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I’ve been reading Peter Turchin’s excellent work on cliodynamics (or, as fans of the Foundation series would call it, “psychohistory”). While his book “War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations” provides an excellent read of his theories, his paper on “Secular Cycles” is a good academic look into his theories (and it’s free too).

I can’t do justice to his Secular Cycle theory in a short paragraph, but for those who don’t wish to read the whole paper, I can give a very short summary of his theory as to the disintegrative forces that cause an Empire or society to collapse or enter political revolution. Essentially, prosperity leads to a growth in population, as well as a growth in the elite population and elite consumption. These pressures strain the economy, and result in populist unrest which creates social reforms and ends in the culling of the elite population (either through violence or through seizure of elite estates which results in loss of status/wealth of the elites in question).

By comparing modern America with the indicators in Table 1.1, I concluded that America currently is in the Stagflation (Compression) Phase of the Secular Cycle, and will soon enter the Crisis Phase of the Secular Cycle. Because we live in an industrial rather than agricultural society, I’ve replaced all the agricultural statements with their industrial equivalent. Some of these, such as “number of rural settlements”, had no industrial analogue, so I ignored them. Here is how it matches up:

Population dynamics: “population is high and continues to increase but the rate of growth decelerates” – Check. We have a high population but it’s growing more and more slowly. However, it is not clear whether this change is due to socioeconomic pressures or simply due to changes in birth control technology (which would be independent of the Secular Cycle). Only time will tell.

Elite dynamics: “Golden Age; increasing numbers; increased competition for elite positions; conspicuous consumption by some segments; appearance of counter-elites” – Partial check. I’m not sure if we have increasing numbers or the appearance of counter-elites. However, we certainly have conspicuous consumption by some segments (the rich get richer and by yachts, etc.), and we certainly have increased competition for elite positions, as witnessed by the increasing higher education required to get an upper class job (in the past, a Bachelor’s degree would have sufficed, whereas today a PHD is required to get a very well paying job, and even then upper class status, as measured by living in a good neighborhood, often requires dual income earners).

State strength and collective solidarity: “High, but declining” – Check. When 9/11 occurred, the society showed very strong solidarity and support of the state. Today, this is starting to change as factionalization emerges.

Sociopolitical instability: “Instability is low but increasing” – Unknown. Such instability is hard to gauge because of media sensationalism and the short period Generational Cycle identified by Turchin. This suggests that the sociopolitical instability is currently low.

Industrial production: “slow increase or stagnation” – Check. Industrial production growth in the United States has tapered in the past decade or two.

Independent business: “low” – Check. Most production has been taken over by large corporations.

Real wages: “declining to the lowest point” – Check. Real wages have fallen since 1970, despite improvements in technology and the GDP.

Personal consumption; subsistence level: “declining; poverty, misery, vagrancy” – Nope. While poverty levels are rising due to the Great Recession, they are still not unusual considering the big picture view of history.

Artisanship and handcrafts: “increasing jobless workers become artisans” – Check. People are leaving production-oriented jobs to enter “softer” jobs in the service industry.

Trade: “increasing in volume and spatial scale” – Check. Globalization. ‘Nough said.

Usury: “increasing worker indebtedness” – Check. Massive increase.

Large private industry ownership: “increasing” – Check. The ultra-rich own a very disproportionate share of industry.

Economic inequality: “increasing” – Check. Growing tremendously.

Incidence of epidemics: “increasing; post-epidemic population increases sluggish” – Nope. Medical advances mean that epidemics have nothing to do with population.

Internal peace and order: “high, but gradually unraveling; increasing resistance to taxation” – Check. Heard of the Tea Party?

State finances: “declining real revenues, increasing expenditures due to growth of the army and bureaucratic apparatus” – Partial check. Real revenues are mildly increasing, while expenditures are rapidly increasing due to the growth of the army and bureaucratic apparatus.

Taxes: “stagnate or even decline in real terms; heavy tax burdens on the workers” – Check. Tax cuts for the rich and corporations, none for the middle or lower classes.

Ideology: “growth of social pessimism; criticism of powers-that-be; ideological and social conflicts” – Check. Just look around you.

State policy: “increasing attempts at social reforms, construction of infrastructure; colonization of borderlands; external  aggression for acquisition of new resources” – Partial check. We’re seeing some social reforms such as Obamacare, but this isn’t out of the ordinary in comparison to earlier reforms such as the War on Poverty, for example. Infrastructure construction also seems to be lagging badly, as the transportation and energy infrastructure is woefully outdated. On the other hand, the Iraq War is a perfect example of external aggression for acquisition of new resources.

I think the evidence is conclusive. We’re seeing severe economic inequality as the massive labor supply (due to both population growth and second wave feminism) creates severe income inequality and the ability to obtain stable employment, purchase a house, and maintain a stable lifestyle becomes increasingly out of reach for the middle class. This will come to a head around 2020-2025 (2030 at the latest), as disgruntled Americans will rise up to attempt to reclaim the American Dream. I’ll elaborate more on this in a later post.

Obama: 275, Tossups: 72, Romney: 191


Media hype notwithstanding, the latest polls show Obama consistently ahead in Ohio and New Hampshire, with a lead above the aggregate margin of error. At this point the only wild card that could snatch away another four years in the White House for Obama would be voting fraud in Ohio.

My prediction for the actual result? North Carolina leans towards Romney pretty strongly, while Colorado leans towards Obama. Obama holds marginal polling leads in Iowa and Virginia, and Romney a marginal lead in Florida. Thus, I’d say 303-235 is the most likely outcome, though the only thing I can confidently guarantee is that Obama gets 275 electoral votes.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Democrats will shore up their slim Senate majority, while the Republicans will hold on to their significant House majority.

"It's not denial. I'm just very selective about the reality I choose to accept." - Calvin

Conservatives are arguing that the likely voter models used in election polls, especially State-level polls, are flawed because they use the anomalous high turnout in 2008 for those who identify as Democrats rather than the historically lower past turnouts. The implication seems to be that polling companies have tweaked the turnout models to be biased to Obama. This is simply wishful thinking by Romney-supporters. Gallup’s likely voter model, for example, is a fully objective model. It’s true that one factor in many – whether voters voted in the last election – could be biased towards Democrats because of the 2008 elections. But this factor is going to be marginal, and likely balanced out by the entrance of new voters in their 20s and early 30s – who’re likely to lean liberal.

But it’s interesting to consider why voter turnout amongst liberals is likely to be so strong compared to conservatives. One would expect that the wave of euphoria of electing a new President after the Bush fiasco and having the first black President in history wouId have washed over by now. I would argue that there are two factors behind the continued high turnout in liberals. First, latinos are beginning to mobilize in much larger numbers. In elections to come, they will become an increasingly crucial demographic in elections, and will shift the political spectrum significantly towards the left on economic and foreign policy issues. Second, given the current state of the economy, liberals are especially frightened by the prospect of having someone as out of touch with the common man as Romney in charge of the United States. Though many are disillusioned by Obama, they may still be turning out to make sure that the more worrisome Romney doesn’t win.

Reinterpreting the MBTI

When I first took an online test for the Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI), I came back as an INTJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging). Generally, I consider personality tests to be little better than astrology, and they don’t tell me anything I didn’t already answer in the test. When I took a look at the INTJ description, however, I was quite surprised by how accurately it described me. Most intriguingly, the description was more than just a rehashing of the categories that I had just answered. It seemed to find something deeper. At the time, it felt like a magic black box. Over time, I started to dig deeper into the MBTI, including the theory of dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions.

Eventually, I realized that the model of representing personality types by the four axes of the MBTI hid what was actually happening behind the scenes. Here’s my take on the MBTI.

There are two types of things going on in a person’s brain. First, there are the “lower” activities. These happen almost behind the scenes and we often fail to notice them. These lower activities are intuition (speaking the understanding or grasp of things) and sensing (the familiarization with things). Then, there are the “higher” activities. We are generally aware of these. These “higher” activities are thinking and feeling. People tend to have preferences between the two “lower” activities and between the two “higher” activities. For example, I prefer intuition to sensing and thinking to feeling. These preferences constitute two of the axes in the MBTI.

Individuals tend to use both their preferred “higher” activity and their preferred “lower” activity. But they defer in which they apply to the outer world around them (through extraversion) and which they apply to the inner world/mind (through introversion). In my case, I apply my “higher” thinking to the outside world, and my “lower” intuition to the inner world. Those who apply their preferred “higher” activity to the outside world can be considered to judge the world, while those who apply the “lower” activity can be considered to perceive the world. This constitutes another axis on the MBTI classification – the judging vs. perceiving axis.

Finally, some people prefer to spend the majority of their time/energy on extraverted activity, while others prefer introverted activity. Remember that this is a preference, not an absolute rule that applies all the time. Thus, we may classify people as extraverted or introverted – the remaining category in the MBTI classification.

So in my case, I could be classified as an INTJ – an introverted intuitive thinking judger. But this classification is hard to understand. Instead, it would be appropriate to classify me as an Ni-Te i.e. someone who uses introverted intuition first and extraverted thinking second (in MBTI notation, NI, Te, etc. denote “functions”). My most common mental activity is to create an intuitive understanding – but this activity is augmented by my thinking interaction with the outside world. This personality makes me perfect at analysis.

Of course, just cause thinking and intuition are my preferred higher and lower activities doesn’t mean that I never use feeling or sensing. Since I’m used to using the higher activity of thinking when I interact with the outside world, my feeling activity is nearly always applied to the internal world. That is, I use Fi (introverted feeling). Similarly, since I’m used to the lower activity of intuition when I interact with the internal world, I keep the opposite activity of sensing away from that, and tend to apply it to the outside world, i.e. Se (extraverted sensing). So, in addition to my commonly used Ni and Te, I also sometimes use Fi and Se.

Thus, one can classify someone by which higher function and which lower function they apply to the external and internal worlds, and wether they prefer extraversion or introversion. From this, one can also figure out the rest of the person’s personality, by keeping in mind that the less preferred “higher” activity is applied to the opposite world of what the preferred “higher” activity is applied to. The same holds for the less preferred “lower” activity.

One other example: consider Jimmy, who is an Ne-Fi. The MBTI type is ENFP, as he prefers extraversion to introversion, and applies the “lower” activity – intuition – to the external world, making him a perceiver. He would be someone who enjoys intuitive interactions with others, and channels his internal feeling to that goal. We can work out that his sensing will be introverted in contrast to his extraverted intuition, and similarly his thinking will be extraverted. Thus, as an Ne-Fi, his remaining “functions” are Te and Si.

What do you think? Comments or questions?

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