We are living in the crazy years AND Fahrenheit 451

Summary: We have entered the “Crazy Years”, as predicted long ago by science fiction author Robert Heinlein. Our lives are like scenes from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. These echoes from history help us break through the myopia of our daily routine to see how America has changed — and more clearly see where we are going.

"The Persistence of memory" by Salvador Dali (1931))
“The Persistence of memory” by Salvador Dali (1931).

(1)  We’re in the crazy years

“The Crazy Years:  Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum.”
— From Robert Heinlein’s timeline of his future history stories; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1940. This series was published as The Past through Tomorrow.

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
Available at Amazon.

Crazy years are commonplace in human history. The 14th century were crazy years in Europe, brought about by massive social and political changes, plus natural catastrophes (e.g., megadeaths from plague and the onset of the Little Ice Age). For a vivid account of this time see Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978). The French called the 1920s the années folles (crazy years), the aftershock of WWI and massive social and political change.

America has entered into the crazy years, just as Heinlein predicted (he got the century wrong: this might climax in the 2050s, not 1950s). Each day’s headlines brings new evidence. For example, see how our politics has become a carnival, on both Left and Right.

Trump’s clownishness and betrayal of populism offers the Left an opportunity to reverse their decades-long political decline. Instead of building a broad coalition, however, they focus on divisive issues of little interest to most Americans. They obsess about promoting the transgendered and tearing down monuments. They crusade in the name of science to prevent climate change, but largely abandon the IPCC — what they formerly described as the “gold standard of climate science” — for more extreme views held by a minority of scientists and often contradictory to the IPCC’s views (examples herehere, and here). They’ve ignited hysteria on America’s campuses about identify politics (e.g., the racist banana peel outrage at the University of Mississippi).

The Right has built their own world and moved in. They created their own sciences: creationism, and calling climate science a fraud. They create their own history: the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, amnesia about the horrors of the late 19thC (e.g., treatment of Native Americans, immigrants, unions), that we could have won in Vietnam, the horrible economy in the 1970s (& more here), and the Reagan economic miracle. The Right has its own economics: cutting taxes increases tax revenue, monetary stimulus produces inflation and stagflation, a strong currency is always good. My favorite trope on the Right is that “whites are the real victims of racism”, almost as daft as their other favorite “an armed society is a polite society.”

It’s a frequent observation that so many headlines in the news read like those from The Onion or the Duffle Blog. That’s power evidence that we are in the Crazy Years.

(2) More evidence: science fiction becomes daily news

Fahrenheit 451
Available at Amazon.

Stories that we long read as allegories have become tales of simple fact. Such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953 novel, 1966 film).

(a)  We prefer fiction to life.

In the novel, people watch their wide-screen TVs (which fill entire walls).  One of the major characters is Mildred, an avid fan of the TV dramas.

{She experiences} “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. …Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound …There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time.”

It has come to pass: Today, much of American is enthralled by TV dramas, engrossed in them like no previous generation. Serious websites, such as Slate, have daily articles discussing TV shows — with news and analysis about fictional events indistinguishable from those about real events.  That plus the growth in our other use of screen-based media (games, internet) means that we looking at these images for incredible amounts of time — and watching more each year (see the NYT for numbers).

This is easily seen on America’s streets, with people walking down the street oblivious to everything around them — their attention on their phones.

We increasingly find the shadow world much more interesting than the real one — and the people around us. See Robert D. Putnam’s “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America” in The American Prospect, Winter 1996). Also see his 2001 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

(b)  The war on our history.

WaPo: Protesters pull down Confederate statue in Durham, N.C. on 14 August 2017.

Also very 451 is the Left’s war on historical monuments, seeking to sanitize America from hurtful memories (as if Americans were not already quite ignorant about their past). Bradbury describes how literature, to use the current jargon, “triggers” people. The protagonist reads poetry to three women. One breaks into tears. A second lashes out at his behavior.

“Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. ‘You see? I knew it, that’s what I wanted to prove! I knew it would happen! I’ve always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I’ve had it proved to me. You’re nasty, Mr. Montag, you’re nasty!’

“’Silly words, silly words, silly awful hurting words.  Why do people want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, you got to tease people with stuff like that.’”

In 451 books were burned to avoid the distress they caused people. Today we have people tearing down statues and suppressing speech for the same reason. We are in the early stages of this process. Watch this fire grow. There are no obvious limits to this process, unless we stop it.

Theater cancels Gone With the Wind screening: Film ‘insensitive’“.
“The Orpheum Theatre received ‘numerous comments’ from patrons.”


What dystopian novels’ events will next appear in our news? Our passivity and apathy about the course of America might have calamitous results. It is not too late for us, yet.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about forecasts, about Robert Heinlein, and especially these…

  1. Embrace the weird news. It signals the transition to a new world.
  2. A key to understanding the news: the unexpected rules in our age of wonders.
  3. America is becoming weird. Here are some recent examples.
  4. We live in the crazy years, but can choose a different destiny for ourselves and our children.
  5. The common thread that explains so much in America — We have collectively chosen to send America into the “crazy years”. It is not too late to change course.
  6. Films show us how smart machines will reshape the world.

Trailers for the 1966 Fahrenheit 451.

Here is a trailer for the 1966 film. Filming on a new version for HBO began in July.

11 thoughts on “We are living in the crazy years AND Fahrenheit 451”

  1. Crazy indeed! It does seem that some fiction writers were also prophets. There might well be a cyclic link to what we’re living through : Strauss and Howe’s theorised four generational cycles – four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with a cycle of Crises and Awakenings.
    From the Wiki link:

    ” ….four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings (High/Awakening/Unravelling/Crisis). In “Generations”, Strauss and Howe refer to these four archetypes as Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. In “The Fourth Turning”(1997) they update this terminology to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. The generations in each archetype not only share a similar age-location in history, they also share some basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement. In essence, generations shaped by similar early-life experiences develop similar collective personas and follow similar life-trajectories. To date, Strauss and Howe have identified 25 generations in Anglo-American history, each with a corresponding archetype.”

    Steve Bannon is keen on this “Fourth Turning” thing, and while I’ve no admiration for the guy in general, I can see some merit in the theory.

  2. I don’t agree that taking down statues or racists who committed treason is the same thing as burning books. We are not saying “forget” them, only that those men should not be revered. The author seems to be in line with Trump’s “both sides” reasoning, drawing an equivalency when there is none.

    1. Spenser,

      “We are not saying “forget” them, only that those men should not be revered.”

      Your logic is specious. It’s the equivalent of saying “burning books doesn’t mean that they should be forgotten, just made difficult to read”.

      “only that those men should not be revered.”

      The statues can be repurposed to serve as reminder of our dark past, whatever the intentions of the dead that built them (details here). We must remember the past so that we don’t repeat it, not sanitize it to sooth the sensibilities of pearl-clutching snowflakes.

    2. The historical fact that today’s “traitor” or “racist” often becomes tomorrow’s hero and liberator does not seem to have penetrated the minds of today’s lockstep dogma-steeped generations. The very nature of the “framing” in which their ideas have been enclosed seems impervious to their senses.

      But there is nothing new about that. We certainly are moving through some very predictable cycles of change. Heinlein, Bradbury, Orwell and many other writers were wise enough not to close their minds to these patterns. Unfortunately, modern young are not allowed much exposure to open-minded wisdom when they are given their academic lobotomies.

      1. alfin,

        “But there is nothing new about that.”

        You are missing the point. That there would be change is not predictable, it is almost certain. But that the nature of the change would be so weird surprises me — and I think would astonish most observers from the past if they could be transported here.

        “We certainly are moving through some very predictable cycles of change”

        For 40 years I have have followed predictions over multi-decade horizons (it’s a hobby). I don’t recall anyone predicting most or even many of today’s weirdness. Let along many people doing so, as expected if it was “very predictable.” That’s why Heinlein’s prediction of “crazy years” was effective fiction: it was quite different than consensus opinion.

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