If you can sense the pattern (or rhythm) of things, you sometimes can get an understanding of what comes next. Cycles are useful in understanding how and when trends change.
History seldom repeats itself, but it usually rhymes. The economic malaise, social unrest, and realigning values of the current decade seem to echo themes from 1970’s, and the 1930’s. Is it possible that there is a forty-year cycle?
Here is a basic flowchart for how this cycle might work. Each quadrant represents a single decade, give or take a few years.
For the purpose of simplicity, we can call this the Values and Expression cycle. The Values segment alternates between a shifting emphasis between relationships and material growth, while the Expression portion moves from a small-scale/internal focus to a large-scale/external focus.
So, what do these quadrants represent? How are they related?
External/Material: Is a period of rising optimism. It is typically a “golden age” period for conservatism and business. There is privatization, de-regulation and a less involved government.
Internal/Material: The focus shifts somewhat towards the family. Politics are still conservative, and the economy has stabilized into a period of predictable economic growth. Wealth and power becomes more concentrated. Eventually, success leads to excess – causing speculative bubbles.
Internal/Relational: The excesses of the previous decades are brought into question at an individual level. Real estate values peak. The social fabric unravels and there is a shifting focus towards social reform. Young adults become less conformist and more counter-cultural.
External/Relational: This is a period of public unrest and skepticism. Standards of living are redefined. The economy is in a state of prolonged stagnation, yet major progress is made in terms of providing for social equality and environmental sustainability. Institutions eventually hit the “reset” button, providing a foundation for new growth and prosperity.
The top two quadrants focus on building social capital, while the bottom two are about accumulating financial capital. The quadrants on the left are somewhat more focused on the individual and the family, while quadrants to the right are more focused on the outside world.
Echoes Through Time
From a socionomic perspective, it is quite interesting to see how decades in the same quadrant resonate across generations. The focus on organic foods, the maker movement, and micro-farming, seem to echo the “back to the land” philosophy of the seventies. A year to two ago, we had the Occupy protests, while four decades ago there were marches for civil rights and Vietnam.
The folk music revival of today resonates with folk revivals of the 1970’s and 1930’s.
Meanwhile, steampunk fashion and literary trends are going even deeper into the past – all the way to the 1890’s. Tattoos, vests, waxed mustaches, and even corsets are all making a comeback in fringe culture.
A Work in Progress
The concept of a forty-year cycle in values and expression provided a useful background for my book, Resilience and the Future of Everyday Life. It is solely based on personal observations and is clearly a “work in progress.” Feel free to comment and add insights of your own…