by Gene Callahan
Earlier, I posted some preliminary thoughts on the idea of a general theory of social cycles. Today, I’d like to expand upon one of my examples a bit.
If you recall, I mentioned merging onto a highway as an illustration of adjustments and displacements — which I will henceforth call “disruptions,” by the way, since I think that is a better term.
Let us now imagine a busy highway with entrances and exits every mile. The entrances are not well-designed: there is no lane for smoothly merging into traffic while getting up to speed, but a stop sign at the end of the entrance ramp. (This, in fact, is pretty much a description of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut as of 30 years ago.) What this means is that every time traffic nears an entrance, there occurs a cluster of disruptions, as people enter traffic at a slow speed.
These disruptions will produce a cascade of further disruptions, as the adjustments made by drivers breaking for merging automobiles thwarts the plans of other drivers who wish to continue at a steady speed. Thus we get a logjam around the entrance ramp. This is the “bust” phase of our cycle. (We need a better, more general term here. Any ideas?)
But, gradually, the adjustments begin to produce dovetailing plans again, as drivers re-establish comfortable spacing between themselves and other vehicles, and regain the speed they had before the disruptions at the entrance. This is the recovery phase of the cycle. But just as our recovery is nearly complete, another wave of disruptions occurs — we have reached the next entrance ramp.
So here we have a social cycle with a period of roughly one minute, exhibiting the charateristics of our ideal type very clearly. What’s more, this is very much like what driving on the Merritt Parkway really was like thirty years ago.