Showing posts with label peter turchin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peter turchin. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cliodynamics - Pop Science Drivel Worth Paying Attention To

As a general rule, "Popular Science" has always struck me as a laughable oxymoron. And while this rule has served me well over the years and insulated me from all sorts of traps there are occasionally some quite fascinating exceptions. One of them is Peter Turchin and the notion of Cliodynamics.

Essentially Turchin is creating a framework for understanding periods of historical upheaval in what I like to read as economic cyclicalism. Instead of viewing history eschatologically or as utopian, Turchin's 50 year cycles of upheaval and violence provide a startlingly accurate framework for understanding humanity's frustrating repetitions of the same mistakes. Its a generational thing.

Turchin came to prominence by correctly predicting a long stretch of elections. Of course he is not the first to do so. Markets have been correctly predicting elections and there margins with vast accuracy for some time - take a look at IEM and Intrade, for example (Remember that old HL Mencken quote, "Elections are futures markets in stolen property?"). The wisdom of markets is not sorcery and they are of course delightfully unpopular despite the stunning accuracy they have to offer. But Turchin is not a market. He is just a professor. And professors have, on the whole, made an industry around *not* getting things right for many years now.

For all his current popularity, I doubt the mass of people faithfully regurgitating Turchin's scrying from the likes of CNN and NPR understand exactly what his (objectively verifiable as correct) version of the future has in store for them and their orthodoxies. It means that history is not a straight line towards liberal freedom or towards apocalypse, there is no grand sweeping narrative between easily labeled groups, but rather a regularly looping cycle in which masses of people make vast economic and social mistakes that result in sweeping violence, punctuated by a generation or two where people lose stomach for sweeping change and embrace dystopian conservatism against all odds as a levee to protect them from reactionary violence, only to repeat the cycle once more. Progress is the bottom of the soup that survives these cyclonic stirrings of the pot. There is much there to threaten liberals and conservatives, socialists and the religious.

Read more about Turchin by way of his publications, here reproduced in order with most recently published first:
Secular Cycles
War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires
Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall (Princeton Studies in Complexity)
Complex Population Dynamics: A Theoretical/Empirical Synthesis
Quantitative Analysis of Movement: Measuring and Modeling Population Redistribution in Animals and Plants
There are a few articles and sites worth reading also:
Nature. Human cycles: History as science
eScholarship, University of California. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History
Peter Turchin's Web Page.
Cliodynamics Web Page.

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