Let me start with a confession. I’m old-fashioned and I have an old-fashioned profession. I’m a geo-paleontologist. That means I dig around in archives to exhume the extinct: all the empires and federations and territorial unions that have passed into history. I practically created the profession of geo-paleontology as a young scholar in 2020. (We used to joke that we were the only historians with true 2020 hindsight). Now, my profession is becoming as extinct as its subject matter.
Good projection of where we are likely headed.
I want to compliment Mr. Feffer on the genius that informs this work. It's not usual for a writer to speak about the future in such a profound manner... and take the stance of looking back at the present.
I would, however, critique one item: That which paints Russia (and Putin) as the putative aggressor in Ukraine (currently):
"The last of that country’s Soviet-era politicians had been attempting to reconstruct the old federation through new Eurasian arrangements. At the same time, they were trying to expand jurisdiction over Russian-speaking populations through border wars with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. But in their grab for more, they were left with less. Mother Russia could no longer corral its children, neither the Buryats of the trans-Baikal region nor the Sakha of Siberia, neither the inhabitants of westernmost Kaliningrad nor those of the maritime regions of Primorye in the far east."
This was particularly prescient:
"There was much talk in the early twenty-first century of failed states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Haiti. Looking back, it’s now far clearer that, in a certain sense, all states were failing. They had little chance against the governance-eroding winds of globalization from above and the ever-greater upheavals of non-state actors from below."
As someone who does make predictions (as a career), I would argue that no one can understand the future on the basis of projecting what's real today.
Do you suppose that anyone living during the Civil War era ever pictured wars executed by machines that flew? Did Alexander Graham Bell ever envision a worldwide instantaneous "conversation"?
There ARE themes embedded into time. And a GREAT shift is in beginning stages. While the blowback of so much trafficking in weapons, the cruel inflammations agitated among religious sects, and struggles over arable land and clean water sources may all be major factors in the brewing of upcoming events; I don't think that the dark powers that have used "globalization" to centralize their powers will be able to continue their agenda much longer.
A great splitting apart could also turn into a Renaissance of localism.
While the jarring levels of competition and rising jingoistic stances are scary, when a giant tree falls over, new life begins to bloom from the old carcass.
I think there are many who will be part of that New Life and it's plausible that when the reign of the dominators collapses, something more humane will replace it.
What comes to mind was an actual event witnessed by anthropologists just outside of a safari park in Africa. Typically, baboons would ransack the garbage bins (left outside the resort) for food. And since dominant males ate first, and in this particular instance the food was tainted, the dominant males all died off.
The researchers fully expected the remaining males to take over and assume the roles of new dominators, but that did not happen. These males, accustomed to a different status and relationship to the females worked in more egalitarian ways with them.
Author Riane Eisler introduced this idea of earlier PARTNERSHIP based societies. In them, competition and war were not "natural reflexes." Human beings worked together and they did so in highly creative ways.
It's quite popular to envision a Dystopian future. Alex Jones and his right wing contemporaries refer to this as "predictive programming." With Terminator Films, and Water World, and Mad Max, and Armageddon... there is a fixation on a violent termination or extermination of the human family.
But there ARE other visions and possibilities.
Again, I salute the truly brilliant portrait painted by Mr. Feffer; yet I wish to point out that while he no doubt has written this inspired piece to serve as a "cautionary tale," it is by no means the definitive post script of the human race.
A global economy based on debt, cheap labor, mindless consumerism and environmental degradation will, likely, lead to future horrors yet to be imagined. We are not the only species on the planet, yet the predictions largely deal with effects on humans and their structures. In "War of the Worlds", the advanced alien attackers were defeated when they were exposed to air. They all got the flu.
I obviously recognize the trends that you've mentioned. God knows I comment on them, at length here just about daily. I am talking about a paradigm change that is not visible to the naked eye. It's a shift that represents a completely unexpected trajectory.
The track that humanity is on largely due to piss poor leadership (and its use of muscle--policing forces & armies, and mind control--mass media indoctrination, and fig leaf justice systems contorting actual Justice) would lead to what Mr. Feffer brilliantly pointed out. He is to be commended on his rich use of language frames and metaphors to convey his case.
I am talking about the unprecedented and thus unforeseen.
Thanks SR - excellent post.
The thought experiment of "looking backward" (Edward Bellamy) has great political and moral value. Mr. Feffer offers a very plausible outline of the global future. His extrapolations from the present are credible; his inferences are compelling; and his predictions are persuasive. He gives us a portrait of a dark, dystopian (dying?) world, but that doesn't mean Truth or truthfulness is absent. What I particularly appreciate in Mr. Feffer's piece is that he puts the onus on skeptics to show that the future will NOT be as he describes. One is left to wonder what kind of evidence could be mustered to argue that we are not moving towards a disastrous 2050? There is no warrant in today's model of political economy for the claim that the human future is bright. In 2050, no doubt some of the negatives of climate change will reigning supreme, and yet today we have to pay mind to the delusionals who (ignorantly) tell us that climate change isn't even real! The future described by Mr. Feffer is most likely but not inevitable, because human history is not a machine but an adventure. In other words, choice, will, freedom, call it what you will, remain central to human affairs and as long as there is more than one way that something can go there is possibility, and a chance to visit positive alternatives. Either we embrace possibility or we shall have world that is Hell.
Globalization is like the automobile: Just as automobiles are an unjust impediment to other fundamental modes of urban/suburban travel, (walking, bicycling, mass transit), and an impediment even to their own optimal function, globalization undermines lesser economies of scale (Local, Regional, State, National). When globalization dominates, it likewise undermines its own sustainability.
Consider economic systems on a Bell Curve in 5 scales -
Local, Regional, State, National, Global. The world's 'innumerable' local economies are too small to take advantage of the efficiency gains of mass production. The 'single' global economy loses the efficiency of mass production in the cost/impacts of long-distrance distribution. Thus, the most efficient economies are Regional (consisting of many local economies) highest on the Bell Curve, supported by State and National economies.
My work in transportation planning led me to this conclusion: Globalization is unsustainable, and, transit-oriented development of Regional economies offers a vision of a sustainable future sans the ability, nay, insensibility, to drive, fly, truck and ship goods around the world so much. Automobiles make our urban environs places we seek to escape in exotic vacations, only to find automobiles over-running there too. Automobile-related business interests have their heads up each others' asses.
Another "Looking Backward" author was Jack London. "The Iron Heel" is written from the point of view of a peaceful world, whose various social scientists are trying to reconstruct an era long ago. A diary was concealed in a cleft of a tree, which then closed up. The diary is found in the future when someone cut into the tree and the story is put forward from the diary.
* London wrote the story in 1908, but it fits quite well into the last twenty-five or thirty years, and shows where we may be going.
* Quite a few authors of "Fantasy," "Fiction" and "Science Fiction," such as London, Lewis, Heinlein, Orwell and others, are being re-recognized as not only authors, but prophets.
* For me, The Iron Heel is very near what we are and are becoming. Another one is America 2014, An Orwellian Tale, by Dawn Blair. Her timing is off by possibly a decade, but is an excellent extrapolation as to where we may be going.
* I hope that, somehow, we may turn it around before we get there.
Back in l990 I was inspired to write a vision of the future since Ted Turner's top prize was half a million. I never thought I had a shot at that, but I did think I might just win an Honorable Mention.
In any case, once I committed to this project--its theme was POSITIVE visions for humanity's future--something else really did take over. In my field this process is termed "channeling."
The vehicle envisioned in this story was a "Mobler." Human beings have loved getting around from the time of chariots to horseback riding. Our curiosity compels us to see what exists beyond the known horizon. Plus, for romantics, that great love might be waiting just over the next mountain; and for capitalist types, a huge sale might incur from merging interests with just the right set of tradespeople.
The Mobler, from what I could grasp (in the flow of the channeled material) operated on a sound wave. The intriguing thing was that since no two voices--or human tones--were precisely alike, each person would move in accord with their own vibrating emanations.
A central character in my story finds herself nearly crashing into others (from her mobler) and realizes she needs to fine-tune her own inner workings. That sends her to the Temple Pod. (The entire arrangement of society is done on the basis of Pods. Think of these human hubs as mini Manhattan Projects where individuals interested in the same pursuits combine their creative efforts. In that way a synergy that surpasses what's thought possible... indeed occurs.)
Temple Pod = Mother Nature unadulterated, the last of the virgin sanctuaries where trees still live and nothing has been invaded by MAN.
There's plenty more to this vision. It ran 224 pages and I self-published it back in 2005. Instead of money, the economy was based on people logging in hours of service... and whatever their skill-set or contribution, this Time Bank operated as the ultimate in equality (and Democracy) since every person's HOUR was equal in value.
These are the kinds of visionary works that, when kept in the dark, deprive humanity of chances for positive evolution. Ray Bradbury was a judge in the Turner contest and his futuristic works were far more negative.
There was also a Pod where hip parents could send their teenagers to learn about sex in a natural environment. A sort of "Blue Lagoon" meets sleep-away camp, "Herb 720" was on hand there. A euphemism for pot, I often wondered if my advocating for pot back then (l990) and linking it with the development of a healthy sexuality had my writing tossed without a fair review.
"i think there are many who will be part of that New Life and it's plausible that when the reign of the dominators collapses, something more humane will replace it."
I would pray that you are correct, but alas, I am one of those dystopians -- I see a countryside fragmented and ruled by warlords. I pray that I am wrong.
My intent is not to offend you, but as a student of the big cosmic picture, I truly have noticed that Earth signs, in particular, have difficulty seeing beyond what's tangibly true. And they base any future suppositions on trajectories of what's solid and provable within test-tube (physical) contexts.
I've shared this before... but it helps to make the point I'm attempting to convey.
One of my favorite college experiences took place my first year. I had an older male interest who "turned me onto" his circle. That night there were about 18 students all sitting in a dorm with lots of joints going around. The subject that came up was INFINITY.
The engineer types who looked for concrete proof of things and how to make things (including energy systems) work more efficiently, were absolutely convinced that with the right equipment, they could MEASURE infinity.
My friend Fred and I cracked up. But that was a defining moment for me with respect to my boundless interest in all things magical, mystical and metaphysical. What I could see so clearly was that in that room there were some who wholly identified with this idea of measuring infinity... as if it were a thing. What IS infinite defies measurement. That is what infinite means!
But the mechanistic types couldn't see that.
In a similar way, one can only imagine how those who were certain the earth was flat responded when a ship sailed out (before their eyes) to "that edge."
I don't recall the source, but I do remember reading that some of the indigenous tribes of South America never saw the European ships arriving... until they actually unloaded on their shores because there was no conception of such a thing.
It's sort of like that scene in The Matrix where "The Oracle" tries to tell Neo that he can't see or envision what he's never decided (or known).
Shakespeare got it... that's why Hamlet ends with the tested young man explaining to his confidante that "there are more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio."
Mr Feffer, have you met Margaret Attwood?
Thank you for a sad, brilliant horror of a read, although very possible given the idiocy of current politics, leaders and those damn pesky, greedy corporations.
On my better days, I see some indications of hopeful positivity, on others, not so much.
Sounds a bit like the work of the philospher Martinus.
Point of Order, Mr Feffer.
Palaeontologists are geologists and the word geo-paleontologist is simply a stupid construction of no sane meaning. You are, perhaps, an historian.
And "EXPIRATION". The bloody word is "EXPIRY". I understand that credit cards in the USA now carry "expiration" dates but the word means to breath out and I have yet to see a credit card breath.
Granted that languages change through time, but the USA's use of English is quite often simply ugly.
P.S. You seem to have have forgotten that the British Empire, on which the sun will never set, was also involved in the conflagration of Empires between 1914 and 1918. And interestingly, the British Empire eased itself out of existence relatively peacefully after 1945. WE always knew when to quit.
P.P.S. And I am tired of the ignorant insulting the dinosaurs by comparing them with the human idiots and their political edifices that run the world. The dinosaurs were an eminently successful group of animals that survived around 160 million years before a meteorite the size of Mt Everest hit the Earth. An offshoot of the dinosaurs, birds, took to the skies and are found in every environment that the human species has got to, bar the moon. So the dinosaurs were a very successful mob, unlike we glorious humans who are taking ourselves to utter oblivion through sheer deliberate bloody-minded stupidity, as expressed more lengthily in Mr Feffer's article.
I am not familiar with that individual. Can you recommend anything he or she has written?
Adorable. Did "you" (Brits) know when to quit or did the destruction wrought by WW II and the U.S.'s emergence as a superpower have anything to do with arriving at that conclusion?
Common, gimme a break! You know, and I know, that the UK was utterly bankrupt in 1945 because of our saving the world from Adolf, with a little USSRian help after July 1941, and simply couldn't afford to keep the Empire going. But don't tell anyone!
Interesting article...may be people need to understand the development of China a little more than what media presents...then the paradigm change will be better to address...Thanks...
I like this.