Links and Comments: Bannon’s historical cycles; the Myth of Main Street; Late Bloomers

Interesting stories and essays from Sunday’s New York Times.

Bannon’s Worldview: Dissecting the Message of ‘The Fourth Turning’

A news article about a book that has influence Steve Bannon’s thinking about the world, a book by two amateur historians, that

makes the case that world events unfold in predictable cycles of roughly 80 years each that can be divided into four chapters, or turnings: growth, maturation, entropy and destruction. Western societies have experienced the same patterns for centuries, the book argues, and they are as natural and necessary as spring, summer, fall and winter.

This idea of inevitable cycles of history is almost certainly bogus. It plays upon the gullible by appeal to human nature’s tendency to understand the world through *narrative* — some kind of explanatory story that explains why otherwise random events happen. It’s also telling that such prophecies, when suitable vague, can be later cited to explain anything. And it’s also telling that stories like this are used to justify conservative conformity. (“Conform, or Else” is one of the example passages given in the article.)

The danger of this kind of thinking is that, like religious fundamentalists who believe the end of the world (and the second coming) is approaching, such believers may, even if unconsciously, strive to *bring about* the destruction they think is merely inevitable. That makes such crazies dangerous to the rest of us.


The Myth of Main Street, an op-ed by Louis Hyman, about the notion that small-town main streets represent the ideal state of American being.

Yet another example of the fallacy that some ideal state existed in the past; it’s a conservative fallacy. (Make America great again!) In fact, as the essay discusses, not only has this yearning been around for nearly a century, but the ideal of main street makes no economic sense.

It’s worth noting that the idealized Main Street is not a myth in some parts of America today. It exists, but only as a luxury consumer experience. Main Streets of small, independent boutiques and nonfranchised restaurants can be found in affluent college towns, in gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn and San Francisco, in tony suburbs — in any place where people have ample disposable income. Main Street requires shoppers who don’t really care about low prices. The dream of Main Street may be populist, but the reality is elitist. “Keep it local” campaigns are possible only when people are willing and able to pay to do so.
In hard-pressed rural communities and small towns, that isn’t an option. This is why the nostalgia for Main Street is so harmful: It raises false hopes, which when dashed fuel anger and despair. President Trump’s promises notwithstanding, there is no going back to an economic arrangement whose foundations were so shaky. In the long run, American capitalism cannot remain isolated from the global economy. To do so would be not only stultifying for Americans, but also perilous for the rest of the world’s economic growth, with all the attendant political dangers. The only choice is turning to the future.

And as an example of his first paragraph, the area of Oakland where I live is close to Montclair Village, a charming neighborhood of shops and restaurants just as described above. (It’s where we shop to support the ‘local economy’ and to stroll down pleasant streets, but not for the cheapest prices.)


Another op-ed: To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old

The essay discusses the notion that, like athletes and mathematicians, STEM students and technology innovators peak early.

On the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

And note the graph.

(And for what it’s worth, my personal achievements of the past 5-7 years — and my reconception of science fiction around my set of ‘provisional conclusions’ — are, if yet incomplete, more significant than anything I did earlier.)

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