One of the most constant points of discussion on social media, along with being the source of seemingly endless memes, is what a craptastic disaster the year 2020 has been turning out to be. From the pandemic to the murder hornets, the swarms of locusts and the possibility of either a supervolcano or a meteor strike looming, there’s no shortage of horror stories to worry about. If only somebody could have warned us, right? Well, it turns out that somebody actually did try to warn us a full decade in advance. But nobody was paying attention.
They might start listening to this guy a little more closely now. His name is Peter Turchin and he’s a professor of cultural evolution (whatever that is) at the University of Connecticut. Back in 2010 he published the results of a study he conducted that examined the repeating cycles of global unrest that have disrupted human societies for centuries. His conclusion was that 2020 was going to be ripe for the next period of precisely the things we’re experiencing. And he claims he can predict where it goes from here, too. (Time)
Not everyone took Peter Turchin seriously a decade ago when he said widespread civil unrest would sweep through the U.S. in 2020.
“They had no reason to believe I wasn’t crazy,” says Turchin, a 63-year-old researcher who teaches cultural evolution at the University of Connecticut.
In 2010, after analyzing historical cycles of instability, Turchin made a prediction that was published at the time in the journal Nature: America will suffer a period of major social upheaval beginning around 2020.
Some were skeptical, Turchin says, because “people did not understand that I was making scientific predictions, not prophecies.”
According to Turchin’s research, the United States in particular has been on a seemingly scheduled calendar of mayhem that goes back to at least the early 1800s and it’s repeated itself every fifty years, give or take a couple. Why? Nobody seems to know, but the data is definitely repeatable.
But looking on the bright side (or at least trying to) now that we’ve got this out of the way it should be smooth sailing for the next half of a century, right? Well… sort of. But according to Turchin’s calculations, we’re not nearly out of the woods yet. This isn’t all going to magically go away once the giant ball drops in Times Square on New Years Eve. We could be in for a decade or more of this craziness unless some of the driving factors are significantly mitigated.
Turchin says societal crises, which are triggered when pent-up pressures seek an outlet, can typically last for five to 15 years. If the underlying roots of unrest are not properly addressed, turbulent events are easily set off again. In South Africa, for example, which is one of the world’s most unequal countries, according to the World Bank, intense protests and anger over race and wealth inequality still rankle the country, 26 years after apartheid ended…
“Unfortunately,” he says, “things are not as bad as they can be.”
There’s a bit of synchronicity in my running across this story this week and it’s making me take this professor a lot more seriously. I only very recently finished listening to an analysis of a number of books by people who have been studying cycles in both nature and human behavior for well over a century. Some of the findings are beyond amazing. They are almost beyond belief. There are almost continuous cycles that have been studied in everything from population growth or declines in fish, land mammals and birds to swings in the prices of wheat. steel and coal. Animal migration patterns line up with incidents of mass revolts against governments. And many of these things happen in cycles predictable down to a period of months every 6, 9.5, 17 or 26 years. (Those are only a few examples.) There are people who have gotten quite wealthy in the markets by following the work of the people who study these cycles and it’s simply fascinating.
I’ll close with a few of those links in case you want to check out the work for yourself.
Cycles: The Mysterious Forces that Trigger Events by Edward R. Dewey