2020 has been packed full of historic ‘upheaval’ events, from the global coronavirus pandemic, to the police killing of George Floyd and other black individuals, leading to Black Lives Matter protests around the world. But amazingly, University of Connecticut ecologist, evolutionary biologist and mathematician Professor Peter Turchin predicted the status quo way back in 2012.
The scientist incredibly concluded eight years ago how the world, and the US in particular, was on course for a chaotic, violent 2020.
The prediction [of violence] followed from observing the trends that make a violent upheaval increasingly likely
Professor Peter Turchin
Professor Turchin was not just idly speculating when he foresaw trouble in the 2020s.
In his 2012 article, published in the Journal of Peace Research, he studied political violence, including riots, lynchings and terrorism, in the US between 1780 and 2010.
He discovered two patterns, beginning with a long peaceful period.
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This is followed by rising violence seeming to span as long as 200 or 300 years, marked in this case by relative peace in the early 1800s, major upheaval in the mid- to late-1800s.
Then peace apparently returns again in the mid-1900s.
Superimposed upon this long-term curve were oscillations seemingly repeating approximately every 50 years.
Violence peaked around 1870, 1920 and 1970. Extrapolate another 50 years and you end perfectly on 2020.
Professor Turchin theorises it is no coincidence upheaval arrivals in 50-year cycles.
He even argues such cycles repeatedly appear in different countries throughout history.
Social problems such as economic inequality lead to increasing civil unrest over time, he said, creating a violent peak.
Chastened and traumatised, society turns its attention toward quelling the violence no matter what, and relative peace returns for 20 or 30 years.
This is therefore approximately the length of an adult generation.
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At this point, the underlying problems will likely bubble up again, and the new generation will not be so dedicated to peace and tranquillity.
Since his paper was published, there has been debate over whether the 50-year rule really holds, and what the possible reasons for cycles of violence might be.
In 2012, City University of New York, Lehman College philosopher of science Professor Massimo Pigliucci told Live Science 230 years of US history is insufficient to draw firm conclusions about the cyclicity of upheaval and violence.
And in fairness, there were no major upheavals in 1820, 50 years before the bloodshed of the US Civil War.
Dr Ilona Otto, a sociologist and economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research, thinks violence rises and falls because after a period of upheaval.
People create institutions to deal with their current problems and these institutions work — for a while.
Dr Otto told Live Science: “After some time, new challenges come up and those institutions are no longer suitable to deal with these new problems”
If the institutions are too inflexible to change, the result can be revolution or even war.
Regardless of the debate over timing, Professor Turchin believes the social conditions now are ripe for a tumultuous decade.
Professor Turchin wrote in an email to Live Science: “The prediction [of violence] followed from observing the trends that make a violent upheaval increasingly likely — falling living standards for the majority of population, growing intra-elite competition and conflict.
“Intra-elite competition is the battle for wealth and resources among the already well-off or politically connected.
“These trends didn’t go away and continue developing in unfavourable directions.
“This means that there will be more turbulence, driven by other immediate triggers.”
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