A closer look at the Crisis era

A closer look at the Crisis era

Years ago I had another blog, Generation Watch, dedicated to looking at current events and news stories through the filter of Strauss-Howe generational theory. I was an avid reader of their work (still am, though their work is now mostly confined to Neil Howe’s column at forbes.com), and as part of the Generation Watch site I had a list of submission guidelines that included hints about what to look for in news stories about each generation – it was all taken right out of the book The Fourth Turning. At the time I was writing (early to mid-2000s) I, along with many other Strauss & Howe aficianados, was trying to determine if and when we were going to transition from the Third Turning in the social cycle (the Unraveling) into the Fourth Turning (the Crisis). Well, the “official” word is that the Crisis began in 2008, so now that we are a decade in, I think I will reexamine the markers that I published so many years ago, in some new posts. Meanwhile, you can read them at the old site here:


Two animated films for your watch list

Two animated films for your watch list

The latest Pixar offering, Coco, is a wonderful film which has instantly become one of our family’s favorites. It is technically brilliant, demonstrating how far computer animation has come in the more than 20 years since Pixar’s beginnings. The visual detail, the lighting and the color are superb, and it is all easy to take in despite being so complex, unlike much of the CGI that accompanies live action movies these days. The story is excellent as well, and I can’t write much at all about it without spoiling it, except to note that it is fancifully set in Mexico, and while it has action-adventure elements it is really a family drama.

Coco actually has some things in common with another recent animated feature, Kubo and the Two Strings, which uses stop-motion instead of CGI, giving it an older and artsier look. Kubo is also more of an adventure movie, a mythological tale whose narrative is not quite as engaging as Coco’s, though it is not without its own twists. But again – no spoilers!

Each of these films appropriates a facet of world culture to tell a high-stakes story that reminds us to cherish our loved ones. If you’re looking for a satisfying family movie night, you can’t go wrong with either one.

Scrambled Easter Eggs: A Review of Ready Player One

Scrambled Easter Eggs: A Review of Ready Player One

Why would the youth of 2045 be obsessed with the pop culture of the late 1900s? This was my thought as I sat in the theater and watched the movie Ready Player OneAs the cultural references kept piling on, my partner commented, “this movie is made for us.” We are both Gen-Xers, born in the 1960s, and the movie’s plot was an endless series of shoutouts to the iconic movies, TV shows and video games of our youth.

My partner’s son, who was born in the early 2000s, was watching with us, and ironically, he knew more of the references than we did. He would call them “Easter eggs,” coming from the term for messages or images that are often hidden in video games. In fact, Easter eggs in this sense are a major plot point in the movie, which is mostly set in a massive multiplayer virtual reality game. As the characters hunt online for the Easter eggs that are the MacGuffins of the story, we the audience enjoy recognizing the pop culture references that parade by in the form of avatars and items and scenery.

The people of 2045 apparently live online to escape the hellish dystopia the world has become, following some droughts and riots. Civilization has weathered events like these many times before, but we’ll have to assume they were really bad this time. We don’t get to see much of what this bleak future looks like outside of the VR, except for one vertically sprawling slum in Columbus, Ohio, where the residents live in stacked shipping containers supported by bare metal scaffolding. The visual design of this set is striking, which just underscores that fact that we are consuming visual art, and that the “real world” setting depicted is just as contrived as the “virtual world.”

The people in “the stacks” are mostly obsessed with putting on their VR gear and hanging out online, trying to rack up experience and in-game resources. Despite presumably being poor, they can all afford the gear, much as people of all classes today own smartphones. It’s not clear what is happening in the outside world, in the boring realm of politics, economics, and international relations. All that matters to anyone living in the stacks is this game world, as if humanity has abandoned all thought of civic renewal to focus on entertainment. Which actually fits the zeitgeist of the early 21st century quite well.

Really, this movie is an homage to the era of entertainment culture that has been presided over by its director, the hugely influential Steven Spielberg. His generation has dominated the cultural space, and let the political space go to ruin. The people of 2045 worship his generation’s cultural legacy because, in the Spielbergian vision, that legacy is the culminating achievement of our time. The movie audiences of 2018 may well agree.

In the Spielbergian weltanschauung, civic virtue amounts to willingness to join the scrappy underdogs in a fight against the uniformed forces of oppression, represented in Ready Player One by a greedy corporate conglomerate. “Welcome to the rebellion” is actually a line in this movie. It’s like Star Wars all over again. Again.

I write this review without any knowledge of the book on which the film is based, so apologies to the book’s author for missing his original intent, which may have been much different. He may have written a profoundly original and thought-provoking story. You’ll never know from watching this film. Watching this film, you will get an amusing mélange of your favorite pop culture nostalgia, packaged in a plot that has become a routine of PG-rated action adventure movies. And, of course, you will have fun.



The final steps of my transplantation to Pennsylvania are being taken.

Week 6 – close on the house in North Carolina.

The transplantation process is almost entirely complete. I just need the driver’s license, vehicle registration and voter registration bit. And to get a library card. 🙂

This home was my castle for nearly ten years, the only real estate property I have ever owned. But it is a relief to be unburdened of it, since it wasn’t so useful hundreds of miles away. My relief was palpable to the notary who stamped the closing papers as I rushed to get them signed and overnighted yesterday.

Thanks, house, for taking care of me through my forties. I hope the new owner finds as much joy in you as I did.

Five Week Move Complete

Five Week Move Complete

Piles of boxes fill my apartment as I contemplate my astounding five week move from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Here’s how to do it:

Week 1 – Phone interview from NC.

Week 2 – Drive up to PA. Look at apartment. Have on-site job interview. Get job offer. Drive back to NC.

Week 3 – Apply for apartment remotely. Get approved. Arrange for movers. Arrange to sell house to neighbors. Frantically pack.

Week 4 – Movers pick up possessions. Drive to PA. Unload car into apartment. Frustrated by movers not arriving. Snowstorm: job start is delayed. Continue arranging to sell NC house. Movers finally arrive at last minute.

Week 5 – Start job. Sign contract to sell house.


All of this was much facilitated by the ease of communication and process workflow that comes with the Internet era, and that the neighbors had their eye on my house. It also helped that so much of my house was packed already because of the Wrath of the Water Spirits. And, of course, that my BFF was waiting in PA to help with stocking the apartment with groceries and then with unpacking.

As the boxes have been opened and items sorted through, I wonder how I accumulated so much junk over the years. Why was I attached to it all enough to pay movers to transport it, instead of giving it away or selling it in NC? Probably because I was rushing and not planning or processing as wisely as I could have. A lesson for the next move. This old stuff has less value now; it feels like it belongs to a dead past. I want to pick at it like a scab, peel it away like dragon scales off of Eustace Scrubb as I emerge into my new life.

Reddit Thread of the Week: Governmental Fight Club

Reddit Thread of the Week: Governmental Fight Club

I have heard it said that the Boomer generation has produced the worst political leadership in American history. Now, when the Boomers came of age in the 1960s, they were aggressive and confrontational, as is well known. 50 years later, they are the elder leaders of our society, but their collective personality traits remain the same – in generational studies we call this “thinking along the generational diagonal.” So the same scrappy, individualistic style they brought to their campus protests in the 1960s, they now bring to high political office. Just think of what the 2016 Presidential election was like for an example. Now we get a daily dose of Boomer scrappiness in the form of Presidential tweets. Younger generations look on, aghast and amused, as you can observe in the reddit thread linked below.

Donald Trump would beat Joe Biden in a fight and make him cry from iamverybadass


Today’s Workout Album – Bright: The Album

Today’s Workout Album – Bright: The Album

I find that the soundtrack to the Netflix original film Bright makes an excellent workout album, with its driving beats and heavy hip-hop influence. I also makes me feel firmly planted in the zeitgeist, since it is not even a year old, and is replete with Millennial themes of building community and repairing the broken.

The film itself didn’t impress critics, instead sort of representing everything that Netflix, or streaming in general, is doing to ruin the film industry. Maybe it is just too weird to mash up the fantasy and buddy cop genres – A Game of Thrones meets End of Watch. It is undoubtedly a formulaic action movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was certainly better than The Cloverfield Paradox.

Here is one song from the album (Millennial whoop at 1:36).

My Book and DVD Reviews

My Book and DVD Reviews

I have been creating hobby web pages since a long time ago, and keep at it even though the web itself has moved on. I’m still stuck in Web 1.0, and we have since moved on to Web 2.5 or something like that, and apps are going to kill the World Wide Web any day now anyway, but I still maintain my sites because I enjoy it. So one page I have kept maintaining has reviews of books and movies/TV shows; here it is for you to check out if you’d like:

Steve's Book and DVD Reviews



Strategy Review: Turnings Theory and the Crisis Era

Strategy Review: Turnings Theory and the Crisis Era

In January I posted a series of “Strategy Reviews” where I examined the thinking of several authors who analyzed the state of politics and war at the beginning of this century. These were Thomas P. M. Barnett with the Pentagon’s New Map that divided the world between Core and Gap, Philip Bobbitt and the market state as defined in The Shield of Achilles, and John Robb with his Brave New War fought in a networked world. Each author’s viewpoint provided a way of understanding the tumultuous events of our time.

I would now like to reexamine these interpretations, but from another viewpoint – that provided by the generational theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe. This is a theory that I have been studying since I discovered it in the early 1990s, when I picked up the book 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? at a book store. That book spoke to my personal experience, and I continued to explore generations by reading the other works of the authors. I won’t expound on the theory to a great degree in this post; you can read a review I wrote here, where you will find links to even more information.

The important thing to know about Strauss and Howe theory for the purposes of this posting is that they identified different social eras called turnings, which are characterized by particular social priorities and proclivities. In the United States of America, we are currently in a Crisis era which began with the financial crash of 2008. Previously, we were in an Unraveling era, which began during the Reagan years.

The Crisis Era

In an Unraveling, society is inward-driven, focused on the individual and loosely regulated. This changes in the Crisis, as a sense of urgency grows over problems which were allowed to remain unresolved in the previous era. Society becomes focused on the community, and more restrictive in what it allows of the individual.

Since the strategists mentioned above are primarily concerned with security and with international relations, we should examine what the implications of the Crisis are in these realms. The main consideration is that, in a Crisis era, society seeks to close itself off and insulate itself from perceived threats. This is apparent, for example, in the crackdown on illegal immigration which began during the Obama administration and continues bitterly into the Trump administration.

Another way in which the United States is closing off is by withdrawing from the rest of the world, changing its posture with respect to international security relations. This began with Obama’s pullback from the wars started by the previous administration, and continues with the more drastic policies of Trump, who has pulled out of international agreements and adopted an overtly nationalist stance for his administration. “America First” couldn’t be a more fitting slogan for a Crisis era.

Trumpism repudiates the idea of the United States as a responsible global hegemon promoting democracy and free-market capitalism – the role the country took on in the aftermath of the Cold War, albeit a role which proved costly, unpopular – and perhaps hopeless. Trumpism also repudiates economic globalization, which came at the price of high-paying working class jobs in the United States. These Unraveling era policies could be labeled the “neo-liberal regime,” which in the Crisis era has become delegitimized. In fact, John Robb specifically describes the Trump victory as rolling back neo-liberalism.

Thomas Barnett acknowledges this fact about Trump’s appeal in his own election post-mortem post. Barnett’s vision of the United States securing peace by maintaining military overwatch while helping to connect the world into a global economy of functioning, developed states, is not suited for the Crisis era social mood. Americans see the problems that grew in the era of globalization, particularly the erosion of the middle class, as no longer endurable. It is telling that both the Trump and Sanders campaigns in 2016 called for reversing trade policies that are perceived to have driven down wages in the United States.

In his work, Thomas Barnett cautioned against the urge to “firewall the Core against the Gap,” instead promoting the idea of greater connectivity among nations. But that was an idea better suited for the Unraveling era. In the Crisis era the desire is to “circle the wagons” and protect what remains of the social order from further collapse. To the political left this means addressing wealth inequality through government largesse (which the right calls socialism). To the political right this means restricting travel and immigration, even to the point of building a wall on the southern border (which the left calls racism). For neither side, however, is the status quo acceptable.

The New Form of the State

So what of the fate of Philip Bobbitt’s market state? According to Bobbitt, it is a form of the state that derives legitimacy from maximizing opportunity for its citizens, not from advancing their welfare. But in turnings theory, maximal opportunity for the individual is a priority of the Unraveling era. In the Crisis era, community takes precedence, hence the return of nationalist rhetoric into politics. So is the nation state, which the market state was supposed to supplant, making a comeback?

John Robb isn’t the only way who sees the market state being rolled backed; in another post, a pseudonymous author argues that the failure of the market state paradigm comes from the agency problem: market state elites have not been looking out for the best interests of the citizens they ostensibly serve. This is indeed a primary criticism of the old neo-liberal regime, particularly from the extreme political right, who would go so far as to call internationalists traitors.

The irony of Trump’s electoral victory, of course, is that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was arguably a champion of neo-liberalism, and yet she still received more popular votes than Trump in the election. She was, in fact, the second most popular U.S. Presidential candidate in history, after Barack Obama. The accusations that there was meddling in the election, in Trump’s favor, by hackers sponsored by the Russian government, segues into another area covered by our strategists – network warfare.

The problem with dispensing with Bobbitt’s theory of the market state is that, while he missed the fact that social priorities would alter because of generational change, he is probably correct in identifying a new strategic landscape. Assuming that nuclear weapons really have rendered conventional war between Great Powers obsolete (the M.A.D. doctrine), warfare has shifted to the level of network exploitation. The new threat environment is rife with computer hackers and social media trolls. This is no joke – these bad actors can sway public opinion, influencing election outcomes and paralyzing governments, and can radicalize young people in far-away countries, prompting them to commit mass murder. They can even penetrate the computer networks responsible for operating vital infrastructure.

So the state will still need to adapt its strategy for protecting its citizens, in order to maintain legitimacy. The question of what form it will ultimately take remains open. It is particularly unclear in the United States, since the country is so deeply split along partisan lines. Will Trumpism become entrenched, or will the political tide turn against it, as Trump-resisters hope? Either way, turnings theory predicts that the institutions of government will transform. If the “nation state” returns, it won’t have the same form as the nation state of the World War era.

With the United States having abandoned global leadership, there is now more open competition among the Great Powers for determining the best internal order for surviving in the new international strategic environment. Momentum likely favors what Barnett called the “New Core” – the nations which more recently joined the developed world. All bets seem to be on China as the new world leader – though this thinking could reflect the West’s anxiety more than reality.

The old liberal, international regime which attempted to thwart and contain authoritarianism in the previous era has been hamstrung, and authoritarianism is on the rise, even in formerly liberal nations. The international order will continue to break down, as individual nations become more focused on their own affairs. The Crisis era is characterized by a lack of trust, and it is the misfortune of the United States that this includes a lack of trust across the partisan divide.

A new mode of competition over cooperation clearly presents dangers. There is no ironbound guarantee that the late twentieth century paradigm that rendered WMDs for deterrence use only will prevail. There is no sublime, unbreakable bond keeping the United States united. But whatever events lie ahead, it is likely the Crisis era will last at least another decade, and that the world will look much different when we emerge from it. We are on a journey through one of history’s great turning points.