2007

Episode 4
Senior Seminar
 

Previously in SAECULA:
(Click for Episode One)

(Click for Episode Two)

(Click for Episode Three)

An elite Republican cabal conspires to fix the 2008 presidential election, 
but its plans to embezzle money from the RNC are uncovered and lead to murder
Democratic congressman Jack Stibik and his mentor, Professor Gar Reynolds, reunite.

“I don’t know, Chad. What’a you gotten me into? This Saecula crap sounds like déjà vu history. You sure Reynolds grades on a pass/fail? I can’t afford anything below a ‘B,’ ya know. That placement dude told me my transcript’s gotta be rock solid after my first two years fucking up, or those Wall Street guys won’t even look my way. The brokerage houses only pick about three grads from Alfred every year, and I intend to be one of ‘em.”

“Don’t worry, Kyle. Reynolds is cool. Would I screw my roommate and best friend? Don’t say ‘yes.’ All you need for a pass is to show him you’ve got an open mind, and yours is about as empty as any I’ve seen.”

“Ha, ha. So, I just buy into his liberal bullshit, and that’s that. You know me Chad, I don’t cave for nobody.”

“Hey nobody wants you to cave. Besides how do you know it’s liberal bullshit? You B-school jock heads should have to take at least one course that makes you think about something other than money and football.”

“I’ll tell you why. Reynolds is the guy who’s leading the attack on Trinity, and I’ve got no use for any of those perverted atheists.”

“Yeah, yeah,” replied Chad, flashing Kyle the finger. “Give him a chance. In fact he gets off on guys who can give him a good argument as long as its your own and not some Republican press release.”

*****

“Gooood morning, SENIORS!” Reynolds called out in his best Robin Williams’  “Good Morning Vietnam” imitation. The Islamic War had revived interest in all the old Vietnam movies, and the cynicism and antiauthoritarian themes of Williams’ classic film role played well with the college crowd. But, Reynolds didn’t really care about that. He’d been using the same greeting on the first day of Senior Seminar every August for 15 years. It was his way of congratulating his Political History and Theory majors for making it through the grind for three years.

Standards for college admissions and graduation had been rising for nearly a decade after the disastrous plunge in the late 20th century. During that time, Reynolds had been consistently tough and demanded his cohorts in the department he chaired be just as hard, resulting in Political History and Theory being considered the jewel of the Alfred campus.  If it was the jewel, his Senior Seminar on the Saecula was the crème de la crème, required for PHT majors and highly in demand by other seniors; and not just because of Reynolds’ pass/fail grading. The man was considered a true genius, and a small college such as Alfred was lucky to have him.

“Let me just get some of the bureaucratic crap out of the way. I see a few new faces. Welcome. Please call out as I read your names.”

After the mandatory opening class roll call to pacify the Registrar, Reynolds restated the caveat with which he began each Senior Seminar. “I grade this class on pass/fail, not pass/pass. Do not expect an automatic passing grade for just showing up.”

Kyle flashed Chad a look to kill as Reynolds continued. “To pass, you must first demonstrate a comprehension of the subject, and second, indicate to me a willingness to discuss the topic in an open and rational manner. That is to say, I do not, repeat, do not, necessarily expect you to agree with everything I present. I also don’t expect you to hold fast to assumptions you’ve dragged in here that you’ve never thoroughly considered. If, at the end of semester, you can demonstrate intellectual growth, you pass. If you don’t, you fail, whether you accept the premise of the course or not.

“By the way, the ‘demonstration’ takes the form of a thesis of indeterminate length. If, in the words of George Santayana, ‘brevity is almost a condition of inspiration,’ you are able to convince me of your intellectual evolution in fewer than 25 pages, so be it. For your edification, however, in 20 or so years, no one has managed that, although a few have actually tried. Any questions? Randolph?”

“What happened to the ones who tried and didn’t convince you of their intellectual growth?”

“They’ve all become lawyers. Well then, shall we begin? I see some of you carrying ‘The Book.’ For the purpose of maintaining our initial mutual respect, I will presume those of you without Strauss and Howe’s “The Fourth Turning” neglected to fully comprehend the posted course requirements, and are not merely presuming you can fake it. Buy it! Read it! Each week, you will be assigned a chapter that we will review with snap quizzes and discussions during the following week’s class.

“Today, as an introduction, I will attempt to give you an overview, but consider that my necessarily abridged version may be a bit complicated to follow. The details will become more clear to you as you move through the text.”

Reynolds began: “You’ve all heard the expression ‘history repeats itself.’  To one extent that is true. Strauss and Howe believe that social history comprises 80-year Saecula, or spiraling circles. This is essentially different from the traditional western way of looking at the past as a giant slinky toppling down history’s staircase. Or, if the reverse analogy pleases you, as the inevitable trash heap of history with one event merely being dumped on top of the previous one. So, although each Saeculum spiral results from the prior one, it does so with a recurring rhythm as opposed to a straight line.

“A Saeculum is composed of four Turnings of approximately 20 years each
-- a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling and a Crisis. The 80-year cycle corresponds to an average lifespan of four 20-year stages of life --  Childhood, Young Adulthood, Midlife and Elderhood. Each of four archetype generations -- Hero, Artist, Prophet, Nomad -- enters Childhood during a different Turning and therefore carries through life a unique perspective on the world.

“For instance, the experiences and subsequent attitudes of, say, the Artist Generation, born during the last Crisis of the Depression and World War II, are going to be different from those of the Prophet generation, born during the High of the post-war euphoria and economic expansion. Nothing really startling about that. The essential point the authors make is that there have actually been seven Artist generations and seven Prophet generations, as well as seven Hero and seven Nomad generations, stretching back 550 years to the Wars of the Roses in England. And, given obvious technological advances and cultural changes, people in each Saeculum behave pretty much the same way, creating similar looking generational characteristics and social movements. Thus, ‘history repeating itself.’

“Each Saeculum's Hero archetype, the last being the GI generation, mans the barricades as Young Adults during a period of Crisis, the most recent, 1929 to 1946. As victorious Midlifers, they get to establish the new social order of the High that follows. But, their hubris also leads to social stagnation. Prophets, the so-called Baby Boomers, born into the financial and emotional security of the High, and becoming Young Adults during an Awakening, feel secure enough to challenge the established order and eventually replace the Heroes in Midlife as the driving force in society.

“The Artist archetype, the current Silent Generation, of which I am a member, so be careful how you reflect upon our shortcomings, is always born during a Crisis and raised during a High. It is an 'in between' generation, smaller in number, since birthrates drop during Crises. Overshadowed by the near mythic accomplishments of the predecessor Heroes and overwhelmed by the increased numbers and righteousness of the successor Prophets, in Midlife, it serves as the lubricating generation. Artists make the system work by finding compromise between the absolutist Heroes and the moralistic Prophets.

“Nomad generations, the one called Gen X, and for most of you, your parents’ generation, are born during Awakenings and reach Young Adulthood during Unravelings, the period from 1984 to the late 1990s. The lack of clear direction from their Artist parents, who tend to emphasize situational values, and the challenges to established order by the Prophets leave the Nomads without solid social and moral footing. But, their experiences also provide the pragmatic skills the country will need to survive the coming Crisis. The Gen X/Nomads ensure the turmoil of their youth will not be visited upon their own children. They place great emphasis on family, education, community and religion, rearing what will become the new generation of Heroes -- amazingly, you!

“Have any of you considered yourselves ‘Heroes?’ That’s a rhetorical question. No need to embarrass yourselves. The Millennials were born between 1982 and 2000, a generation which begins entering Young Adulthood as the next Crisis period looms on the horizon. This generation feels nourished and obligated and willing to go to war for ‘God and Country.’ Look around the room, ladies and gentlemen. Believe it or not, you are the next ‘Greatest Generation.’

“Questions? Yes, in the back. Your name, please?”

“Kyle Russman, Professor.”

“Ah, yes. This year’s token troglodyte marketing major. It’s good to have you, Kyle. It keeps -- to paraphrase Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew -- my pointy-headed intellectual PHT majors from becoming too full of themselves. Your question, Kyle?”

“Those parameters for the different generations and, what, ahh, Turnings are too pat. History doesn’t run on a calendar.”

“Right you are, Kyle. Good point. Obviously, there are no hard starts and stops to generations, nor Turnings. The timeframes the authors use help us to vaguely differentiate the various archetype generations and periods of Turnings. The most defined characteristic of each comes in the center of that particular timeframe, with the edges fading one into another. Any individual’s values and attitudes are likely to reflect a wide variety of experiences.

“But, given the perspective of time, the authors demonstrate how generational styles and social history can be distinguished. The ‘30s are different from the ‘50s are different from the ‘70s are different from the ‘90s in predictable ways. That’s not because of the current technology or prevailing trends, but of which generation is at its peak of influence in Midlife between ages 40 and 60. Here’s the point: Although these decades are different from one another, more importantly, they are reasonably similar to the same periods 200, 300, 400 years ago in previous Saecula.

“History bears out the premise. Following the first two American crises, the Revolution and the Civil War, America went through Highs of enormous economic as well as territorial expansions, first to the Mississippi and then on to California, just as it did following World War II -- think space exploration. Great Awakenings over slavery and suffrage in the 1820s and ‘30s, and then again with corporate trust-busting and working condition muckraking at the turn of the 20th century were similar to our own civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Finally, periods of Unraveling in which irreconcilable goals advanced by extremists on all sides, official corruption and a culture of cynicism -- a spiritual paralysis, if you will -- ravished the country. Bitter controversies erupted over abolition and immigration in the 1840s and ‘50s, and League of Nations' membership, Prohibition and unionization in the 1910s and ‘20s. They put our current disputes over public morality, abortion rights and affirmative action into historical perspective.

“That’s enough for today. Read chapters one and two for next week. Have a good weekend and….yes, Ms. Adamski?”

“Professor, you didn’t tell us what we’re to expect as Heroes. When will this Crisis thing happen?”

“It’s already happening, dear, and you’ll know what’s expected of you when you’re called.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss and Neil Howe is a real non-fictional book. However, it was published in 1997, and not in the mid-eighties as suggested. The synopsis is accurate, but wholly inadequate to represent this fascinating concept. The book is highly recommended for those who’s interest may be piqued by this novel.
 
 

Next in SAECULA
Jack and his Delta Force brother, Marty, reunite.


by  Martin Gresko

Interested in publishing this manuscript?
Or to make comments, CONTACT Martin Gresko at VGABONSUN@hotmail.com
See his biweekly political column http://www.StPetePost.com
 

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