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My two Generational Dynamics books are available and can be read for free online by anyone wishing to learn the details of generational theory. Even though both of those books are now a bit out of date, and have been supplanted by a great deal of additional research that has been posted on this web site, they're still the best source for someone willing to take the time to read them.
The purpose of this article is to summarize the major concepts of Generational Dynamics for those who wish to get started.
Generational Dynamics analyzes history through the flow of generations, and identifies generational patterns that repeat in all places and times in history. This has provided a methodology that has proven very useful for analyzing and understanding historical events, but also for forecasting future trends.
This web site, http://GenerationalDynamics.com, has been a test site for Generational Dynamics since it was set up in 2003. There are over 1,000 articles posted, most containing specific Generational Dynamics predictions. All of those predictions have come true, or are trending true. None has been shown to be false. There is no analyst, journalist, politician or web site in the world with anything close to the predictive success of this web site.
See "List of major Generational Dynamics predictions" for more information on predictions.
Note that Generational Dynamics does not predict actual events. What it predicts is the public reactions to unpleasant events. It predicts the attitudes and behaviors of large masses of people, entire generations of people.
In a nutshell, Generational Dynamics denies the frequently held claim that wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. To the contrary, new generations tend to make the same mistakes that their great-great-grandparents did. So if a society makes a "mistake" that causes a genocidal crisis war, then the newer generations will make the same "mistake" as soon as the survivors of the previous war die.
** 1929-45: Great Depression and World War II (Crisis Era)
** 1945-63: American High (Recovery Era)
** 1963-84: Consciousness Revolution (Awakening Era)
** 1984-2005: Culture Wars (Unraveling Era)
** 2005-??? Clash of Civilizations (Crisis Era)
** Born 1901-24: GI Generation (Hero archetype)
** Born 1925-42: Silent Generation (Artist archetype)
** Born 1943-59: Baby Boomer Generation (Prophet archetype)
** Born 1960-81: Generation-X (Nomad archetype)
** Born 1982-2000: Millennial Generation (Hero archetype)
A generational saeculum is a period of roughly 70-90 years (the maximum length of a human lifetime) that represents one entire generational cycle. To understand what happens, let's look at America, starting from the Great Depression.
Imagine that you're a child growing up during the Great Depression and World War II. Unless you're over age 70 today, then you have NO IDEA what that's like. Here are some of the things that you live through:
Children who grow up under such desolate circumstances are really abused children, and so you grow up indecisive, sensitive, caring, and glad just to be alive, deeply pained by your many losses. This experience determines the path of your entire life. You're determined that you'll spend your life doing everything you can to guarantee that your children never have to suffer that way.
Furthermore, it's not just you. Every child in your generation has suffered the same way, has had the same kinds of losses. Your entire generation shares an experience that your own children will never understand, but that's OK, because you'll warn them about it, and you'll help them do the right thing.
Terminology: World War II is an example of a Crisis War for America, taking place during a Crisis Era. Children growing up during a crisis era are in a Artist Generation archetype, so named because they grow up to be indecisive, sensitive, caring, and glad just to be alive. The generation born during WW II is called the "Silent Generation" -- so named by Time Magazine during the 1950s because they never complained about anything.
Previous: America's previous Crisis War was the Civil War. The Artists that grew up during the Civil War were called the "Progressive Generation."
Now imagine something completely different: You're born just before the war ends, or after the war ends.
You didn't suffer during the war, because you weren't born yet. Instead, you enjoy all the benefits of the war being over -- a nice home, good schools, and so forth. But most important, your parents treasure you. They had waited until after the war to have you, and they want you to be the happiest child in the world. They shower you with attention, and they satisfy your every whim. You get used to getting your way. All they ask is that you just follow a few simple rules of life -- save your money, work hard, know your place, and don't get people angry.
Meanwhile, your parents' generation is healing the world. The people who survived World War II did some great things -- they created the United Nations, World Bank, Green Revolution, World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, and so forth. They put laws and procedures in place to guarantee that the Great Depression would never happen again, that famines would never happen again, and that there would be no need for war. They created these organizations and managed them for decades with one purpose in mind: That their children and grandchildren would never have to go through World War III.
Your parents were extremely generous to other nations in trouble. They spent money on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and they also helped rebuild other countries that had been destroyed by the war.
Your parents did other things to prevent World War III: They believed that if they had stopped Hitler and Naziism in 1935, then they would have prevented WW II; and they believed that they had to stop Communism to prevent WW III. So they fought the Korean war to stop Communism from spreading into South Korea, and they fought the Vietnam war to stop Communism from spreading into South Vietnam.
Your parents' motto was: It doesn't matter how much it costs to prevent WW III, because the cost will be tiny compared to the cost of fighting WW II.
By the time the 1960s came along, you were reaching adulthood, and you were getting very pissed off at your parents, and you fought all the time. You were sick of being told to save your money. You were sick of being told you had to fight in Vietnam. You began to see your parents' rules as oppression against women and minority groups, and their concerns about Communism as an obsession. When they brag about how capitalism beat the Depression and Nazis, you see them as just materialistic.
You start to "rebel." You grow your hair long if you're a boy, and cut it short if you're a girl. You burn your draft card if you're a boy, and you burn your bra if you're a girl. You start a women's lib movement, an anti-racism movement, a sexual freedom movement, and an anti-war movement -- rejecting all of your parents' values. You demonstrate and riot. It's the "generation gap."
Terminology: The period following the end of a Crisis War is called a Recovery Era, and it generally lasts 15-20 years. Children born and growing up during a Recovery era are in an Prophet Generation archetype, so named because they provide the spiritual guidance to the country for much of their lives. Because of the way their parents treated them, they become arrogant and narcissistic, and always expect to get their own way. The generation born after WW II is called the "Baby Boomer Generation," because of the "baby boom" that followed the end of WW II.
Previous: America's previous Crisis War was the Civil War. The Prophets who were born near the end or after the Civil War were called the "Missionary Generation."
Once again, your imagination changes in a new direction. Now imagine you were born just before or after the time that the Boomers were beginning to riot and demonstrate against their parents' values.
Things are very different for you this time. (And incidentally, by now you should begin to understand why each generation has a vastly different world view than the others do.)
The older kids -- the Boomers -- were pampered. They always got their way. They would kick and scream and throw tantrums, and riot and demonstrate, and everyone listened to them and eventually gave in to them.
But that doesn't happen to you and kids in your generation. Nobody listens to you, because they're all listening to the Boomers. Older people always cut you off in mid-sentence. If there's something you want, all you get is a lecture about why you're wrong.
Gradually, you begin to believe that older people are full of crap. Your attitude toward them varies from dislike to scorn to hatred. Your view begins to coincide with that of Democratic Party strategist and Clinton aide Paul Begala, who wrote:
Terminology: The period that begins about 15-20 years after the end of the Crisis war is called the Awakening Era, and it generally lasts around 20 years. It begins when the Prophets begin to demonstrate and rebel against their parents (a "generation gap"), and it's characterized by political and social upheavals, often including occasional low-level violence. Socially and politically, the society moves towards valuing the rights of the individual (women's rights, minority rights), and away from the rights of the society as a whole.
Children born and growing up just before and during an Awakening era are in the Nomad Generation archetype, so named because they're disaffected with and disoriented within society. The generation born in America in the 1960s and 1970s has been named Generation-X. Because of their disaffection, Nomads tend to become scornful of, and sometimes nihilistic towards the entire society and its values.
Previous: The previous Nomad generation, born in the 1890s and 1900s decade, has been named by historians as the "Lost Generation," because of their disaffection with society after having had to fight in World War I.
This time, imagine that you were born in the 1980s or 1990s. It's a very different country from earlier decades. It used to be that the country was fighting Communism, but now the country seems to have no direction at all, and all that the adults do is bicker with one another. Even your own life seems to have no direction, especially if you're a child of divorce and your parents do nothing but bicker with each other, and you don't know from week to week whether you'll be spending the weekend with your mother or your father.
In many ways, your yearnings are the opposite of the those of the Prophet generation that grew up in the 1950s. While they chafed under the austere rules, you yearn for a life of more structure and stability. While they made everything into a battle, you'd really like some peace and quiet. While they often despised their parents, you worry about your parents and their welfare. This makes you a very different kind of person than the Boomers or the Gen-Xers, with a completely different view of life and the world.
Terminology: The period that begins about 40 years after the end of the last Crisis war is called Unraveling Era or Third Turning, and it generally lasts around 20 years. It has this name because, by this time, the new structures and austere rules that the Crisis war survivors had instituted during the First Turning have almost completely unraveled. This is a time of maximum rights for the individual, and minimum concern for survival of the society as a whole.
Children born and growing up just before and during an Unraveling era are in the Hero Generation archetype, so named because they grow up to be the foot soldiers who fight the next Crisis war. The generation born in America in the 1980s and 1990s has been named the Millennial Generation.
Previous: The previous Hero generation, born in the 1910s and 1920s, is known as the "GI Generation," because they were the "greatest generation" that fought and won WW II.
America and many other countries have been entering a "Crisis Era" since the early 2000s -- not because of 9/11, but because the survivors of World War II are rapidly disappearing (retiring or dying), leaving Boomers in charge of most government, business, and education organizations.
The problem with Boomers is that they have no governing or leadership skills. They only know how to argue, and they learned that during the 1960s and 1970s. In country after country around the world -- France, Britain, Israel, Japan, China, South Africa, the U.S. and elsewhere -- governments are becoming increasingly paralyzed, and leaders are getting lower and lower approval ratings.
The reason for this paralysis is that the generations that survived WW II are gone now. Those people did some great things -- they created the United Nations, World Bank, Green Revolution, World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, and so forth. They created these organizations and managed them for decades with one purpose in mind: That their children and grandchildren would never have to go through anything so horrible as World War II. Now all those people are gone, and the people left behind have no idea what's going on or what to do. They're unable to lead or govern. All they know how to do is whine and complain, and wait until the next disaster, the next world war, forces them to do great things as well.
Right behind the Boomers are the disaffected members of Generation-X. The Gen-Xers are frustrated and furious at what they see as the incompetence of Boomers. This frustration, which is true of Nomad archetypes throughout history, leads them to become somewhat nihilistic and self-destructive.
Together, the incompetent Boomers and the nihilistic Gen-Xers form a potentially lethal combination. Motivated by fury and anger at Boomers for doing nothing, the Gen-Xers rush in to "do something", and the things they do can be disastrous -- lead to world war, lead to financial disaster. The Boomers, who are serving as senior level managers throughout government, business and education, might be expected to control these Xer impulses, but being totally blind and incompetent means that the Gen-Xers have a free hand. It's this lethal combination that's already destroyed the world financial system, and will undoubtedly do worse.
When does a Crisis ERA turn into a Crisis WAR?
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this question has a specific answer: it's a point of time defined in generational theory and known as the "regeneracy." The regeneracy is the point in time where an event, or series of events (like the Pearl Harbor attack and the Bataan death march in World War II or the Battle of Bull Run in the Civil War) unify a country or society behind its leader, and the survival of the country and its way of life become the highest priority, higher than the value of an individual life. This change opens the door to genocidal acts, since an individual human life has little value any more.
It's impossible to predict what event will trigger the regeneracy -- possibly a major terrorist attack on American soil, or possibly a major military defeat overseas -- but this event will end the political bickering, will unify the country once more, and will send the young Millennial generation off to war.
The following diagram provides a concise summary of the flow of generations through an 80-year saeculum, and shows how the feedback loop works:
The feedback loop is initially launched by a special kind of war called a "crisis war." These are the worst, most genocidal kinds of wars, when the value of an individual human life becomes so close to zero that almost any means is used to win the war. America has had two such wars since the nation's founding: The Civil War, in which Northern General Sherman marched through the South, and conducted the world's first "scorched earth" war campaign, burning all buildings and crops to the ground; and World War II, in which we firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, killing millions of civilians, and dropped nuclear weapons on two other Japanese cities. (I'm not blaming America for this, only stating that it occurred.)
The Crisis Era launches three following "eras," each approximately 20 years long -- Recovery, Awakening and Unraveling. There are four generations of people, designated as Heroes, Artists, Prophets and Nomads, according to the generation in which they're born.
People of different generational archetypes are quite dissimilar, but people in the same archetype, even when they lived centuries apart, are remarkably similar in attitudes towards everything from gender issues to political activism to war.
Briefly, the feedback loop works as follows: the survivors of the crisis war (Civil War, WW II) are so traumatized that they spend the rest of their lives making sure that nothing like that ever happens again. During the period that follows the crisis war, they implement austere rules to guarantee that result. This period is an "Austerity era" to the survivors of the war, but it's a "High era" to those born after the war, the Prophet generation (our Baby Boomer generation), who have no personal memory of the war, and who rebel against the austere rules. This results in a political conflict and a "generation gap" in the Awakening Era (our 1960s-70s), leading to an Unraveling Era (our 1980s-90s), during which all the austere rules completely unravel. After that, the Prophet generation leads the society into a new crisis war.
With that summary of the feedback loop in mind, there are a couple of additional features of this diagram worth noting.
First, it's possible that a country or society will suffer a massive invasion or disaster in a time other than a Crisis era. This diagram shows what happens -- that the three shaded generations (which might NOT be Prophet / Nomad / Hero) in the first column all unify AS IF it had been a crisis era, while the youngest generation grows up into the Artist archetype.
In this case, the country or society experiences a "first turning reset," and goes through a Recovery Era that essentially rebuilds the generational constellation, so that by the time of the Awakening era, the entire generational paradigm has reasserted itself. This shows that there is no special starting point for the generational cycle, and that it can be launched any time by a crisis war or by an event that causes a first turning reset.
A first turning reset is very rare. Some examples are: The Palestinians after the war with Jews in 1948-49; the Pilgrims who traveled to North America in the 1610s; and the Afrikaners who took part in the Great Trek in the 1830s-40s. In all these cases, there's an unexpected invasion or a relocation that completely destroys the existing generational relationships, allowing for the entire cycle to restart with the Recovery Era.
Second, when do Crisis wars occur in the generational timeline? An analysis of dozens of examples yields the following table of inter-crisis periods:
LENGTH OF INTER-CRISIS PERIOD
# years of total Turning
------- -------- ------------------
0- 40 0% First Turning, Second Turning
41- 49 11% First half of Third Turning
50- 59 33% Second half of Third Turning
60- 69 25% First half of Fourth Turning
70- 79 16% Second half of Fourth Turning
80- 89 4% Fifth turning
90- 99 6%
As this table shows, almost all Crisis Wars occur 50-80 years after the end of the previous Crisis war. The peak is in the year 58 after the end of the previous Crisis war. As this shows, the "feedback loop" described above has enough flexibility that the cycle persists even when a society or nation experiences unexpected historical disasters.
The following examples illustrate some of the previous concepts:
Israel's last Crisis war was the genocidal war between Jews and Arabs in 1948-49, after the United Nations partitioned Palestine and created the state of Israel. 58 years later, in 2006, Israel panicked, miscalculated, and attacked Hizbollah and Lebanon within four hours after the kidnapping of two soldiers -- with no plan, no objectives. Once the war began, Israel blundered from one objective to another, one plan to another. Israel pursued the war in a "hot" Crisis era fashion.
Lebanon had a Crisis civil war in the 1980s, and the country is still in shock over the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. A constant theme in today's politics is the worry that a new civil war might be triggered, but that's actually impossible right now, because Lebanon is in a generational Awakening era. Hizbollah fought the 2006 war with Israel in a "cool" Awakening era fashion, with warriors launching missiles into Israel, and then returning home to the arms of their wives. If Lebanon had been in a Crisis era, then Hizbollah fighters would have crossed the border and killed Israelis in their homes.
Iraq is currently in a generational Awakening era, since its last Crisis war was the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. (Its previous crisis war was the Iraqi Revolution of 1920.) This means, as stated on this web site many times, starting in 2003, that a civil war in Iraq is impossible, and if one starts it must fizzle quickly. That's exactly what happened. See: "Terrorist suicide bombings in Iraq," and "The Iraq war may be related to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Darfur has followed a typical pattern for a genocidal civil war. It started in the 1970s Awakening era as simple land disputes between farmers and camel herders; it escalated to low-level violence between ethnic groups in the Unraveling era of the 1980s and 1990s; the regeneracy occurred in 2003, and full-fledged genocidal crisis civil war became the focus of the world's attention by 2004. However, as this web site has frequently pointed out, a crisis civil war must run its course, and the U.N. has been completely irrelevant.
Kenya's last crisis war was the Mau-Mau rebellion that began in 1952 and climaxed in 1956. Only 52 years since the climax of the last crisis war, the new burst of violence is UNLIKELY to spiral into war right away, although a major crisis civil war is almost certain within ten years.
This is the question asked most often by people challenging Generational Dynamics: Weren't WW I and WW II so close together that they disprove generational theory?
Few Americans have the vaguest idea what World War I was about. At least in the case of WW II, most people know that it had something to do with Hitler and Naziism. (Of course, when someone tells me that Hitler caused WW II, I always like to ask him why Hitler decided to bomb Pearl Harbor.)
But in the case of WW I, few people know anything at all, and think it was some early version of WW II, which is nonsense. There are some things you should know about Germany and World War I:
All of these are indications that WW I was a NON-CRISIS war for Germany. In fact, it was a non-crisis war for all of Western Europe.
In Eastern Europe, it was a different story, however. WW I in Eastern Europe brought many enormously historical changes, including the Bolshevik Revolution and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.
WW II was the reverse: It was a non-crisis war for Eastern Europe and Russia, but a generational Crisis war for Western Europe and North America.
If you go back through history, there are many small or regional recessions. But since the 1600s there have been only five major international financial crises: the 1637 Tulipomania bubble, the South Sea bubble of the 1710s-20s, the bankruptcy of the French monarchy in the 1789, the Panic of 1857, and the 1929 Wall Street crash.
These are called "generational crashes" because they occur every 70-80 years, just as the generation of people who lived through the last one have all disappeared, and the younger generations have resumed the same dangerous credit securitization practices that led to the previous generational crash. After each of these generational crashes, the survivors impose new rules or laws to make sure that it never happens again. As soon as those survivors are dead, the new generations ignore the rules, thinking that they're just for "old people," and a new generational crash occurs.
We're now overdue for the next generational crash, and it might occur tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.
Macroeconomic theory was invented in the 1930s to develop policies to prevent a stock market bubble and Great Depression. It's failed to predict or explain the 1990s stock market bubble or almost anything in the 2000s decade.
Macroeconomics theory could be vastly improved by combining it with System Dynamics, invented at MIT in the 1960s, forming a new Dynamic Macroeconomics theory that will predict and explain such things as recessions, inflation, and bubbles. See: "System Dynamics and the Failure of Macroeconomics Theory."
The most common reason why someone cannot understand generational theory is because he can't understand that politics has nothing to do with the generational trends that we talk about. The great events happening in the world today were not caused and could not have been caused by George Bush or any other political leader, and neither George Bush nor any political leader can have any effect on whatever is coming. The trends that we've identified cannot be stopped by politicians, any more than politicians can stop a tsunami.
And so if you can't free yourself of your political biases, whatever they may be, then you won't understand generational theory.
However, the above has to be modified: No political leader can have any PREDICTABLE effect on whatever is coming. A politician may trigger a war or a stock market crash unintentionally, but that can only be determined in hindsight.
Hundreds of articles have been posted on this web site since 2003, most containing specific Generational Dynamics predictions. All of those predictions have come true, or are trending true. None has been shown to be false. There is no analyst, journalist, politician or web site in the world with anything close to the predictive success of this web site. Here is a "List of major Generational Dynamics predictions."
Note that Generational Dynamics does not predict actual events. What it predicts is the public reactions to unpleasant events. It predicts the attitudes and behaviors of large masses of people, entire generations of people. Thus, the generational methodology can be used to make very accurate predictions, but only for certain types of predictions.
The reason for this success is because the concepts of Chaos Theory and System Dynamics, both well-established disciplines, have been applied to determine what kinds of predictions can be made. Thus, all these predictions are "trend predictions," not "chaotic event" predictions.
If you've read science fiction, then you may be familiar with Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, in which Hari Seldon developed something called "psychohistory," in which he mapped out the future of the universe for the next thousand years. Asimov was writing in the 1950s, but Hari Seldon's psychohistory was proven to be pretty much impossible in the 1960s and 1970s by the development of Chaos Theory. On my web site, I try to carefully distinguish between Generational Dynamics predictions (trend predictions) and probabilistic predictions (depend on chaotic events).
I discussed the whole subject in chapter 4 of my long languishing book, "Generational Dynamics for Historians." It's a bit out of date now, but it covers the subject. See "Chapter 4 - Chaos Theory and Generational Forecasting."
It's impossible to predict the attitudes or behaviors of any person or any group of politicians, but it IS possible to predict the attitudes and behaviors of large masses of people, entire generations of people, and how they react to events. The success of this web site since 2003 indicates that this claim is true.
In 1956, Anthony F. C. Wallace published a paper called "Revitalization Movements" to describe how cultures change themselves. A revitalization movement is a "deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a group to create a new culture," and Wallace describes at length the processes by which a revitalization movement takes place.
Wallace derived his theory from studies of so-called primitive peoples (preliterate and homogeneous), with particular attention to the Iroquois revitalization movement led by Seneca religious leader and "prophet" whose name was Handsome Lake (1735-1815). Wallace believed that his revitalization model applies to movements as broad and complex as the rise of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Wesleyan Methodism.
In his 1978 book, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform, senior history professor William G. McLoughlin took Wallace's work on Revitalization Movements and extended it to "the complex, pluralistic, and highly literate people of the United States." McLoughlin identifies five awakenings in Anglo-American history. He started with England's Puritan Awakening (1610-40), that began midway between the Spanish Armada crisis war and the English civil war. He then describes America's First, Second and Third Great Awakenings, and also includes a Fourth Awakening -- beginning in the 1960s.
In the 1980s, when historians William Strauss and Neil Howe did their research on Anglo-American generational patterns for their books Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, they drew heavily on McLoughlin's work and filled in the detailed generational changes that lead from an awakening to a crisis war to another awakening to another crisis war.
Generational Dynamics in turn draws on Strauss and Howe's work, and extends the concepts of crisis wars and awakenings to all nations, societies and tribes at all times in history.
It is, of course, impossible to prove directly that any patterns exist throughout history, because complete information isn't available. Nonetheless, several indirect proofs are available.
When I first became aware of Strauss and Howe's book, shortly after 9/11, I was genuinely questioning its validity, especially since their theory was restricted to the Anglo-American period since the 1400s, and there were some anomalies that had to be explained. I sought to prove the validity of generational theory to whatever extent was possible.
Since then, there are now various different proofs of generational patterns, using different methodologies:
However, there is one significant point: Suppose that two sub-species compete for the same food, and one is (say) taller than the other. Then the shorter sub-species will run out of food first. Many shorter animals will die quietly, and the entire sub-species may become extinct quietly.
But that's not true of humans. If one group has an advantage over another, the second group won't "die quietly." Instead they'll have protests and demonstrations, as is typical of a generational Awakening era, and eventually they'll have genocidal crisis wars.
I'm personally convinced of the validity of the generational cycle for all times and places throughout history, and I believe that any scholarly evaluation of Generational Dynamics must reach the same conclusion.