A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures

“During Involution phase, many counterelites are trying to slice off adherents and resources at the same time. Some people even become meta-counter-elites, complaining that the counterelites themselves have strayed from the true principles, etc. The actual elites realize their status is also precarious, and some of them side with the counterelites in order to get a new base, bringing the conflicts to the highest levels. The overall tone of the movement becomes darker. Ordinary rank-and-file members hear so much criticism of the movement that it’s hard for them to stay optimistic about it. They stop talking about it as The Amazing Movement That Will Change Everything, and become defensive: “I’m not, like, one of those members of the movement, I just sort of think some of their ideas make sense sometimes.”

-Scott Alexander, “A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures.” Astral Codex Ten. August 9, 2022
  • Phase One: Pre-Cycle, niche
  • Phase Two: Growth, moving to mainstream
  • Phase Three: Involution, complexity, sub-groups, elements shrink
  • Phase Four: Post-Cycle, established institutions, final form or return to Phase One

See also  Giambattista Vico‘s La Scienza Nuova which posits a civilization cycle and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

“Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians).”

Pretty straight-forward parallels, with the post-cycle indicating a frozen state where institutions persist for some period before descending back into Phase One or dissolution.

Kondratiev Waves & Social Unrest

“In the United States, 50-year instability spikes occurred around 1870, 1920 and 1970, so another could be due around 2020. We are also entering a dip in the so-called Kondratiev wave, which traces 40-60-year economic-growth cycles. This could mean that future recessions will be severe. In addition, the next decade will see a rapid growth in the number of people in their twenties, like the youth bulge that accompanied the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s. All these cycles look set to peak in the years around 2020.”

-Peter Turchin, “Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade.” Nature 463, 608 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/463608a

“What does it mean for the current wave of protests and riots? The nature of such dynamical processes is such that it can subside tomorrow, or escalate; either outcome is possible. A spark landing even in abundant fuel can either go out, or grow to a conflagration.

What is much more certain is that the deep structural drivers for instability continue to operate unabated. Worse, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated several of these instability drivers. This means that even after the current wave of indignation, caused by the killing of George Floyd, subsides, there will be other triggers that will continue to spark more fires—as long as the structural forces, undermining the stability of our society, continue to provide abundant fuel for them.

-Peter Turchin, “2020.” Clio Dynamica on PeterTurchin.com. June 1, 2020.