Does your life run in cycles?

Thoughts on the apparently kaleidoscopic patterns of history
There is a theory that history moves in cycles. But, like a spiral staircase, when the course of human events comes full circle it does so on a new level. The ‘pendulum swing’ of cultural changes does not simply repeat the same events over and over again.
"Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics of Chaos", Ian Stewart.
The 60's was consciously imitated by a lot of my generation during the 90's. The haircuts, the music, the fashions and the eventual dominance of left-wing lite political philosophy. Clinton and Blair were our 'trendy new rock and roll politicians, not unlike JFK and Harold Wilson.

Oasis are a good example of the mirroring I'm writing about here. Their hero worship of The Beatles was part of the act, it was a promotional tool which made them more popular because it tapped into a certain widely felt cultural mood.

As they allowed themselves to be used by Blair for political gain, with Noel Gallagher being invited to tea at 10 Downing Street, so too were The Beatles associated with Harold Wilson in the 1960's. In the latter's defence they were drawn into the belly of the beast with the bribe of an MBE.

What, precisely did Oasis have to gain?

This brings us to one possible reason why trends, particularly cultural ones, might appear to replicate a little over time. It's in the evolutionary interests of primates to imitate their adult role models, subconsciously copying your parent's generation makes sense in that context. If you and your generation, at the age of 25, imitated the popular subculture of your parents at the same age, it would follow that we'd see patterns moving to an approximate 25 year time scale.

In practical terms Gallagher, like the pop music anorak he is, knew and was deliberately copying the template set down by his heroes Lennon and McCartney. Many of the bands of his era said the same, they were deliberately imitating the 60's. Finding your Dad's awesome vinyl music collection was common for me and my peers. So much so that the 'alternative' subcultures of the 90's and 00's mockingly labelled acts like Oasis and their contemporaries as "dad rock".

The 70's is often described as the crushing hangover which followed the more optimistic 'sixties summer of love'. Certainly as the planes thundered into the twin towers a very different note was struck... ... only to drop us into the current era where economic recession and "austerity" drives leave a bleak cultural backdrop, not unlike the one I remember as a child in the 80's.

"The magical view is that time is cyclic and that all processes recur. Even cycles which appear to begin or end are actually parts of larger cycles. Thus all endings are beginnings and the end of time is synonymous with the beginning of time in another universe. The magical view that everything is recycled is reflected in the doctrine of reincarnation".
- Libre Kaos, Peter J Carroll

These assertions are necessarily subjective and can of course be flatly disputed.
Events in time are all by their nature unique and I am not arguing we are seeing precise patter replication here, I'm suggesting the time periods are merely alike. To an extent this blog entry is an attempt to strike an intuitive chord within. If there's sense to these words maybe you can articulate your version of it further in the comment's section?

Without question there's more to be said, the blunt divisions provided by the use of a decimal system to measure the time periods in between cycles may be confusing the issue. For example, when precisely do the trends that define 'the 60's' as a cultural phenomena start? The Beatles, only get underway in 1963 in the UK, '64 in the US. This perhaps strengthens our observation on one hand as Oasis only get going in '94. On the other, it means we're dealing with a theory that paints in generalisations and very broad brush strokes. It won't be a theory suited to all and what I'm saying here needs refining.

I appeal to your subjective judgement, does the 90's really begin in terms of popular music on the date of January the 1st 1990? Or do you listen to the music recorded in that year and feel it is still overhang from the 80's? From my perspective badly produced, poorly recorded, drum effects and synthesisers still seem to dominate the top ten in that year, as they did most of the previous decade.

Despite the apparent revival of this style, accounted for by our theory, in my opinion both the 80's and our current era are relative wastelands in terms of the dominant mainstream pop music trends. To me, the actual music produced by 'The X-Factor' is alike to the awful Stock, Aitkin and Waterman nonsense we now look back on as being, at best, kitsch.

In our era the notion of a 'rebelious popstar' is frowned upon. Characters such as Lady Gaga can enjoy huge notoriety with relatively tame, superficial, acts of rebellion, as Madonna did in the 80's.  The more commonly profitable pop star archetype at the moment is the slick clean cut teen star. This iconography dominates now, as it did in the 80's and furthermore, (appropriately another thirty years prior) throughout the 1950's.

Cliff Richard, Buddy Holly and even Elvis Presley carry all the sheen of the safe clean cut 'good guys' you saw being churned out in the 80's and now in the current time. The likes of Gary Barlow and the acts he recruits with the help of Simon Cowell would not be unsuited to success thirty or even sixty years previously.

That the divisions and edges of these time periods are difficult to precisely locate does not mean they do not exist as distinct parts. Just as the precise length and size of these cycles is a red herring as regards the existence of the phenomena we describe and the cyclical, fractal nature of time and human history.

The current, directly observable, universe expresses itself in a fractal and kaleidoscopic shape. The orbit of our planet is more accurately described as a spiral as it does not precisely replicate its movements but instead, with each year, the circumference of its route gets slightly tighter. As a side note, this could suggest the cycles we're writing about also get smaller with each spin. It's the patterns we're watching. Just as planets are varied in size, from a distance, their shape is usually only fractionally distinct. Again, if you lived through the 60's and 70's it is unlikely to be difficult for you to point out differences when you compare them to the 90's and 00's. This would come with detail.

This brings us to the fact we may only be speaking of a phenomena related to human perception. These patterns might just be a result of how humans process information. As a kid I believed my life story was locked into a certain pattern of events that tended to repeat. I'd even decided it took approximately 7 years for me to get through a complete "cycle".
This happens in childhood partly because of the shift from primary to secondary school and then onto University. When you interact with a new set of people there will be an occasionally consistent pattern in their behaviour which is driven by your unique character traits. If you're an aggressive person it will be the case that over time people will react to that, usually there's only a limited number of ways that will manifest, hence similar situations repeat for you as you are introduced to new social groupings. This is why the maturation of these relationships often takes you through those stages over a similar time period.
The subjective nature of the observations in this piece means I'm keen for contributions from others to either back up the theory a little or knock it to the ground entirely.

Comments can be posted easily and I rarely reject them. Any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes you notice, pop a note in there and I'll correct them.

Please forward this idea about a bit, further to that aim of encouraging the input of others...

Nick Margerrison

*Or perhaps I should say 20/06/83? Or '53?

Comments

David said…
There may be long and short term loose cycles, but more a form of dialectics than repetition of forms. Plus I don't think you were around in the 60s while it formed my personal foundation in life, and can't imagine anything else close before or since, they were totally unique. The 70s were a modernisation of them, while the 80s a reaction against them, with the 90s finally losing its soul totally, never to so far return. Life is totally empty now compared to the 60s and 70s and personally now escape to meditation as the only alternative.
Anonymous said…
something that jumped out at me on david's post was 'life is totally empty now', I am in total agreement, the last time there was a "feel good vibe" was the 90's and cool Britannia. society now seem cold and cynical, and ultimately without compassion, we need to be compassion to grow back again. The 2010's feel like the 80's but without the money element, not to mention lots of elements of orwells 1984. yes, technologically we are more advanced than any other period in time, but are we happier? I think not - from sierraoscar147 (twitter)
@dafta_duck said…
I don't often comment on blogs so forgive my lack of reading/writing skills

I think it's simple a reflection of the era we prefer to try and remember forgetting what actually happened when we were enjoying the moment and grew to regret certain ignorances.
A little like feeling guilty you did nothing to help prevent wars during the flower power era through your own enjoyment of the substances taken at the time to modern times claiming you shouldn't take these substances or listen to this music because it's a bad influence yet all the time it's governments doing the promoting and the music attempting the preventing.

Isn't Xfactor just the same as Opportunity Knox to take control of the lyrics?
Anonymous said…
Keep meaning to comment on this as I've been through exactly this thought process, long before I even thought about time as a fractal spiral and was still trapped in the linear model of thinking.

As your post hints, it's really tempting to make it as simple as one decade correlating perfectly with another but I think perhaps it's more complex than that - a fractal and infinite pattern visible through syncs and cultural change.

For example, Oasis copied the Beatles look but they also appropriated 70s riffs and an 80s Madchester attitude. That's not to poo-poo the idea at all but rather to suggest the pattern weaves into and around itself, is more corkscrew than circle and is happening as I type this.

Perhaps our view of the past is also ever shifting, the way past crises no longer affect us - ever present human amnesia and denial.

Perhaps there's a pattern to that too... there is likely a whole language could be developed to describe it.
Anonymous said…
Okay...I'm not trying to be a snot, but the 00's were definitely the 80's (in the underground) and the 10's are trying to be the 90's...unsure about that, myself, since I still like the 80's...

If it seems like the 10's are the 80's, that's only because it took this long for the mainstream to notice what trickled out of the 00's...it's a long story, but my boyfriend's band (i'm not a name-dropper) was doing their thing for a long time before they got signed and people are constantly surprised by that fact...

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