June 21, 2015

Neil Howe
CSIS Center for Strategic and International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-887-0200     Fax: 202-775-3199

Dear Neil Howe: (Excluding graphics this is only about 3 pages long.)
I have just read two books you wrote with William Strauss, Generations published by Harper in New York in 1991 and The Fourth Turning by Broadway books, New York, 1997.  They have been a giddy whirl through history.  I think Ecclesiastes makes a remark to the effect that if you study too much you will get depressed.  Depression does not come through although profound erudition is most evident.  I am saddened by the loss of William Strauss.  You two must have had some grand times of it.

Briefly my understanding is that you take the principle that a child’s upbringing will determine much of subsequent personality and that child conformism results in successive generations (of about 20 years or a quarter of a lifetime) having distinctive thought patterns and that these succeed each other in a (usually) fixed order of Heroic (such as those who fought WWII and obviously accomplished great things), Artistic (the children of the heroes, who grow up sheltered and in awe of their unmatchable parents and spend their careers building on the social order they inherit), Boomers (you do use a number of names that seem largely synonymous, who are demanding and self indulgent defying the social order created by their grandparents and nurtured by their parents), and Prophets (who correctly predict catastrophe but do not take steps to prevent it) and back to heroes (who must reestablish a viable social order).  I have no quarrel with this assessment, but would like to carry it a bit farther.  Oh, yes, you predict the next crisis will come sometime between 2000 and 2020. 

There is an engaging figure recurring in both books: The Grey Champion. He is an old man dressed all in grey who shows up at the darkest hour of crisis and gives the heroes heart every eighty or ninety years since Plymouth Rock.  I checked Google images and strangely cannot find him.  I am adding at the bottom a couple of pictures of myself some ten years apart.  Ah how fast flies vigor.  The one with the mask, of course, is a joke, but obviously something has slipped.  Yes, I am an uninspiring “Artist.”  Little would give me greater joy than to send you a picture of me as the Grey Champion.  But I am the wrong generation; Artists never do much but plug away (of which I do a lot.)  Think now.  There is a crisis.  The soon-t0-be heroes cluster around 25 years old.  The Champion arrives.  What is his generation?  Certainly not the previous champion generation.  If 80 years have passed he would have to be 105, just a tad old for military life.  He could be a Boomer, but that is too young.  The first avatar greeted an old friend, last of the original Pilgrims, who was 85.  Boomers should be clustering at 65. 

Well down to business.  You speak of cycles of roughly 80 years.  And you mention that the Romans and Etruscans thought in terms of ten cycles of roughly a century or a thousand year trajectory.  I think in terms of about 10 cycles of 30 years.  (Isaac Newton hinted at 9 cycles of 32 years.  So I am not so far from other patterns that have been seriously entertained.  Here’s what it looks like from my perspective: this is the history of Southern Mesopotamia over thousands of years.  The horizontal line is the ages of the various civilizations.  The vertical line is the chance of a civilization having reached that age of lasting another fifty years.
Survival experience of lower Mesopotamia.  Information taken from R. H. Carling, The World History Chart, International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  There is more of the same kind of data at http://www.nobabies.net/A%20January%20summary%20for%202015.html (ok.  I’m planning to post this letter on nobabies.net so if you go there you can just copy and paste that address, ditto the links to follow.)

Well the fact is that fertility declines if population size is not controlled.  The best explanation I think is chapter 19 of the textbook Handbook for Evolution and Society published this year.  The author is Professor Robin Fox, also a member of my own generation.  The title of the chapter sums it up neatly: “Marry in or Die Out.”  Maximum fertility is about third or fourth cousin.  After that fertility drops rapidly.  Urban  populations do not marry in by this criterion. 

Years ago a man named Calhoun did an experiment in which he modeled an urban population with mice.  This is the time course of his population:

Roughly drawn from John Calhoun, Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine vol. 66, January 1973 page 80. 
As you see the population is still rising when on a day all live births ceased never to return. 

Sorry you young heroes.  If you are up against the three century brick wall your courage is for naught and the exhortation of the Grey Champion falls on eager ears but very few of them. 

All right, when?  The First American War of Secession lasted a while, but let’s take 1776 as a middling date.  I would say the next collapse is to be expected in 2076 on that basis.  Newton would say more like 2060.  That’s well and good.  Neither you nor I need worry.  But consider that generally a population does not fall until its soldiers are all old, say over 40.  So if the last child is 40 in 2060 then the birth rate falls effectively to zero in 2020.  How odd.  That is within the range you predicted almost a generation before.  And with modern statistics all our enemies will know when we have no more babies.  They will not be disposed to wait another 40 years.  This one will come early, and as you point out that is a bad thing, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that two cycles with totally different causes are hitting simultaneously. 

If you really are interested in a picture, I can give you one for free, all rights.  I’ll see if I can afford a puritan costume.  I do foresee some problems.  1) I don’t know about footgear.  May limit the picture to just below the knees. 2) Backgrounds within the tether of my photographer are limited.  A beach is easy.  Woods are easy.  An old New England town isn’t happening.  I could do it with blue screen and you could Photoshop in anything you like, of course.  3) The eyes aren’t right.  Southerners have eyes like dogs.  I’ll include a link to Robert E. Lee and you can compare him with Robert Frost or
Deacon Samuel Chapin or John Brown or the Minuteman statue.  The eyes of an old time New Englander are wolf eyes.  Just as the Japanese should have driven across America before deciding on Pearl Harbor, the firebrand secessionists should have gone to New England and looked at those eyes. 

So in fact it might be better to consult a professional photography service.  They’d be delighted to have a corner on the Grey Champion. 

Do let me know what you think.  Together we can shake the world.


M. Linton Herbert MD

And here are the pictures and links:

As I was, not that many years ago, right at this desk.


What is left, which is a gag of course, but you understand:

Yet my stentorian voice remains.

Robert Lee

Robert Frost

The deacon

John Brown

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