Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Songs of the Prophets

Recently I completed a second full reading of Strauss and Howe's remarkable study of the cyclicality of history, The Fourth Turning, which stands the recent linear view of history on its head.  Just like there are four seasons in a natural year, and four seasons of a man's life, there are four seasons of a saeculum (about 80 years, or the length of a person's life):  Crisis, High, Awakening, and Unraveling.  Further, there are four generational archetypes that move through that saeculum:  Hero, Prophet, Nomad, and Artist.  Each Archetype finds itself with a particular role to play during each season of the saeculum.  Strauss and Howe make a convincing argument, tracing the saecular seasons and their generations back through Anglo-American history to the War of the Roses; but the Saecular Games were known as far back as Roman, and even Etruscan times, and it was said that every person, should they live a long life, would take part in the Games (or at least be a spectator) at least once.

Today we live in a time of Crisis (the Fourth Turning), the Winter season of the saeculum.  During saecular winters, it is the part of the Prophet archetype to provide leadership; the Nomad, to provide the hands-on know-how to get the job done; the Hero, to provide the muscle; and the child Artists, to bear witness, to be helpers, and to simply survive and carry the promise of a future for humanity through the Crisis bottleneck.

The Prophet generation provides the fire and passion necessary to rouse the Heroes to decisive action, and the vision to achievable goals necessary for the survival of the nation.  They are tempered by their saecular seasons to look inward, towards the inner (spiritual) world instead of the outward.  Strauss and Howe personify the Prophet generation in the figure of the Gray Champion.  Examples of the Gray Champion include Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, and Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams.  These men were not soldiers.  Too old to fight, they provided the spiritual leadership for their Crisis season, while the Nomads provided the managers (generals, such as Washington, Grant, Patton) and the Heroes provided the muscle (the G.I., or "Greatest," Generation is an example). 

Today, what generation corresponds to that of FDR?  What generation is our Gray Champion?

The Baby Boomers.

I make small effort to conceal my scorn for this pampered, indulged, self-important, narcissistic, greedy, and hypocritical group.  Unfortunately, they are what we have to guide us through these early days of Crisis.  These former hippies and yuppies, who sang the songs of protest against "The Man" during the last Awakening (or Second Turning), who preached "make love not war," who tore down the civic edifices built by the G.I.'s and rebuilt them to serve their own interests, who nurtured the rise of destructive neoliberal and neoconservative politics, now threaten to bring the entire roof down on everyone as they lead us down the path to war, poverty, and complete and utter environmental degradation.

Now, don't get me wrong:  there are some Boomer Prophet voices who preach much-needed common sense, and who actually are the exception to the usual Boomer "do as I say, and not as I do" example; and I listen to their words.  But even they are not immune to the personality deficiences of their fellow Boomers -- including their constant, narcissistic need for validation.  This tendency damages their credibility, further eroding what little influence they already have.  Their songs are thus usually drowned out by the greater noise made by the Gingrich's, Obama's, Romney's, and Clinton's of their generation.  This is important, for it is their words that should be inspiring the current Hero generation -- the Millenials, or Generation Y, if you like -- to a rebirth of civic spirit, leading in turn to a fresh approach by the Heroes to the enormous predicaments we now face. 

But this is not happening.  As it stands, Generation Y has no stake in the current paradigm.  They have been locked out of the American Dream, the crumbs of which having already been gobbled up by the desperate Gen Xers, my own (Nomad) generation.  Gen Y has no sense of civic duty.  Why should they have one, anyway?  The example of the Boomer Prophets is one of greed and hypocrisy.  To follow Boomer ways is to follow the ways of sociopaths.

The next decade will see change and turmoil the likes of which no one now can really fathom.  Unfortunately, we have not the leadership anywhere in our society to steer us, and none on the horizon.  I fear the Boomers will suffer mightily, as will the Millenials, in the Crisis; and many will not survive the bottleneck to see the world on the other side. 

I have given up on the Boomer Prophets, whose songs from my youth now ring hollow in my ears.  I fear the wrath of the Millenials, who as their bleak future slowly reveals itself will find it hard to forgive the Gray Champion his failings.  Whatever valid criticisms one may have of them -- and there are many -- FDR and Lincoln led the country through some of its darkest days.  We need leaders of their calibre.  It is our lot in the current Fourth Turning to do without, or to look to the examples of the past for leadership.

Wassail, friends.  And I mean it:  be hale.  Dark days are upon us.

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Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"