On October 28th, 1980 – a week before the elections – Jimmy Carter, serving President of the United States of America, challenged in a debate his Republican rival Ronald Reagan. His scarce advantage in the opinion polls had rapidly decreased after the meeting, which eventually led to his electoral defeat. The President, who four years earlier, under the banner of renewal after Watergate scandal, reached for Washington, was leaving the political stage as one of the weakest American leaders of 20th century.
The thing is that even if the debate had gone Carter’s way, he had to lose. With his person, lasting almost fifty years cycle had come to an end.
The preceding decade was marked with the end of the “Flower Children” era and the removal of troops from Vietnam. In 1973, the prices of crude oil had drastically increased. Japanese cars, which had been despised, turned out to be cheaper and better than American ones. Airlines were threatened with bankruptcy. In 1978, Lee Iacocca got into the Chrysler Company to revive it only with the money from government guarantees. Hippies were replaced with the generation of Sex Pistols fans, who were piercing their cheeks with safety pins. In Iran, the revolution has overthrown King of the Kings (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) and Soviet troops have marched into Afghanistan.
The Carter’s administration came on in the time of Shaman – the last period of the cycle. During that time, democratic societies choose their leaders, who have noble intentions, clean hands and idealistic views – leaders propagating the change through getting rid of the Masters of Hypocrisy, who have led the country into ruin. Unfortunately, despite good intentions and enthusiasm, Shamans cannot overcome the crisis, as their roots, perception of the world and the way of looking for answers are embedded in the forthcoming cycle. Thus, they have to make room for those, who will begin the new cycle. For Heroes.
From Heroes to Shamans
The first stage of each cycle is the time of Heroes. It is the time of revolution, during which recovery from the permanent crisis of the former cycle takes place. Countries are led by extraordinary characters, charismatic leaders, who drag with them the whole pack of young wolves eager to remodel the world. Companies and branches of industries, so far treated as curiosities, are making their way to the mainstream economy.
The 80s are the years of IT boom. The thirty-year-old founders of Microsoft and Compaq Corporations have moved from their garages to office blocks. The economic changes were so big and sudden, that the IBM giant, at the beginning of the forthcoming decade, had experienced a painful reorganization and had to almost entirely change the way of running the business. In January 1984 the telecommunications market was demonopolized. In 1987 Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, had appeared as a guru of the new era. In the same year the film, in which the main character, Gordon Gekko claims that “greed is good”, was directed. Stock exchange was no longer viewed as strictly financiers’ domain. The time of products and services preparation was drastically reduced. What is more, the competitive advantage in the market had started to be counted in weeks.
On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the experiment of the real socialism was dying. The year 1989 and the following have brought the downfall of perestroika, free elections in Poland and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The changes that occurred in Eastern Europe also required extraordinary leaders – heroes – who would be able to introduce them. These were the days of glory for Walesa, Havel and Yeltsin, whose photos of him speaking on a tank outside the parliament in Moscow, are known worldwide. The time of Heroes does not last forever though. When the cycle comes to its heyday, the society throws Heroes in the corner. Now, the Magnificent enter the scene. There is still something from Heroes in them. They grew up and built their careers with them. However, they lack this roughness, aloofness, and this faith in own mission. To the society they can offer the prettier and younger face. They are more sympathetic to people rather than monument. The Magnificent emanate energy and point out Great Goals. In that time everything seems to be possible. It could be either a man on the Moon or joining the European Union. It is easier to forgive the Magnificent their faults and slip-ups, such as Kennedy’s flings, Kwasniewski’s weak shins or Clinton’s “not taking a pull on joints”.
At the time of the Magnificent everyone believes that even if they do not win that game, they will at least gain significant benefits. The days of heyday for raising branches of industries are approaching and their leaders are being announced visionaries. Examples of successes are multiplying. New technologies, new ideas and the surplus of easy money enable starting new enterprises, while mass fascinations cause pumping up financial bubbles. As for now, nobody cares about it, as everyday growth, success, prime and optimism are seen not only as simple slogans but also as a part of reality. Publications confirming the victory of the new cycle appear. Some of them even propagate “the end of the history”! It is also the only time in the whole cycle when the ruling ones may suggest more serious structural changes knowing they will be accepted.
First cracks appear with time, thus Masters of Hypocrisy get a chance to speak. They look even more attractive than the Magnificent. The marketing efficiency and strategies has reached their highest level and they are dedicated to people only for one reason “to buy them”. They try to change the meaning of words and terms, so as to ascribe those deeply-rooted and well received ones to their goals. The search for the value begins there, where it cannot be found. Except, the Masters of Hypocrisy have false trade goods of worse value but wrapped up in more colorful papers.
The Masters of Hypocrisy have already matured within the new cycle and they have started to think with its categories. They are stronger but less talented that their predecessors. They care for immediate profits, not noticing the cracks in the system and they are completely unable to face new problems. They pay attention to minor issues and find the outlet for energy in matters not even touching up accumulating problems. They live on credit – literally and figuratively.
And there is going to be quite a lot to clean after them. It turns out that in the time of the Magnificent not everybody had got on the first-class car but it also happened that the train had already left, leaving many on a platform. The differences between successful people and those marked with failure are increasing. The latter no longer have the stigma of own fault, which has led to failure. The future is no longer as bright as it was couple of years ago. Politicians’ suggestions are perceived as pulling the wool over people’s eyes and buying some time – “just to the next elections”. Nobody sees leaders of that period as fathers of the nation. Conversely, they are becoming subjects of unrefined jokes. However, the Masters of Hypocrisy seem to be made of Teflon – accusations flow over them, leaving not a single trace. It is also the time when the past tenderness of rapid economic growth starts to feel fatigue. It is easy to be visionary, when the market grows a few dozen percents a year, covering up mistakes and stupidity. What was formerly creativity and innovation now it becomes rapacity and a race in which victims do not count. In the sequel to “The Wall Street” Gordon Gekko says that for what he was sentenced to prison 10 years ago, has just become legal…
It is also a moment when the fundamental ideas of the forthcoming change are germinating. Prophets believe that what they say will eventually happen in the future, but in fact they are only an inspiration, a counterpoint to the “official version of the world”. They are followed by young people who call into question their pleased with success parents. This is the moment for Bob Dylan, “Easy Rider”, “Vanishing Point” or more contemporary “No logo” or hacker communities. Future Sach, Balcerowicz, Gates and Job grow up on those films, books, songs or websites. Without these, they would not be who they are. But they do not take the advice of popular gurus literally. Instead they engage in what will bring them their future glory.
After the time of the Masters of Hypocrisy, the cycle proceeds to its final spasm. It is almost like in a Hollywood thriller, when in the penultimate scene, the evil attacks for the last time, just before happy-end. The flawless knight is approaching! He has a fair life, he is set in his habits, he has got a sense of mission and… he’s completely useless. The era of Shaman begins. It is nearly a Shakespearean role and leaders’ personal drama, when it turns out that the good intentions are not enough and decisions do not heal but prolong the agony at most.
In such times, money is being pumped into face-lifting procedures, while it should be invested in a more serious surgery. These could be debts from unwanted car plants or debts stemming from bank speculations. These are the negotiation attempts with the tenderness of the cycle, when it is time to say that its status quo is no longer to be maintained. These are allegedly successful wars, which should not have even been started and which cannot be won. This is announcing of the progress in the matters which, although may be important, they do not have any significant meaning to ordinary people. Carter, in his memorable debate, told his voters about the progress in the control of the world’s nuclear armament. Reagan asked if the standard of living for ordinary people has improved in the last couple of years…
A Hero is needed for a breakthrough to happen. A person who would lead a nation to the Promised Land. He is accompanied by twenty and thirty-year-olds, who make changes. They immediately take positions for which their predecessors had to work for decades. Shortly after the breakthrough, people start looking for such leaders who have what Heroes lacked. Along with the Magnificent, the prime time of the whole generation draws on. The new ones are growing in numbers, they understand new times, they have already gained experience and they are the fathers of ideas changed into success. They drag with them their subordinates; they give them promotions and allow to build careers. But they have already got into the ruts of the new order and they pay less attention to the essence of the issue and more to its form. The most aggressive ones will take over reigns and will become the Masters of Hypocrisy. It is during their time that scams, embezzlements and moral scandals happen. Also under their reigns bards and poets, adversaries and rebels appear as an answer to greater number of people feeling excluded, indignant and cheated on by the system. The short time of Shaman is a swan song for the cycle. Then people are bereft of hope for the easy way out from numerous crises that surround them. And the cycle ends.
Individuals’ and nation’s cycle
The next cycles either increase the role of the nation or the role of individual success. In the former case “to be” is put higher rather than, as in the latter case, “to have”. In the first one, symbols and the work for the country are valued more than the material status. Great projects, such as Central Industrial Region, highway or NASA – are created in a one cycle, big companies in another. This feature of the cycle attracts the most talented people. Steve Jobs was 21 when he set up Apple Inc., and he did not look for a job in an American administration sector. Wernher von Braun, when he was at the same age, started to work for the German government as a chief (yes!) for the team constructing rockets. In the “national” cycle business becomes the servant of politics, and politicians do not fear entrepreneurs. In the second one – as Professor Paul Dembinski have noticed – 800 of the biggest concerns have direct or indirect influence on the half of the world’s GDP! It becomes clear who is the master and who is just a servant.
Getting out of the Great Depression has begun the new cycle. Roosevelt and the New Deal have become its symbols. In the end, the era of the Magnificent was represented by JFK, landing on the Moon, green revolution in developing countries and mass motorization in the developed ones. The greatest structural changes were social protection, emancipation and the end of the imperial settlements. Watergate wiring, the suppression of the Parisian and Prague Spring, 1973 oil crisis had questioned current order of things and in two systems Shamans – Carter and Gorbachev – who thought that everything could be maintained as it was, were called.
In the next cycle Margaret Thatcher had stopped miners, however, thousands of people eventually went out on the streets. After couple of years she suppressed inflation and the number of strikes lowered ten times. Reagan had made a breakthrough by standing up to USSR and begun to introduce changes in the economy. After Reagan, the prosperous times of Clinton came. Then, in the next stage, the unctuous in word and deed crew of Bush Junior got to rule. Finally, another President with his slogan “Yes, we can!” has entered the White House.
It could be expected that in Poland after the revolutionary times of Walesa, the leader would be replaced by someone of smoother language and who strive for nation’s recognition. The most important changes were introduced by the Jerzy Buzek’s government, as it always happens in the era of the Magnificent. Only later have the canting era of spin doctors, Rywin affair and numerous scandals begun. The generation which has gained the power in the 90s still rules. Today, they slowly head for retirements. Their days are coming to an end.
Poland and the world in the new 21st century cycle
Undoubtedly, we are at the end of the current cycle. Individualism has played its key role, so a change towards country can be expected. Here, again, more important than account balance would be recognition and social position a person can get. But it also means that it will be easier to say: “I can’t afford it”, as it is not money that determines peoples safety. People in charge of the country will no longer be held responsible for executing country’s budget and the correct accounting of invoices but they will start to notice the real effects of their actions.
It is really hard to tell what will eventually trigger the change – it could be energy related problems or a financial collapse. The one of the first symptoms of the breakthrough will be the abandonment of political correctness and starting calling a spade a spade – not only during unofficial meetings but also during general debates. Many bitter words will be said, and problems will be called directly. As long as the discussion about a reform begins with mantra about “inviolability of acquired rights”, it means that it is not said by the new cycle leader.
And the domains of many sacred cows, both Polish and world ones, will be violated. Health service and education will undergo some changes. Currently they are able to absorb – and they strive for it effectively! – whatever high public funds without any change in quality of offered service. In the line there are also finances, agriculture and forced by demographic changes, health care waiting. Areas, which have been the background for individualism, such as the Internet, will be more thoroughly regulated.
It is the rule that the forthcoming cycle transforms and uses achievements of the previous one in a different way. Military communications program, which was supposed to guarantee protection from any attack, has laid foundations for the Internet technologies. The system had to work no matter what, even if many hubs were destroyed. What DARPA prepared has become the foundation for today’s Web. One can only speculate, whether contemporary companies and people actions in accordance with Network Policies will become a foundation for a new country.
IT will become ubiquitous – from intelligent houses and cars to augmented reality presented in millions of screens of different sizes. It will be necessary to redefine privacy, as not only consciously but also unconsciously we will be leaving thousands of traits – from repeated behaviors to DNA traces. The materialistic revolution will move to the space, where private investors, encouraged by the state will go to.
Who are those people, who will introduce another cycle in Poland, and whose names will glitter during the next era of the Magnificent? Now, they have graduated but the development opportunities do not satisfy them. They do not want to work for corporations, although nice salaries and air-conditioned offices wait for them there, as they will become weak-willed puppets. They do not consider setting up own business and bickering about with paper pushers to have any future. Although poor in spirit world of politics does not attract them, they do not think that money is the measure of the universe. The life in non-governmental organizations is not a long-term plan for them. They do not believe in “corporate social responsibility” nor in “the innovativeness of a nation”, being well aware of the fact that there are some tasks that a country should not hand over to the business (and vice versa!). They have some difficulties in choosing their political preferences as they correctly predict that all political parties – from their point of view – are the same and have nothing to offer. Whenever they get the blues they listen to Amy Winehouse and read Stiglitz, although they do not identify themselves with the development trend he depicts.
I am waiting for the next, memorable debate. It is closer than we expect.
Translation: Piotr Gmitrowicz