappearance of Yasser Arafat from the scene. I have to make it clear that one part of this forecast is certain, but the timing is not nearly as certain.
I'm always looking for ways to enhance the theory so that short-range forecasts can be made more accurate. To this end, I've developed the three-part "Generational Dynamics Forecasting Methodology," which is described in chapter 4 (see p. [localization2#52]). This part of the theory is still really being developed, but with a year or two of experience, I believe I'll be able to provide improved shorter-range forecasts.
As you read this book, you'll find that everything is explained in terms of the underlying theoretical basis. I don't claim any magical powers or even any great insight. Every statement is explained as common sense, so that the reader can reach the same conclusion by starting from the same principles, and can decide for him or her self the level of certainty to apply to any Generational Dynamics forecast.
In summary, the limitations of Generational Dynamics are as follows:
If these limitations are kept in mind, the reader should find that Generational Dynamics is an extremely reliable method for analyzing history and forecasting the future.
I listen to analysts and pundits on TV all the time, and they make typical statements like this: "Let's compare today's stock market to 1991," or, "The last time something like this happened was waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1962," or, "Ever since 1945, such and such has always happened." These analysts never go back any earlier, because almost no one is around any longer who remembers earlier times.
The skeptics echo those statements, completely ignoring the conclusion of this book: That we're now in a period resembling the 1930s, and nothing that's happened since then is particularly relevant.
The skeptics claim that we can't be repeating the 1930s, because "It's impossible." Why is it impossible? "Because the government set up agencies to prevent it from happening again." They say this even though those agencies have already failed: The SEC was specifically created to prevent a repeat of the 1920s stock market bubble that caused the 1930s depression, but the SEC did not prevent the 1990s stock market bubble. (The one difference that people point to is the Fed reflation policy; this is discussed on page [trend#222]).
The whole point of this book is that the mistakes of the 1920s and 1930s are being repeated in the decades of the 1990s and 2000s because the people who remember those earlier decades are no longer around. They've retired or died.
So if you want to argue against the conclusions of this book, you have to depend on more than your memory. You have to do the actual research comparing today to the 1920s and 30s.
And when you do that research, as I have, you discover that there really isn't much difference at all.
The book web site is at: http://www.generationaldynamics.com
The beautiful cover art was created by the artist Libby Chase, whose work can be found at http://www.libbysgallery.com.
Clip art images were obtained from http://www.budgetstockphoto.com.