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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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  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:09PM (#40878295) Homepage

    FTA: "For example, it seems that indicators of corruption increase and political cooperation unravels when a period of instability or violence is imminent."

    Why do articles like this act as though "violent acts" were the essential force, and "corruption" some kind of indicator symptom? I submit that the latter is the cause and the former the resulting symptom.

    The article includes this viewpoint, but you have to get all the way to the very last paragraph to see it -- "But perhaps revolution is the best, if not the only, remedy for severe social stresses. Gintis points out that he is old enough to have taken part in the most recent period of turbulence in the United States, which helped to secure civil rights for women and black people. Elites have been known to give power back to the majority, he says, but only under duress, to help restore order after a period of turmoil. “I'm not afraid of uprisings,” he says. “That's why we are where we are.”"

  • by musicalmicah ( 1532521 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:09PM (#40878297)
    Also, where's the peak at 1820? I suppose there was the War of 1812 (lasted until 1815) but he's already excluded war from his chart.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:12PM (#40878327)

    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 break it down for you. Christians are white therefore it is perfectly politically correct to demonize them. Contrast this with muslims. I'm not trying to conflate your viewpoint with racism and I wish there were a better explanation because I do not consider myself a racist but that's the explanation occam's razor leads me to.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:46PM (#40878585) Homepage
    1888: Jack the Ripper active
    1913: The eve of the First World War
    1938: Hitler annexes Austria
    1963: Kennedy assassinated
    1988: The Lockerbie bombing

    It's 2013 we need to worry about, sheeple!
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:53PM (#40878631) Journal
    His graph shows the Napoleonic wars and World War II as points of relatively low violence, so the solution is obvious: you can avoid the next wave of violence by going to war with China.
  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:54PM (#40878641) Journal

    Systemic violence is an outgrowth of poverty...

    No, poverty is the result of systemic violence. You have to steal from people to make them poor.

  • by Unnngh! ( 731758 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @01:59PM (#40878667)

    Good damn thing there is a 2nd Amendment

    I'm all for second amendment rights but I really don't think they are going to help with any of these things. If we can't live together as a society without the threat of violence, there is not much hope of maintaining a stable, long-lasting state. It is violence spurred by political unrest and divisiveness that the OP is predicting, go figure.

  • by Em Adespoton ( 792954 ) <> on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:06PM (#40878757) Homepage Journal

    I think his "50 year" number is a bit odd, as it's based on absolutely no foundation, other than a few loose correlations.

    Instead, he should model it like you do for animal patterns: generational trends.

    It makes a lot of sense that violence would peak every two generations... which these days, is about every 50 years. If people start having children later, I'd expect that number to get larger... and if people start having children younger, I'd expect it to be shorter.

    Added to that, he tossed out war, but war will have an extremely powerful influence on this pattern -- it probably won't distort it too much in the long-term, but it will definitely affect the surrounding periods of incidence.

  • by Em Adespoton ( 792954 ) <> on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:10PM (#40878783) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Um... you do know about things like the Vancouver Riots (mk I and II) right? Canadians might not be as brutally violent as their neighbours to the south, but they tend to be just as physically violent. The difference is that population density in Canada is much lower (except at major sporting events, where, surprise! you end up getting violence).

    A better case study would be somewhere like Singapore that has a high population density, but relatively low societal violence.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:31PM (#40878969)

    This is the stupidest made up bullshit I've ever heard.

    And yet you haven't even heard it, because you haven't read the article. Same with the people who ignorantly modded you up. The idea is not that there will be a bump in a graph every 50 years and therefore we are due in 10 more.

    In a nutshell, to me the theory sounds basically like marxism. It is the view that history is driven by a recurring cycle of inequality and revolution:

    In their analysis of long-term social trends, advocates of cliodynamics focus on four main variables: population numbers, social structure, state strength and political instability. Each variable is measured in several ways. Social structure, for example, relies on factors such as health inequality â" measured using proxies including quantitative data on life expectancies â" and wealth inequality, measured by the ratio of the largest fortune to the median wage....

    the researchers found that two trends dominate the data on political instability. The first, which they call the secular cycle, extends over two to three centuries. It starts with a relatively egalitarian society, in which supply and demand for labour roughly balance out. In time, the population grows, labour supply outstrips demand, elites form and the living standards of the poorest fall. At a certain point, the society becomes top-heavy with elites, who start fighting for power. Political instability ensues and leads to collapse, and the cycle begins again.

    Superimposed on that secular trend, the researchers observe a shorter cycle that spans 50 years â" roughly two generations. Turchin calls this the fathers-and-sons cycle: the father responds violently to a perceived social injustice; the son lives with the miserable legacy of the resulting conflict and abstains; the third generation begins again...

    Elites have been known to give power back to the majority, he says, but only under duress, to help restore order after a period of turmoil. âoeI'm not afraid of uprisings,â he says. âoeThat's why we are where we are.â

  • by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @02:58PM (#40879195)

    I totally agree on this.

    Seriously, though, if we actually look at the underlying problem behind the use-of-drones against US citizens issue, one key point stands out. In my assessment, the reason for these deaths is that it is virtually impossible for an enemy of the US to relinquish his citizenship.

    If you actually look at the people who are killed, none of them consider themselves US citizens. They are people often in the direct service of foreign states or state-like actors, who dedicate themselves to the destruction of the US. They aren't going to vote, pay US taxes, or make use of US services any time soon. They profess no loyalty to the US, nor to its values, nor to its flag or any symbol, and would probably *prefer* to die in combat rather than be captured and go through a trial as a criminal.

    The thing is, under the present system, the only way for someone to end his citizenship, is by appearing, in person, at an US consulate. This is obviously a suicidal move for these people. Therefore, due to the requirements of the system, these people must necessarily remain, on paper, US citizens. What actually needs to be done here is that it should be more simple for people to safely and voluntarily declare themselves enemies of America. Farcical as it sounds, otherwise the present situation will inevitably and pointlessly continue.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @03:01PM (#40879217) Journal
    Steven Pinker's statistics very clearly show the violence has gone down steadily over the millennia. By orders of magnitude. Steadily. His range goes from incessant tribal warfare, inter societal plunder and robbery, national wars, global wars, regular crime, ... and extends it to racial discrimination, gender discrimination, acceptance of gays ... etc etc.

    Pinker only briefly touches upon the reduction in violence before recorded history. For that we can look at Nicholas Wade in "Before the Dawn". The gradual thinning of human skull from 200000 years ago to 75000 years ago shows the reduction in violence. (The older skulls were "robust" and the modern skulls were "gracile"). Basically skulls less able to withstand thumping blows from clubs and stones actually survived and thrived.

    So the general arc of violence has been on the downward path. There would be short term fluctuations. But 2020s will not be like 1970s. No way. Steven Levitt first broke the taboo and mentioned the link between legalization of abortion in 1970 and the reduction in violence in 1990s. 2020s will be when the grand children of unwanted babies aborted in 1970s will be missing from the crime age pool. Very unlikely we are going to see any spike in violence in 2020.

  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @03:28PM (#40879385)
    His graph is of violent political upheaval within the United States. World War II was a point of very low violence and the Napoleonic Wars were just as the nation was starting out. Yes, war with China would probably reduce the internal strife that we're going through right now provided that it was them who attacked us and that they did so without provocation (or at least without provocation that was known to the public at large).

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.