Sometimes one find important things through simply coincidence rather than extended search. Such was the case the other day while reading the 10/16/23 blog from my (free) subscription to Ted Gioia’s substack, The Honest Broker. I’ve been avidly reading his blog for a month now since a friend introduced me to it.
Gioia is somewhat of an overachiever. He grew up in an Italian-Mexican household in Hawthorne, California and later earned degrees from Stanford University and Oxford as well as an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He served for a period as an adviser to Fortune 500 companies while with the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company. When Gioia worked amidst Silicon Valley’s venture capital community on Sand Hill Road, he was known as the “guy with the piano in his office.”
Apart from all of the above, Gioia is one of the leading jazz critics and music historians in the nation. He is author of eleven books, including Music: A Subversive History, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, The History of Jazz and Delta Blues. He is also a jazz musician and one of the founders of Stanford University‘s jazz studies program. Gioia is also owner of one of the largest collections of research materials on jazz and ethnic music in the Western United States.
The item that caught my interest from Gioia’s blog was the following piece posted below between the lines.
50 YEAR CYCLES OF HOT AND COOL CULTURE
In a highly speculative two-part article (here and here), I claimed that we are living a culture that shifts from hot cycles to cool cycles—each one lasting around 50 years. We are currently in the middle of a hot cycle.
I know this sounds like poppycock. But I reached this conclusion while researching my book on the history of coolness. I can’t overstate how shocked I was to discover that the cool ethos permeating American culture during my formative years was just a passing phase.
I had assumed that everyone always wanted to be hip and cool. But at the very moment when I started researching and writing the book, something was shifting. Hipster even turned into a term of abuse. But in a hundred other ways, I saw the culture getting hotter and hotter—promoting aggression, not coolness.
Now I’ve encountered a social scientist with a very similar story to tell. Peter Turchin has spent decades creating an enormous database in order to determine the laws of history, drawing on advanced data analytics. In fact, he is so ambitious that he is studying ten thousand years of history, and forcing it to reveal underlying rules and patterns.
Turchin has just published a book that shares his findings. It’s called End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration.
The idea of cycles and their shifting from hot to cool was an idea Gioia originally got from his knowledge of the history of jazz. For example, most acknowledge that early Dixieland jazz and the music of Charlie Parker was “hot” jazz while the music of Miles Davis was “cool” jazz. With Peter Turchin’s book End Times, Gioia encounters a book that extends cycles back tens thousand years of history.
I’ve been interested in cycles of history for many years. One of the areas I’ve studied is psychohistory and the ideas of people like Lloyd deMause, founder of The Journal of Psychohistory and author of groundbreaking books in this area like The History of Childhood (1974), Foundations of Psychohistory (1982) and The Emotional Life of Nations (2002). The book The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe discussed the four phases of American cycles. The Foundation for the Study of Cycles has long been looking at various manifestations of cycles in the world.
In effect, I knew that Turchin has not been the first to attempt to discover the laws of history within the area of cycles. Life is full of cycles such as economic, media, natural and astrological cycles. Did Turchin offer something new?
* * *
I started with the Amazon page for Turchin’s End Times. The reviews were spectacular and I started to expand my search out into the Internet for more information on Turchin. I learned he was associated with an institute in Vienna called The Complexity Science Hub and that he was involved with a new science called Cliodynamics.
This was a transdisciplinary area of research integrating cultural evolution, economic history, macro sociology, history/cliometrics, the mathematical modeling of historical processes during the longue durée (long duration) and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Cliodynamics treats history as science. Its practitioners develop theories that explain such dynamical processes as the rise and fall of empires, population booms and busts and the spread and disappearance of religions. These theories are translated into mathematical models. Finally, model predictions are tested against data. Thus, building and analyzing massive databases of historical and archaeological information is one of the most important goals of cliodynamics.
* * *
Peter Valentinovich Turchin is a Russian-American complexity scientist, specializing in an area of study he and his colleagues developed called cliodynamics. He is currently Editor-in-Chief at Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. As of 2020, he is a director of the Evolution Institute.
He was born in 1957 in Obninsk, Russia. In 1964 he moved with his family to Moscow and in 1975 he enrolled at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Biology and studied there until 1977. At this time, his father, Soviet dissident Valentin Turchin, was exiled from the Soviet Union. In 1980 Turchin received a B.A. (cum laude) in biology from New York University and in 1985 a Ph.D in zoology from Duke University.
In a few hours I collected the below notes on Turchin and his book End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration. It includes most of the reviews I could find from a wide range of sources. It also includes links to his own website and the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna. I downloaded the book on Kindle.
Now, I need to review my notes and read Turchin’s rather short book and see if can tell us more about these chaotic, crazy times we live in. The notes below seem a good starting place.
Notes for a book Review