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Math Stats United States Science

Mathematician Predicts Wave of Violence In 2020 397

ananyo writes "In a feature that recalls Asimov's Foundation series and 'psychohistory', Nature profiles mathematician Peter Turchin, who says he can see meaningful cycles in history. Worryingly, Turchin predicts a wave of violence in the United States in 2020. Quoting from the piece: 'To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator-prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analyzed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. 'I hope it won't be as bad as 1870,' he adds." We recently discussed similar research into predicting violence in the short term.
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Mathematician Predicts Wave of Violence In 2020

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  • completely idiotic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @12:52PM (#40878185)
    This is the stupidest made up bullshit I've ever heard. At 50 year intervals, the sample size is like 3 or something. That's well within the range of coincidence! Since people going totally apeshit doesn't happen for no reason, I'd say it's more reason based than some natural recurring phenomenon based on time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @12:53PM (#40878189)

    It will happen.

    If you're vague enough about your predictions... you won't be wrong often.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @12:54PM (#40878191)

    Let's see:

    1. "Extrajudicial" killing of US citizens
    2. Use of drones against US citizens
    3. Cameras recording activities
    4. Government snooping into private conversations

    Good damn thing there is a 2nd Amendment.

  • Re:It won't happen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @12:54PM (#40878193) Journal
    Didn't the world already end? I coulda sworn...
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:12PM (#40878321)

    You are full of shit and hatred. There are over 2 million muslims in the USA who have been here for over 2 decades who haven't been "biding their time" to do anything. I have over a dozen muslim friends, their families came over here to get away from the B.S. at home and to live a happy non-violent life in a prosperous country. they excel in business and academics, asian people tend to be funny that way (there is a racial stereotype for you, and it's a useful generalization)

  • Psychohistory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clintp ( 5169 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:16PM (#40878361)

    Of course, psychohistory doesn't work if you publish the results -- so all of this is bullshit. This implies that the psychohistorical result is actually not violence in 2020, but something else that they're trying to steer us towards. Maybe this is also why we're not supposed to be aware that psychohistory exists.

    Back to the Prime Radiant, guys.

  • One also wonders (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:16PM (#40878371)
    Why those Mayors discuss feeding their city's poor but are silent on starvation in Africa. Come off it people, you fight battles you can win. I'm sure they'd love to spread tolerance throughout the world, but their Mayors, not God-Kings.

    Speaking of religion, have you ever actually read the Christian Bible? You can do all sorts of things to people you don't like and it's A-OK. And don't forget, blacks weren't people until the last 1970, so says Mitt Romney (or at least his religion). Every religion that's existed for any length of time has terrible things in it's dogma.

    We're not pretending Islam is just fine. But we're rationalists. Give people enough food, shelter and some discretionary income for hobbies and they mellow out. Ever wonder why terrorists don't send deep cover moles over here? It's because give them a taste of good life and they stop being psychotic extremists. The challenge is giving that life to everybody. Not just the vague promise that you might have a chance at it that economic conservatives and 'libertarians' favor, but the real thing.
  • Not necessarily (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:22PM (#40878411)
    People who have options don't get violent. Not in mass anyway (yes, chemical imbalances will result in the occasional horror story like that Batman shooting). That's why Canadians are so well behaved. They feel secure in their well being thanks to an extensive safety net and healthcare system. Systemic violence is an outgrowth of poverty. The single most enlightening moment of my life was when I realized that every war ever fought was over money in one form or another.

    e.g. the American South wasn't fighting to defend slavery, but to defend the right to oppress blacks. Blacks were oppressed not for the economic benefit (immigrants where cheaper and disposable) but because it gave poor white southerns someone to look down on and kept them from asking questions like, how come I barely make it through the winter while that guy sips mint juleps? Don't take my word for it, google Karl Rove and the Southern Strategy.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:24PM (#40878429)

    You mean all those Muslims who, much like the Minutemen and colonists, have risen up and overthrown oppressive regimes in many middle eastern countries?

    Ha ha ha .. tell that to the non-Muslims in those countries. They were actually a lot better off under the "oppressive regimes"

  • Income inequality. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:29PM (#40878449)

    If the current trend of inequal distribution of wealth continues then yes, we will see increased violence. It's a formula that's a old as civilzation itself. Poverty is and always has been the root cause of most crime, including violent crime. (Some of it is due to crazy. You will always have jealousy, rich people shoplifting for thrills, adultery, etc)

    Whatever your political creed or economic philosophy, you must recognize that gross wealth inequality /always/ leads to bad things. It's a common theme of all civilizations world wide throughout all recorded history. It's the destroyer of nations. It's the murder of kings. It's the ruin of the most mighty military forces. It's the trigger of violent, bloody revolution where the innocent and the guilty both suffer alike.

    Our country used to recognize this function but in the last few decades it's been ignored wholesale. The rich are getting very very rich and have somehow convinced everyone that they "deserve" it while our nation stumbles with infective public programs and crumbling infrastructure. Wealth redistribution used to be a clear, stated goal of our government and now, somehow that idea is taboo and evil.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:34PM (#40878485) Journal

    And what makes you an authority on the matter? Fuck, you don't even have the balls to post with an account.

  • by ancarett ( 221103 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:42PM (#40878559)
    As a historian with a lot of statistical study under my belt, call me skeptical. I don't see how we're able to make the leap from his observations to cycles at work in wildly variant institutions and cultures. This sounds an awful lot like the wide-eyed promise of cliometrics to revolutionize history starting in the 1950s.

    In the mid-twentieth century, cliometrics (ah, look how much it reads like cliodynamics!) was going to save us all from the loosey-goosey styles of history that just weren't as good as honest-to-gosh social science. (This is why many mid-twentieth century universities placed history in their social science faculties rather than humanities where it was categorized in older university systems.) Certainly, learning how to handle large data sets and tackle questions of change over time with accurate analysis has been good, but stats wasn't the smoking gun to solve historical debates. Look how hard some of the great works of cliometrics crashed and burned when they tried to assert a grand rule of human behaviour: just two examples off of the top of my head, the Tilly's "The Rebellious Century, 1830-1930" which tried to unify the study of European revolutions over a century or Theda Skocpol's "States and Social Revolution: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China" which claimed that you could come up with a universalizing analysis of authoritarian state collapse. Both are interesting and ambitious books but ultimately unconvincing as they attempted to assert a general rule-set for history.

    Now we're told that cliodynamics is going to solve the problem. Again, as the original article notes, most trained historians are skeptical. It's not just that we like futzing around with old documents, it's that we're aware of the weaknesses in ongoing research, holes in observations and the biases in the data. You want to point to huge amounts of populist violence in the U.S. circa 1920 as proof that it was a high in a fifty year cycle? I and other historians can point to stunning outbreaks a decade earlier related to the anarchist movements and a decade later with the unrest regarding the Great Depression. It's not so much cherry-picking counter examples: it's the wrongheaded concept of seeing people as pawns of historical forces. Asimov was fun to read, I'll grant you, but I'd hope that people can see that human agency has an awful lot more to do with historical change than the rules of psychohistory.

    Stop looking for general rules of what's going to come next and consider, instead, clear-sighted analysis of how we've come to where we are and what that tells us about problems we've had and continue to experience.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:54PM (#40878639)

    We're not pretending Islam is just fine. But we're rationalists. Give people enough food, shelter and some discretionary income for hobbies and they mellow out. Ever wonder why terrorists don't send deep cover moles over here? It's because give them a taste of good life and they stop being psychotic extremists. The challenge is giving that life to everybody. Not just the vague promise that you might have a chance at it that economic conservatives and 'libertarians' favor, but the real thing.

    I find your comfort level with what is essentially buying people off a bit disturbing.

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:58PM (#40878665)

    2. Use of drones against US citizens

    This is fodder for some good discussion right here, and Id like to get something cleared up.

    I understand the importance of jury trial and the dangers of an unchecked government. I understand that the last thing you want is an executive that can freely ignore the judicial branch.

    But if a US citizen in 1942 were to go and fight for the Nazi's, and lets say he became a high-up officer-- would we not be justified in going after his life "extrajudicially"? What if a US citizen went to Mexico and became a higher up in the militarized drug cartels (lets not turn this into a discussion on drug politics)-- would we be justified in assisting in his death if capture were not an easy option? What if in those situations the choice was between his death, and him going free?

    It seems to me there IS some line for when someone takes up arms in a foreign theatre against US forces; I might be wrong here, which is why Im hoping for constructive responses which could demonstrate my error if there is one.

  • The muslims in the west are just biding their time until they are strong enough to act like muslims in the middle east [thereligionofpeace.com].


    One wonders why the Mayors of Chicago and Boston go off on fundamentalist Christian Chick-Fil-A, which voices opposition to gay marriage, but are silent against fundamentalist Islam extermination of gays themselves.

    Probably because the Christians won't kill 'em.

    Just ask Theo Van Gogh.

    Oh, wait. You can't. Muzzies actually KILLED him.

    Wonder if the Piss Christ artist has the balls to do a Shit Koran?

    Yeah, we know the answer to that, don't we.

    Very true. The thing that gets me is that everyone knows that Islam is evil and violent, they know that they cannot criticism them for opposing gay marriage and so on, but they all pretend that Islam is just fine because they are sheep following the "PC" herd.

    Let me rephrase that to make ti a bit more on-topic:

    Very true. The thing that gets me is that everyone knows that humans are evil and violent, they know that they cannot criticize them for opposing gay marriage and so on, but they all pretend that humanity is just fine because they are sheep following the "PC" herd.

    Point being: people are greedy and violent and abuse power structures. The degree to which this happens in a given society seems to go in cyclic 2-generational waves, and this mathematician has found a way to model it. The rhetoric in this thread ascribing human faults to specific people groups (faith based or ethic based) and pointing out specific failings inside these groups is totally beside the point. If there were no non-white muslims living in the US, there'd be someone else, and the rhetoric would be almost identical. Eventually, the overall level of societal dissatisfaction with the way these issues are resolved by "peaceable" means will come to a head, and people will look to physical solutions. This will carry on until there is a majority formed who share strong core societal values that they then shove down the throats of everyone else, at which point "peace" returns and "everyone" is happy.

    They say history repeats itself, and in this case they (and this mathematician) appear to be spot-on.

    What these models don't factor in especially well though, is population density. I'd like to see this guy do a slightly more complex model that ties in the affects of density on the level and duration of the violence.

  • by Concerned Onlooker ( 473481 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:59PM (#40878673) Homepage Journal

    I doubt it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_and_the_slave_trade [wikipedia.org]. But nice try at blaming the Jews once again for everything bad that ever happened. I guess when you're proud of a slave-trading past you have to reframe the whole discussion so as not to appear inhuman.

  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:15PM (#40878829)

    Fuck you.

    You think you can just start murdering people to fix all your problems. It doesn't work that way. You spill blood, and other people will fight back, and we'll end up in a 3rd world hellhole for a century. You will not live to see a return to peace. None of us will.

    Go visit other countries, if you think things here are bad. See hundreds of millions of people living in shantytowns. See the bribery that is required on a daily basis. See people sentenced to years in prison because they spoke out against Putin or Ahmadinejad or some other despot. See life behind the Great Firewall, or in Brazil where it is illegal to be anonymous.

    Life in the US is unbelievably wonderful compared to damn near everywhere else in the world. And you want to destroy that, because of some fucking security cameras? Well thank God for those cameras! I hope some are pointed squarely at you. As soon as you seek to end a human life, you deserve to be taken away and locked up in a place where the world can forget you.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:19PM (#40878865)

    Ever wonder why terrorists don't send deep cover moles over here? It's because give them a taste of good life and they stop being psychotic extremists. The challenge is giving that life to everybody.

    Deep cover moles as you see them in the movies? No. They are not send over. Sending people? Yes, that does happen. They send some people over to learn how to fly planes into building.
    Other terrorists are not send over. They are already here. They were born here. Also one terrorist is not like the other.

    Despite with what the media is telling you, not all people want the life of the west. I would not like to have the 'freedom' that the US has. And even if they don't want it, does not mean that they want to destroy it. They just don't want it in their own country, so why would they come to a country that they do not care about. It is not THEIR center of the universe.

    And some people just want to see the world burn.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:31PM (#40878963)

    I just wish people would apply the same skepticism with the climate change extrapolations.

    The guy in TFA is seeing some fluctuations, and despite having no idea what is causing the pattern, he is predicting the pattern will repeat.

    With climate change the warming was predicted, and climate scientists have models that explain the underlying cause for the trend. So the situation is not the same.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:39PM (#40879031)

    Since people going totally apeshit doesn't happen for no reason, I'd say it's more reason based than some natural recurring phenomenon based on time.

    It's called "mortality". Given enough time, the memory of the previous time a bad idea was tried fades, and the new generation does it all over again. How long it takes depends on the depth of the trauma and how fast the nasty effects take hold: for example, the recent rise of Western police states is due to the memory of Nazism finally fading, while it was Reagan who began ignoring the lessons of the Great Depression, yet it took until now for deregulation to finally lead to a new economic collapse.

    Basically, you get a new Great War as soon as those who survived the previous one are too frail to prevent it anymore. Or earlier, if enough charisma and stupidity are involved.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:41PM (#40879053)
    You say 'buying off', I say giving people a life worth living and something to lose.
  • by M. Baranczak ( 726671 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:59PM (#40879203)

    Good damn thing there is a 2nd Amendment.

    The 2nd Amendment has failed to prevent any of the things that you listed. What was your point again?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @03:12PM (#40879275)

    We also carpet bombed cities full of innocent civilians and dropped nukes on whole cities in the middle of the day. At one time, we had laws in this country forbidding white people and black people from using the same facilities. We had a "foreign policy" of extermination regarding Native Americans at another point as well. I suppose that means we should do it again, right? Precedent does not make something justified. That mindset completely flies in the face of any notion of human progress. If that line of thinking (we did it before, so we have every right to do it again) prevailed more than it has, we could easily see great purges, racial/political "cleansing" etc. . .

    The whole point of history is to learn from it's successes and failures, so we can build on the shoulders of giants, and learn how to avoid the machinations of tyrants and madmen of old. It is an extremely bad precedent to set that an American is not protected by their own Constitution, no matter how vile they may be. It is the hallmark of a free society in which even the most evil people in society are given a fair trial, so we can be very sure that they are actually guilty of what we accuse them of. This is a precious gift that our Founders framed which is a rarity in world history, and would be a monumental tragedy to let be stamped out. Even with our judicial system intact, someone being put to death, with all of the evidence and other safeguards, we still once in a while see someone on death row exonerated before we "throw the switch" on them due to DNA evidence or so on. How then, can you justify withdrawing the trial whatsoever and going straight for capital punishment, when people who actually get trials aren't always even guilty of what they are convicted of?

    In general, even if one or two bad guys goes free, it's a whole hell of a lot better that we aren't punishing the innocent. It's funny you mention Nazi Germany, because that's precisely WHY we were fighting against them. They were extrajudicially killing their own citizens for "suspected crimes". They didn't just "round up the Jews" per-se. They usually made up some suspected crime to which they accused them of (subversion, agitation, plotting against the government, theft, or whatever) which was more than enough to see their whole family shipped off to a concentration camp and possibly extrajudicially murdered. Now, if an American is on a BATTLEFIELD, and FIGHTING IN A WAR against AMERICAN TROOPS, it's a totally different story, but this is not what we're talking about. Drones are not killing people on battlefields indiscriminately. They are targeting people away from battlefields in their homes, sometimes with their innocent families, and they are often unarmed and not engaged in combat (which is a war crime, according to the rules of war, I believe).

  • by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @04:19PM (#40879781)

    *What socialist governments* since LBJ? The tax rate pretty much dropped uniformly after the end of his presidency. It's the lack of socialism that has fucked the US up.

    http://www.personal.psu.edu/sjh11/images/mtrgraph.gif [psu.edu]

  • Short answer no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @05:02PM (#40880181)
    Long answer : back in 1942 there was such things as an official war against germany. No matter how your governement , there is no such a things as a recognized war against a *word* (war agaisnt drug, war agaisnt terrorism) just like the made up "illegal fighter". The simple truth is that terrorism is a judicial problem (aka non military) but your governement saw the occasion to use new toy in real theater instead of training zone/firing range.

    So we are speaking of assassination(the correct word in absence of due process) of citizen from your (or other) country.

    *Shrug* . I don't expect that to change any time soon. Your military right now is probably creaming in their pants just as the amount of data they got about their toy used and potential advance.
  • by Velex ( 120469 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @05:02PM (#40880183) Journal
    Somebody mod parent up. There isn't going to be another attempt at revolution any time soon because the powers that be have figured out that if you don't screw up like the British did in the 1770s you can get away with anything.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @05:12PM (#40880291) Homepage

    Here's the basic story of the Great Depression, which is very similar to the story of the more recent financial crisis.
    1. Times were good in the 1920's on Wall St. People could and did make good money trading stocks.
    2. A bubble began to form, with financial companies willing to extend credit in order to buy stocks. For instance, you could buy a $1 stock for 10 cents and owe your banker for the other 90 cents. They were willing to do this because the stocks were constantly going up, so this was a good investment.
    3. Of course, the stocks were going up because people were entering the market with only 10% of the value of the stock in hand, which meant they could pay 10 times what they previously could.
    4. Eventually, somebody discovered that the underlying assets were worth, at most, 10% of what they were priced at in the market. When this became public knowledge, everyone tried to get out at the same time.
    5. End result: Crash. And when one business crashes, their stock, which was considered good, is now worthless, so businesses holding their stock also crash, so it cascades through the system leaving things worse than if the Crimson Permanent Assurance had hit them.

    Replace "stocks" with "mortgage backed securities", fast forward 70 years or so, and the same thing happened. It happens any time that a con man can successfully make worthless pieces of paper look like representations of valuable property. And yes, it could conceivably happen that the pieces of paper that say "One Dollar" on them will also become worthless - if it does, you want to have land and a team of people who will help you defend it.

  • by mike1214 ( 2615735 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @07:09PM (#40881159)

    It's the percentage of population that matters. Islam spreads primarily though violence. The borders of Islam are bloody. When Muslims are one to two percent of the population, you see sporadic violence and terror. When Muslims are five to ten percent of the population, full scale war sets in, as we see in as in Thailand and the Philippines, and the beginnings of which we are seeing in France.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @09:49PM (#40882287)

    The US populace is majority christian nation and they caused hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilizans, and their president said "God told me to invade Iraq". Truly a bloody religion.

  • by yndrd1984 ( 730475 ) on Sunday August 05, 2012 @05:43PM (#40889113)
    The next time you get really, really upset over something while other people aren't, you might want to check your assumptions.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban