Every beginning starts with an ending.
Thirteen colonies became 13 “united states” when our fight for freedom ended and our government under a Constitution began in 1789. This was the beginning of the first America, a land of freedom and opportunity.
Those “united states” became somewhat less united during our Civil War of 1861 to 1865. More about that later.
In 1880 and 1881, Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington headed west to capture memories of a time they saw to be ending. Their paintings and sculptures of the Wild West now sell for millions of dollars.
Teddy Roosevelt took the last traces of the Wild West to Cuba in 1898 when he led his “rough riders” to the top of a now-famous hill during the Spanish-American War. His arrival on that hill signaled the ending of the Wild West, the ending of the Spanish Empire, and the ending of the first America.
The second America began when Teddy Roosevelt became President in 1901. America was now a land of achievement, a World Power, a nation of cars and department stores and Coca-Cola, electric lights, running water and tract houses.
We fought two World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam, and Desert Storm before the end of that century and we taught our children that anyone could work as a tradesman, but if you wanted a “good-paying job” you needed to go to college.
It took 112 years to move from the end of our fight for freedom to Teddy Roosevelt’s land of achievement and the beginning of the second America in 1901.
In 2013 – one hundred and twelve years after Teddy took the White House – we saw the unwinding of achievement and the beginning of the third America, a land of virtual reality, virtual currency, and virtual ownership. Massive multiplayer online games, Bitcoin and Uber, Facebook and Twitter, Google and Airbnb.*
2013 also marked the halfway point in the upswing of society’s pendulum toward the zenith of our current “We.”
The halfway point in the upswing of a “We” is where we begin to take a good thing too far. We shift from “fighting together for the common good” to simply “fighting together.” Western Civilization has done this every 8th decade for the past 3,000 years.
I wrote at length about this in Pendulum a number of years ago. Do you remember that book?
1783 marked the ending of our Revolutionary War.
1783 was the zenith of a “We.”
1863 marked the middle of our Civil War.
1863 was the zenith of a “We.”
1943 marked the middle of WWII.
1943 was the zenith of a “We.”
2023 will mark the zenith of our current “We.”
I wonder what we’ll be in the middle of, then?
It is important to remember that the swinging of society’s pendulum between the zeniths of the “Me” (1983) and the “We” (2023) is a sociological swing, not a psychological one.
Sociology is the study of the values and beliefs and motives of people groups. Psychology is the study of the values, beliefs, and motives of the individual.
Let’s talk some more about endings. And sociology.
Scientific American recently published the definitive explanation of why the final season of Game of Thrones fell short of the mark set by George R.R. Martin. According to Zeynep Tufekci, we loved the first 7 seasons of the show because, “it was sociological and institutional storytelling in a medium dominated by the psychological and the individual… This is an important shift to dissect because whether we tell our stories primarily from a sociological or psychological point of view has great consequences for how we deal with our world and the problems we encounter.”
A little help on how to “deal with our world and the problems we encounter,” would be welcome right now, don’t you think?
Tufekci then goes on to warn us, “The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history. Understanding Hitler’s personality alone will not tell us much about the rise of fascism, for example. Not that it didn’t matter, but a different demagogue would probably have appeared to take his place in Germany in between the two bloody world wars in the 20th century. Hence, the answer to ‘would you kill baby Hitler?,’ sometimes presented as an ethical time-travel challenge, should be ‘no,’ because it would very likely not matter much.”
It’s easy to blame WWII on the psychology of one man because that’s how we prefer to tell stories in America; we like to zoom in so close that the picture and the story become pixelated. But if you pull that camera back to see the bigger, sociological picture, you watch an entirely different story unfold.
With a much better ending.
America’s problem – whichever one it is that has you most concerned – wasn’t caused by one of us. It was caused by all of us.
And its solution will depend on all of us, as well.
Roy H. Williams
*NOTE FROM INDY: Other aspects of the third America include A/C technicians and plumbers making $100,000 a year while disgruntled graduates drown in college debt. By the way, I’ve got a pretty way-cool rabbit hole for you today. Aroo.
He was one of 13 children in a family of Mexican migrant workers who harvested onions, potatoes, pears, and cotton. Today, Bobby Herrera is the co-founder and CEO of Populus Group, a $500-million-a-year talent management organization that provides companies with consultants, freelancers, and independent contractors. Bobby is the author of the new book, The Gift of Struggle, released TODAY from Bard Press, that famous publisher of The Wizard of Ads trilogy and dozens of other business books that have topped the national bestsellers lists. “Everyone struggles,” Bobby tells roving reporter Rotbart. “It’s what they do with those challenges that determine whether their hardships will generate success or failure.” Tune in, be encouraged, and find your inner strength at MondayMorningRadio.com.