Waterwheel at Daio Wasabi farm in Azumino, Nagano, Japan. The farm appeared in Akira Kurosawa's film, Dreams (1990; see film clip, below, and my previous posts on that film, here, here, and here). Image Source: Youtube.
Is time a circle? Sometimes, it looks as though the wheel turns and returns. The wheel of fortune represents two opposing things: a divination of the future, or luck at the roulette table. That means the wheel, which is also a symbol of human technology, mixes a message about the passage of time because it combines order with chaos. The wheel supposedly reveals the points where Fate meets Fortune. Looking at a problem linearly, we might believe the past is gone, done and fixed, indicating the path of future destiny. But if time is a circle, we can revisit the past, gamble again and change its story.
Kurosawa's "Village of the Watermills" entreated the viewer not to lose valuable elemental attachments to past ways of seeing the world. Video Source: Youtube.
The closing scene from Kurosawa's "Village of the Watermills" starts at 1:23. Clip from Dreams (1990). Video Source: Youtube.
An online joke is circulating that the years 1989 to 1994 are coming around again. Most remarks focus on the potential Clinton-Bush contest in 2016 and compare it to the US presidential election of 1992. Other commentators intuitively notice that there are new Terminator and Jurassic Park films out, just as there were in 1991 and 1993. David Lynch is back with a new Twin Peaks - and in the original show, Laura Palmer said she would come back in twenty-five years. Cast members return in roles they once played. Of course, the fact that producers are still milking entertainment franchises from the early 1990s does not mark some symbolic realignment of the universe. Although in Lynch's case, it probably does.
Image Source: Federalist Papers.
Image Source: Ink361.
Image Source: The Cagle Post.
Why cycle back to 1989-1994? Psychologists define déjà vu as a false sense of time repeating itself, based on recognition of a familiar object or symbol in a new context. People with epilepsy experience déjà vu more often than those who don't suffer from the disease, because epileptics have seizures which affect the medial temporal lobe of the brain, one of the centres of memory. The artificial impression that time repeats itself is a result of getting one's wires crossed between past and present. But what happens when déjà vu occurs at the level of whole societies, and why?
Velvet Revolution, Prague (November, 1989). Video Source: Youtube.
End of Apartheid, first democratic multi-racial general election, South Africa (April, 1994). Mandela inaugural speech. Video Source: Youtube.
Sometimes, a return to the past can create a reverse-engineered victory for history's losers. Considering what followed, it is hard to recall that the period from 1989 to 1994 was a time of tremendous hope and optimism, and an apparent victory for the west: the end of Apartheid; gradual improvements in Latin America; the end of the Cold War in Europe. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down (related post here), followed by the Velvet Revolution in Prague (related post here). The relief from the relentless Cold War stand-off was indescribable: politics had succeeded. Policy really could change things for the better! Triumphal anthems persuaded youth of the time that a great period of global regeneration and construction awaited them. Then it all stalled at Tiananmen Square. The changes, along with the hopes they inspired, spread outward over the decades that followed into the world, most recently manifesting in the Orange Revolution and the Arab Spring (related posts here, here and here). But the results were mixed, ambiguous, or disastrous - and were never again greeted again with the same naïve optimism. Shifts toward democratic freedom now implode under the weight of international relations, local realities, and ferocious counter-narratives. When the wave of democratic change arrived in Hong Kong in 2014, it stalled again. China soared economically in the new Millennium, built hard core infrastructure in Africa for an unknown future, but no social-media-driven democratic revolution followed.
High Hopes from The Division Bell (1994) © Pink Floyd/EMI. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube. Another important song from the same album was High Hopes (listen to it here).
From the point of view of America's rivals, there is much to be said for revisiting 1989. The Cold War 'ended' with a Russian defeat, but Putin has cannily recognized that the late Cold War's unsolved problems could be revived and exploited. He has set the clocks back to the fall of 1989. And perhaps he has decided to rewrite the story that followed. What would happen if he took the Anglo-American victories of the 20th century and disregarded hard-won western domination? Russia's renewed plan to capture Eastern Europe and Central Asia would then be merely a subplot in a larger story. That may be how Vladimir Putin chooses to gamble at the roulette table and change Russia's fortune.
Reboot the Cold War. Images Sources: Hope's Modern World History Blog; US News; Sott.net; Boston.com via The Atlantic (June 2005).
Spies everywhere again, as in the Cold War. Images Sources: Clearing the Fog Radio; Michelle Henry; Twitter via Daily Mail.
Games of fortune easily transform into fixed paths of fate. Ask any lotto winner: victory poses harder challenges than defeat. You can no longer trust your allies, because good times bring fair weather friends. You might rest on your laurels or believe your own hype while the rot sets in. Many western victories from 1989 to 1994 were stillborn. Problems remained unsolved or misunderstood, especially in the global expansion of capitalist economies. Whenever problems are left unsolved, they return. A recovery from the early 90s' recession eventually gives rise to a more difficult recovery from the Great Recession in the 2010s. Do we, or can we, do things differently this time around? Most analysts would say: no. These are the cycles of capitalism. This system, critics say, depends on needed changes being left undone, and lessons being left unlearned, so the cycles of boom, bubble, and bust will repeat. The cycle consumes different sectors of the economy and migrates from geographic region to region. The Next Recession describes theories of capitalist cycles:
Marx thought there were cycles: “All of you know that, from reasons I have not now to explain, capitalistic production moves through certain periodical cycles” ... . And Marx tried to estimate how long that cycle of accumulation was: “The figure of 13 years corresponds closely enough to the theory, since it establishes a unit for one epoch of industrial reproduction which plus ou moins coincides with the period in which major crises recur; needless to say their course is also determined by factors of a quite different kind, depending on their period of reproduction. For me the important thing is to discover, in the immediate material postulates of big industry, one factor that determines cycles’ ... . The key point for Marx was that “the cycle of related turnovers, extending over a number of years, within which the capital is confined by its fixed component, is one of the material foundations for the periodic cycle [crisis] … But a crisis is always the starting point of a large volume of new investment. It is also, therefore, if we consider the society as a whole, more or less a new material basis for the next turnover cycle.’ So Marx connected his theory of crisis to cycles of turnover of capital.Can we estimate how long the cycle of accumulation would be now? Well, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis provides data on the age structure of replacement for private non-residential fixed assets. And it shows that if the replacement of fixed assets is the model for explaining any cycles in capitalist accumulation, then the US cycle can be expected to be around 15-17 years.... [N]ew research has started to identify a credit cycle at least in the major capitalist economies with a duration of 16-18 years. Claudio Borio finds what he calls a ‘financial cycle’ using a composite of property prices (house prices to income) and changes in credit (credit to GDP)... . Borio is struck by the fact that the duration is longer than the ‘business cycle’. Interestingly, his financial cycle matches the length of the profit cycle identified in my case studies above. It appears to run inversely with the profit cycle at least in the US – namely that when profitability is its downward phase, the financial cycle is its upward phase. This suggests that capitalists look for unproductive investments like property to replace investment in production when profitability in productive assets falls. This is very relevant to understanding the relation between the productive and financial sectors of capitalism culminating in the Great Recession of 2008-9.Can we talk about even longer cycles in capitalist production? Just as the capitalist profit cycle appears to be spread over approximately 32-36 years from trough to trough and so does the stock market cycle, there also appears to be a cycle in prices that is about double that size, or around 64-72 years. This is the famous or infamous Kondratiev cycle. It is usually recorded with a length of about 50-55 years but I reckon that it has lengthened. ...Interest rates are a very good proxy for the Kondratiev prices cycle. So if we look at the period from 1946 again, the level of the US short-term interest rate (the Fed Funds rate, it is called, as set by the Federal Reserve Bank, America’s central bank), rose from 1946 to a peak in 1981 and then fell back after that. That suggests a 36 year up and down phase for the Kondratiev cycle. And if the length of the K-cycle has reached 72 years, then the next trough is not due until 2018.There are three more cycles of motion under modern capitalism: the cycle in real estate first identified by Kuznets and now taken up by Borio. This appears to be about 16-18 years. Then there is the cycle of GDP – the so-called business or Juglar cycle, which appears to be about 8-9 years. And then the shorter inventory or Kitchin cycle on about four years. ... I suggest we can integrate these cycles into one picture for the mode of capitalist production in the 21st century. In other words, the long Kondratiev cycle of 64-72 years can be divided downwards to two profit (and stock market) cycles of about 32-36 years each, four Kuznets cycles of about 16-18 years each; eight Juglar cycles and 18 Kitchin cycles. The profit cycle is key though. We are now in another profit downwave that should not bottom until around 2015. So output and employment slumps should be as severe and long-lasting as they were in 1974-5 and 1980-2. This profit downwave now coincides with the downwave in the Kondratriev prices cycle that started in 1982 and won’t reach its bottom until 2018.
Lessons not learned: 1990s recession, 2008-2010s recession and comparisons. Images Sources: Pearson; Survival and Prosperity; Say Anything Blog.
Politics and the economy are also indexes of mass psychology. When policy-makers puzzle over why a cash stimulus does not work, they might examine the mental state of a population in a democracy, rather than engaging in knee-jerk free market counter-arguments. Are people disillusioned and demoralized? Recessions gauge whether a population still entertains a viable level of self-belief, and indicate the degree to which citizens are enthralled or disenchanted by the myth of their country's success. The early 1990s' recession in Japan and some western countries marked an economic crisis of confidence: the psychological consensus began to evaporate. Citizens no longer suspended their disbelief about the collective story of 1980s' social prosperity. This phenomenon occurs when real economic problems shatter hopes, when political resolutions cease to work, or when (as in the 2000s-2010s) both circumstances occur and technology forces overriding changes, as yet unpegged politically, economically or psychologically. Recently, a friend of mine, T. remarked on the stresses of the Communications Age:
"The industrial revolution = slavery of the body. The information revolution = slavery of the mind."
Someone responded: "The spiritual revolution is coming and spiritual revolution equals freedom of the spirit."
If the economy and politics are really indexes of the psychological health of democratic societies, then what is needed to solve cyclical problems is not a renewed discussion on economic and political policies. Rather, we need a renewed discussion on psychological cycles, a discussion about the enslaved mind.My friend answered: "Free spirit with an enslaved mind = torment."
From Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989): "The attempt to return to the past, the attempt to undo the past." Video Source: Youtube.
In the mind, a perceived return of a time period is more than a crisis of confidence. It indicates entrapment in a bad memory, reappearing on a psychological loop. The seeming repeat of past experience enables the return of unsolved problems. Often objects of greatest dread, these problems are sometimes unconsciously - and unhappily - made manifest by those who were originally on the receiving end of them.
Another friend, J., spoke to me of this pattern in relation to a therapeutic concept for individuals: the true aim of reviving and reliving past problems is to unlock the prison of values, assumptions and past emotional traumas which created the problems in the first place. One builds strength, conjures up the trauma in new circumstances, and fights the battle once again. However, if old coping mechanisms are used unreflectively and reflexively, these outdated and flawed solutions will again fail to solve problems and indeed, make the situation worse. Not only that, but due to one's proximity to the problems' repetition, one becomes falsely associated with the problems, not their solutions. J. argues for a new cycle which leads to enhanced responsibility, rather than another retreat and more false redemptions. As she put it:
In other words, for individuals, past problems can be solved. But that requires not unconsciously manifesting them again, by taking responsibility for why the disasters keep repeating. Understand the pattern, J. said, catch yourself doing it, and choose to do something else. One combats social traumas in a new way, not in the old way, by becoming conscious of who one really is (flaws and all) and making new choices."One of the things I've learned ... is how much of [people projecting negativity onto us] .... may effectively be ... [we ourselves enabling it. We do it] - unknowingly - as part of the repetition compulsion and/or outdated coping mechanisms from childhood that cause people to misunderstand us in the ways we most fear [and] hate ... but are also used to. And that's why we keep recreating [the prerequisites for these misunderstandings] subconsciously.We can change that but to do so, we have to come to understand and heal the wounds that were inflicted on us long before we were able to understand them. And that takes some work ... . But it's the difference between true self-awareness [and] taking responsibility for one's shit and plain old asshat bullshit."
As with individuals, so with societies: a cycle of political and economic problems and accompanying socio-psychological loop depends on the unconsciousness of cultural responsibility. A problem arises, which is overtly economic or political, and covertly psychological. Who is to blame for these failures? Blame-casting is one of the most harmful and powerful mechanisms for projecting responsibility away from a group with which one identifies and toward another group, thereby deepening malaise and ensuring its resurgence. Identify problem. Project it. Disavow connection to the other group and any responsibility. Disassociate. Disconnect. Allow the scapegoat, upon whom one has dumped the problem, to stagger away. Destroy the scapegoat. Blame-casting is an easy and false answer regarding society's troubles. If you are haunted by the idea that you have misjudged a situation, that you have remembered something wrong, then perhaps you really have been wrong about everything.
The alternative to blame-casting - activism against problems, or becoming a 'fixer' - is also oddly psychologically deceptive. Victims of hatred, stereotyping, violence, and other malignant attacks are often the principals who combat those problems, who struggle against those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and ideas. But in combating those problems, these activists unwittingly take on the responsibility for them. In shouldering those burdens, they open themselves up to being tainted by the very concerns against which they fight, and of being reverse-accused of being the source of those concerns.
To prevent a return of yesterday's problems and break the loop of mental slavery, return to the original traumatic events, values and assumptions which gave rise to psychological imbalances in society. Instead of blaming others for the problems which ensued from those imbalances, or solving the ensuing problems with old approaches, become conscious of the original pattern, offer a different response, and choose new behaviour. Fate is neither totally fixed, nor is fortune completely free.
See my other posts related to Russia, here.