There is a very insightful book on the market titled Pendulum (Williams & Drew, 2012). I don’t suspect it is going to be piled up at the entrance to Dymocks any time soon – but it is an important work – and does a very good job of indentifying the meta-cycles in western society.
They argue that there are distinct social patterns that exist on a fixed cycle of 80 years, which are divided into 4 equal 20 year quarters. The two peaks of cycle are the polar opposites where we get a ME- Society and a WE-Society.
Western society is currently experiencing the upswing towards the peak of the WE Society. Australia seems to follow the US cycle of the pendulum but the Asian cycle appears out of sync with the Western cycle. China shows evidence of entering a ME cycle with and what happens to Australia will be really interesting to see. Will we synchronise with Asia? Will we stay in tune with the West?
The pendulum metaphor is apt as there are two distinct peaks in the rhythm of society – and they are polar opposites.
The next 10 years (2013 – 2023) will take us towards the peak of the WE generation. It is no surprise that ‘social media’ is the driving force that it is because that technology has found fertile soil in the collective societal mindset.
If you want to understand what is going to drive social norms and popular culture over the next 10 years, then find the defining moments and attributes of 1933-1943. If we turn back the clock 80 years we will find the defining technology in the US was radio. Vacuum tubes in the early 20’s led to a proliferation of radio sets being sold and radio stations mushroomed in the late 20s and early thirties – paving the way for the mass communications – much like early chat rooms gave way to social media in the current upswing to a new collective ‘WE’.
If you consider the mid 30s to mid 40s the equivalent period in history, then there are quite a few major events and decisions that seem to support the thesis.
The equivalent phase of the cycle in Australian history illustrates the prevailing WE culture clearly.
- At the 1937 elections, both political parties advocated increased defence spending – the arguments being that it was for the common good.
- Minister for War Organisation of Industry, John Dedman introduced a degree of austerity and government control previously unknown, to such an extent that he was nicknamed "the man who killed Father Christmas." In May 1942 uniform tax laws were introduced in Australia, as state governments relinquished their control over income taxation.
- Immigration was initially introduced to protect the collective: In 1945, Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell wrote “If the experience of the Pacific War has taught us one thing, it surely is that seven million Australians cannot hold three million square miles of this earth’s surface indefinitely. (The current debate about boat people being denied access is exactly to be expected as we move towards an era where our identity will largely be defined by our membership of a particular group.)
All of these are prime examples of how individual freedom and needs are suppressed and even sacrificed for the ‘common good’ which defines the WE era.
The Vietnam War coincided with the downswing into the ‘ME’. Authority was questioned. Previously unquestioned alliances with the US were questioned. Despite Holt’s sentiments and his government’s electoral success in 1966, the war became unpopular in Australia, as it did in the United States. The movements to end Australia’s involvement gathered strength after the Tet Offensive of early 1968 and compulsory national service became increasingly unpopular too.
Suddenly the ‘WE’ wasn’t such a compelling cause any more.
Of course the defining behaviours of the 60s were the hippy revolution and free love. In the lead up to the ME (1960s) about 60% of Australian manufacturing was protected by tariffs.
Approaching the peak of the ME cycle, in 1983 Hawke and Keating abandoned traditional Labor support for tariffs to protect industry and jobs. They moved to deregulate Australia’s financial system and ‘floated’ the Australian dollar. In 1987 the defining movie of this generation was Wall Street in which Michael Douglas famously quipped: Greed is Good.
Movies like Rambo Rocky and the Chuck Norris genre was all about Lone Rangers conquering the world against all the odds. The #1 song for 1983 was Every Breath You Take
If you believe that pop culture reflects society – then consider the extreme individualism and excesses of Kiss and The Village People.
Today, as we head into the WE – Rambo has made room for the Expendables where all yesterdays. Heroes have seen the light and joined forces.
Everybody is now in a community having conversations…
Unfortunately, we are going to take this too far:
It is a fascinating read and the insights are quite profound. If you have a strategic responsibility of any kind in your business, you should get the book. (Amazon link – not available at Dymocks.)
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HAVE FUN (but don’t take it too far.)