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M.A. Nystrom

M.A. Nystrom

M.A. Nystrom is a private investor and consultant currently living near Boston. He earned his MBA from the University of Washington with a specialty in…

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Social Cycles and the Coming Golden Age

In researching my recent series of articles Three Bears No Goldilocks, I noticed that Ravi Batra recently published a new book. Batra is probably best known for his late '80's best seller The Great Depression of 1990. While the Great Depression of 1990 did not come to pass, the book remains an excellent read for its introduction to social cycles. All totaled, Batra has written at least a dozen books, many of which have rather pessimistic titles - among his last couple were The Great American Deception, and Greenspan's Fraud. Both are excellent books, but when I noticed the optimistic title of his latest work, The New Golden Age, I was a bit taken aback. Could this be a contrary indicator? Now that Dr. Batra has turned bullish, is this a sign that things could really start falling apart, as he has long been predicting?

Well, it is not quite that simple. Ravi Batra is a cyclical analyst, and bases many of his predictions on what he calls the Law of Social Cycles, which was pioneered by his late teacher P.R. Sarkar. I first encountered this theory about ten years ago when I read the above mentioned Great Depression of 1990 and it has remained with me as a useful and interesting way of looking at the world. Batra re-introduces the theory in Chapter 4 of his latest work, and it is essential to the understanding of how he believes we will arrive at the New Golden Age.

The Four Types of People

The Law of Social Cycles states that while people in any society are all relatively similar - we all have generally the same goals, desires and ambitions - we differ in the way we go about achieving our goals. An individual's specific methods for achieving success depend on his physical and psychological makeup. Essentially, there are four different types of people who find basic fulfillment in four different kinds of ways:

  1. Warriors - have strong bodies, vigorous physical energy and a sharp intellect. Warriors tend to develop the skills that take advantage of their inherent gifts of stamina, courage and vigor. Their mentality is one that is not averse to taking physical risks. Examples of people in our society with the warrior mentality include: Policemen, firemen, soldiers, professional athletes, skilled carpenters and tradesmen, etc. They all achieve success through their physical skills and a deep understanding of their profession. Michael Jordan is an excellent example of a member of the warrior class.

  2. Intellectuals - have a more developed intellect than the warriors, but generally lack the physical strength and vigor. Intellectuals are happiest when they try to achieve success by developing and expressing their intellectual skills and talents. Examples would be: Teachers, writers, professors, scientists, artists, musicians, philosophers, doctors and lawyers, and above all, priests.

  3. Acquisitors - have a nose for money. If money can be made the acquisitors will find a way to make it. They are not as bright as the intellectuals, nor as strong as the warriors, but they are keen when it comes to making and accumulating money and material possessions. Such people are the traders, businessmen, managers, entrepreneurs, bankers, brokers, and landlords in our society.

  4. Laborers - are altogether different from the first three groups. Laborers lack the energy and vigor of the warriors, the keen intellect of the intellectuals, and the ambition and drive of the accumulators. In spite of the fact that their contribution to society is profound - in fact, society could not function without them - the other groups generally look down upon and tend to exploit them. The laborers are the peasants, serfs, clerks, short order cooks, waiters, janitors, doormen, cabdrivers, garbage collectors, truck drivers, night watchmen and factory workers who keep society running smoothly by working diligently and without complaint.

I think we all know people who would fit into each of the above categories. While all people have a bit of each of these characteristics, usually only one of the characteristics is dominant in an individual. And while there is some social mobility between groups, it is generally fairly limited. It would be fairly difficult for a sensitive poet to become a professional soldier, for example. There are two exceptions, however: All of the classes like money, so it is easy for any of the classes to acquire the acquisitor mentality, though not necessarily the skill. Furthermore, members of the other classes can be forced into the laborer class out the need to support themselves and families.

Social Classes and Social Cycles

Groups of each type of people make up the social classes in society. Under this theory, classes are not divided by income level, but rather by disposition. In any society, it is the warriors who defend the nation and keep the peace; intellectuals develop religion, art, law and new inventions; acquisitors manage the farms, factories, financial institutions and stores; and the laborers do the routine work - waiting tables, collecting trash, and other low-tech, low skill jobs. As should be evident, each class contributes something vitally important to society, and society could not function without all the classes working together in harmony. Unfortunately, not all classes are rewarded equally according to their contributions. Furthermore though all exist simultaneously in society, at any given time only one of the four classes is the dominant class and therefore rules society. (The laborers, however, never rule - more on this later.)

How do you know which is the dominant class? Batra suggests asking which is the most admired profession in society. If common people look up to soldiers or other warrior professions (see Starship Troopers) as the heroes of society, it is an age of warriors. If the young people aspire to become priests, or enter the clergy, or become poets or musicians or scientists (yes, such periods did exist - and still do in other parts of the world) it is an age of intellectuals. When the majority aspires to become like the super rich - to make hundreds of millions of dollars with little or no work, and enjoy private jets and exclusive lifestyles - it is an age of the acquisitors, as we find ourselves in now.

No single class can remain dominant indefinitely, and power passes from class to class in a prescribed order, or cycle. The age of warriors - which bring strict order to society and a return to fundamental values - is followed by an age of intellectuals, which over time merges into an age of acquisitors. Batra describes the progression through the age of acquisitors on page 70:

Once the majority of intellectuals become acquisitive, materialism degenerates into supermaterialism. There are no more religious or ethical restraints on the avarice of the elite, and as the public follows its leaders, everything gets commercialized.

There comes a point when the intellectual acquisitors are virtually unchallenged; that is when the process of wealth concentration runs full throttle, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer at incredible speeds. The boundless hypocrisy of acquisitive intellectuals ultimately torments the majority of people. Salaries go down, and the bulk of society is forced to devote much of its time to making money. Warriors and intellectuals then have to become laborers and are left with little time for the finer pursuits of life. They have to labor hard to support themselves and their children. The intellectual's inherent love for art, music, painting and philosophy give way to routine work all day long to provide the means for family survival. The warrior's innate predilection for adventure and sport is replaced by overtime work to make ends meet. The vast majority of society comes to adopt the laborer's way of living and thinking.

Only two classes then remain - acquisitors and laborers, or the haves and have-nots. The age of acquisitors eventually turns into the age of laborers, which may now be called the acquisitive-cum-labor age, in which the acquisitive intellectual is dominant.

For a while, people suffer through the deceit and exploitation of the reigning class. They maintain their lifestyle by increasingly getting into debt. Acquisitors now have a field day. They make money left and right. They enrich themselves through their control over businesses, farms, and factories, and through lending money to the other classes.

This is right about where we as a society find ourselves now, Batra argues. As the acquisitors have become dominant, most members of the other classes have been forced into to the laboring class in order to support both themselves and the appetites of the acquisitors (through interest payments on debt). At the same time, nearly everyone aspires to the lifestyle of the acquisitors -- those who don't are society's misfits and outcasts. Further, the acquisitors make a show of making it seem possible that such a lifestyle is available to anyone, if only you would just work harder (or smarter). For example, see Trump and Kiyosaki (Rich Dad)'s book, Why We Want You to be Rich.

But the acquisitor age is just the flip side of the age of laborers -- the acquisitor-cum-laborer age, as Batra calls it. Laborers are in the majority, but the acquisitors are the ones holding the reigns of power.

This age of laborers is characterized by:

  1. A breakdown of the family unit due to divorce
  2. Rampant crime (including white collar) and disrespect for the rule of law
  3. Extremely loose morals and high rates of prostitution
  4. Neglect of the children and the elderly
  5. A general aversion to mental and physical discipline
  6. A culture of "supermaterialism" and a thriving drug culture (legal and illegal)
  7. The commercialization of everything, including art, religion, music, sports, adventure, etc.
  8. A religion of fear and educational decline
  9. Intellectual dishonesty and the spread of dogma
  10. Low status for women, due to the prevalence of divorce, prostitution and pornography
  11. Divided and decentralized government
  12. Acquisitive politicians dominating politics but sharing power with laborers.

Aside from the last three on the list - women still have an elevated status, the government, though divided remains centralized, and there is little power sharing with laborers that I can see - these characteristics describe fairly well the era we are living through now.

For younger people - say under 40 - this kind of lifestyle is all we have ever known, and therefore we tend to believe that things have always been like this and always will be. People over 40 may remember a time when society was different, when morals were stricter, when people stayed married, courtesy and honor played more prominent roles in relationships, and some things remained sacred. These are characteristics of a previous age.

The power of this theory is in the ability to step back and place our current way of life into a larger context. We can use the theory to see clearly where we have been, as well as where we are going. As more and more people tire of life on the money treadmill, a new era begins to take shape, just as spring always and inevitably takes shape from winter. Disgruntled intellectuals and warriors displaced into the laborer class join forces with the masses to bring about massive social change. Such a change is known as a revolution and with it comes the dawing of a new age.

One of my favorite quotes, from Peter Drucker's 1993 book Post Capitalist Society goes:

Every few hundred years in Western Civilization, there occurs a sharp transformation . . . Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself - its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world, and the people born can't even imagine the world in which their grandparents live and into which their own parents were born.

We are currently living through just such a transformation.

The larger point is that things are not static - they never are. In fact, with the rapid rollout of technology and the educational potential it brings, things now are less static than they have probably ever been.

The idea of revolution may not sound like something to be optimistic about, but Batra points out that revolutions need not be violent. If the revolution is led by warriors, yes it probably will be - but this country already had one violent revolution. It is not necessary that we repeat the event.

As Batra puts it:

Rebelling against the elite is not easy; it takes immense courage to oppose a regime and become a revolutionary. So those who muster such courage, no matter what their initial grouping, are the true soldiers who then start another warrior age, which begins with an ascending or magnanimous phase. With the return of the warrior mentality, many features of the first eras of warriors make a comeback, but some novel and progressive institutions also appear because of inevitable social evolution through time. The acquisitors, having lost their credibility, go back to a lower status. The public remembers their acts of oppression and imposes restraints on their acquisitiveness. This way the social cycle goes on and on..."

In other words, if the revolution is led by intellectuals, there is no reason it need be violent. The dissolution the British as well as Soviet Empires were both revolutionary changes that took place with very little bloodshed.

We can already see the seeds of a new era being sown and sprouting. One of the major signs is the increasing awareness of the problems that our current way of living creates - socially, psychologically, economically, environmentally and spiritually. Just one such example is this article: Why Having More No Longer Makes Us Happy. Yes, this era is winding down in an endgame, but the ending is just a prelude to a new beginning. I will have much more to say about this in future installments.

But don't get too excited just yet. Before we get to the New Golden Age that Batra speaks of, things are probably going to have to get much worse for many people. This creates the impetus for massive change, as people reach a point where they can no longer stand the prevailing conditions and are moved to take action. But Batra makes the point that the future is not set in stone. With knowledge of the social cycles, we can help speed it up through our own actions, and with awareness of how it is likely to unfold, we are better armed to stay out of harm's way.

So how much worse will things get, and how much longer until the Golden Age? That comes next week, in Part II of my review. Please sign up to my low volume email announcement list if you would like to be notified when it is available.

Comments on this story are welcome here.


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