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A completely different future

The are other potentially big changes that do warrant some consideration. The danger here is how easy it is to be pessimistic. I dealt with this at some length when considering the perception gap (What stops change - gaps and why they matter). Remember dog bites man is common but not news, man bites dog is uncommon and so is news.

Normal pessimism

By “normal pessimism” I mean the stuff we can all comprehend. The idea that collapse and disaster is imminent is a recurring theme in history and is present in our culture; it happens as fin-de-siècle at the end of centuries, for some Christians the 2nd coming is expected with the end of days.

There could be a perfect storm that creates a worst-case scenario – it may just be the accident of timing but if you are going to be fearful, fear this;

There is a pandemic which weakens the social fabric just as global warming reaches a tipping point causing additional widespread disruption, populism (present now) that runs rife (it is also driven by mass unemployment and dislocation caused by automation) and morphs into a new fascism, which combined with increased power block competition and population pressures on raw materials leads to a local war that escalates into world war III.

It may not all happen but potentially any one thing can be bad enough

  • Global warming, it is said, changes everything, and so far it is beginning to do bad stuff before we have really started acting. Even though international cooperation fixed the ozone hole and attitudes to plastics are changing very quickly we need a radical different and far reaching approach to make progress (Klein)
  • An older, and equally sobering view of the world we need only to look at The Limits to Growth and its update The New Limits to Growth . A recent article pointed out that these projections might be spot on (Note: Limits are Being Reached)
  • The wave of migration to Europe we are seeing may be the start of a longer-term trend; it is not all from Syria it is also coming from places where resources are scarce and desertification is taking place – migration is a natural result of climate change – it has been throughout history.

We have to collectively control the variables in this equation;

[Catch up Development (Note: Catch Up) x (Resource depletion(Note: Finite) + Power Bloc Competition for resources)] + Population Pressure (Note: Population Growth) + Climate Change (Note: Climate Change)= Death, Famine, War and Pestilence (Note: The Four Horsemen)

Its worth looking at this again here since it sums up the problem precisely https://www.gapminder.org/videos/population-growth-explained-with-ikea-boxes/

Some of this bad stuff will happen (even if it is not catastrophic) the question for political engagement is how we moderate it and maintain civility whilst doing so.

Singular pessimism

All that may be bad enough, but there is another extreme view of the future which is known as the “the singularity” (Note: The Singularity). This is transformation point where homo sapiens are overtaken by machine intelligence. Those who subscribe to this view start with the J curve represented by continued economic growth and scientific progress. They observe that it is rising exponentially propose that at some point there is a flip-over to a completely new reality. There are many, some influential (including the late Steven Hawking) who see the creation of machine intelligence as a game changer. In the worst-case scenarios it outstrips and replaces us.

Optimism

The next stage of history

Karl Marx projecting from Manchester in the 1840’s foresaw Communism as the final stage of history; after the phase of capitalist industrialisation the workers would seize the means of production and the wealth they produce would be shared (held in common).

It is often forgotten that the revolutionaries who followed Marx had debates about which societies (where capitalism had progressed far enough) were industrially developed enough to make communist revolution a realistic prospect. In Russia the communists were unanimous that a process of industrialisation was needed before it could be considered revolutionary. At first they all expected events in Russia to trigger revolutions in the industrially developed capitalist countries exhausted by the war. Lenin had to invent the theory of the vanguard party and the centralised state capable of war communism. This gave Stalin the tools to purge those who expected revolution in more than one country, and later through paranoia anyone who dissented, with all the suffering that entailed. When it came to agrarian societies a whole new strand of thinking had to be developed, also with disastrous consequences.

Now that the rest of the world is catching up and technical change is again putting the debate about a society without work some are beginning to look again towards the next stage of history, for an example of this see Post Capitalism by Paul Mason (Mason)

The optimistic singularity

There is an optimistic version of the singularity in which human become technically enhanced or people live in a symbiosis with machines.