The structural possibilities of the future
Dr. Sohail Inayatullah
While there are numerous scenarios as to what the future may look like, few go beyond more than fantasy as they ignore structural factors, which limit what is possible. From a macrohistorical view, there is a wide range of possibilities. These are derived from Sarkar’s notion of four types of power (worker, warrior, intellectual and merchant — or chaotic, cooercive/protective; religious, and remunerative), Sorokin’s ideas of three types of systems (sensate focused on materialism, ideational focused on religion and integrated, balancing earth and heaven) and Wallerstein’s world systems theory.
Simply stated, there are have been four structures:
World Empire – victory of warrior historical power – coercive/protective – sensate
World Church – victory of intellectual power – normative – ideational
Mini-systems – small, self-reliant cultural systems – ideational
World economy – globalizing economics along national divisions – sensate
In the next 25 years, option 1 is unlikely given countervailing powers – as there is more than one hegemony in the world system and given lack of political legitimacy for recolonization, for simply conquering other nations. The human rights debate allows world intervention in failing nations but nation to nation conquest.
Option 2 is also unlikely given that there are many civilizations vying for minds and hearts. While the millennium has evoked passions associated with the end of man, and the return of Jesus, Amita Buddha or the Mahdi, the religious pluralism that is our planet is unlike to be swayed toward any one religion.
Option 3 is possible because of electronic systems and aspiration for many for self-reliance ecological communities electronically linked. However, small systems tend to be taken over by warrior power, intellectual/religious power or larger economic globalizing propensities. In the context of a globalized world economy, self-reliance is difficult to maintain.
Option 4, the world economy, has been the stable system but now has become increasingly problematic. While the globalizing tendencies remain, the strength of the interstate systems is undergoing relative reduction.
Revolutions from above (global institutions from UN, WTO, IMF) and regional institutions (APEC) and revolutions from below (social movements and nongovernmental organizations), revolutions from technology (cyber democracy, cyber communities and cyber lobbying) and revolutions from capital (globalization) make the nation far more porous.
A countervailing force are revolutions from the past – the imagined past of purity and sovereignty (economic sovereignty, racial purity, and idealized good societies), which (1) seeks to strengthen the nation state (to either fight mobility of individuals – immigration – or mobility of capital – globalization – or mobility of ideas – cultural imperialism and (2) seeks to create new nation states (ethno-nationalism).
However, none of these problems can be solved in isolation thus leading to the strengthening of global institutions, even for localist parties, who realize for their local agendas to succeed (for example, the Green Party), they must become global political parties, they must globalize themselves.
Thus what we are seeing is even in local tendencies a move to the global. There is no way out. However, this globalism is not merely the freeing of capital, but the freeing of ideas (multiculturalism), the saving of the environment, as well as the globalization of labour.
While the latter is currently about fair wages for workers throughout the world (in terms of purchasing power), it also means for the elite workers movement throughout the world, having university positions in varied nations, or moving from multinational to multinational, nation-hopping and passport collecting. This could eventually lead to a real globalization of labor and the creation of the Marxian dream –workers of the world unite.
This is even more likely given the rapid aging of Western societies, where to survive economically, they will need a massive inflow of immigrants, to work to support the retirement bulge. Historically the median age has been 20, it is quickly moving to 40 plus in OECD nations. Who will purchase the stocks sold by babyboomers as they begin to retire and pay for their leisure lifestyles? Only elites in developing nations are likely to do so.
For the West there are three choices:
The first choice is import labour, open the doors of immigration and become truly multicultural and younger. Those nations who do that will thrive financially (the US and England, for example), those who cannot because of localist politics will find themselves slowly descending down the ladder (Germany and Japan, for example).
The second choice is dramatically increase productivity through new technologies, that is, fewer people producing more goods. While the first stage is the convergence of computing and telecommunications technology (the Net), nano-technology is the end dream of this.
The third choice is re-engineering of the population – creating humans in hospitals. This is the end game of the genetics revolution. The first phase is: genetic prevention. Phase two is genetic enhancement (finding ways to increase intelligence, typing second, language capacity) and phase three is genetic recreation,, the creation of new species, super and sub races.
This is the creation of the Artificial society; the convergence of computers, telecommunications and genetics, seeing genes as information and finding ways to manipulate this information.
In the long run, this creates a new globalization, where the very nature of nature (once stable, now dramatically alterable) is transformed.
Coupled with changes in nature are processes changing the nature of truth. Postmodernism and multiculturalism all contest stable notions of truth, instead seeing reality as for more porous, based on individual, cultural and epistemic perception, essentially political.
Reality as well is less fixed, whether from quantum notions of what is essential, or spiritual notions of life as microvita , as perception and empirical, or from virtual reality, where the world around is no longer the foundation for knowing and living what is.
Taken with the problematic nature of sovereignty of self and nation, the stability of the last few hundred years of the world economy/interstate system are suspect.
What this means is that globalism as the agenda of neoliberalism has far gone beyond the original program. Technologies and the reductionist scientific process they are embedded in are creating a new world where nothing will have a resemblance to what we historically knew.
But alternative scenarios are possible. The first is collapse, the convergence of new technologies gone wrong, the technological fix creating even more problems – new viruses, new species, mental illness, madness, for example. Nuclear meltdown, virtual stock markets delinked from real economies is a further problem.
The second is the globalized multicultural society. Globalization extends to the liberation of not just capital but as well (1) labour (the right to travel and work eventually eliminating visas and passports). (2) Culture (news, information, meaning, ideas, worldview) moving from south to north, and not just as commodities for liberalism to allay its colonial guilt. The long term implication is the creation of a gaia of civilizations, each in authentic interaction and interpenetration of the other, each needing the other for survival and “thrival” (3) A global security system, that is, for issues such as war, terrorism, global climate change, viruses, and new problems being created by the globalization of capital and technology. What is means is that not just governance but a world government is likely.
The structural argument is that during times of intense transformation, plastic time, where there is a struggle between worldviews and processes, there is a new centre, a reordering of power.
We can thus anticipate a world government/security system in conjunction with 1000 or so self-reliant ecological systems, a gaian future. While liberals hope for a world governance system to help manage world growth, the reality is that over time, it will be a world government system with strong localism that is far more likely. The world polity will likely have a world constitution with basic rights such as language, basic needs, culture and religion enshrined. The meanings people give to these principles, however, is likely to be local. Income distribution will likely be based on a link between the maxi and the mini, i.e. disincentives but with limits as to individual earning potential. Moreover, the guiding metaphor is likely to be based on prama or dynamic balance and not merely growth. Progress in a gaian frame will not mean the eradication of the indigenous but rather strength coming from civilizational diversity, from difference, and not uniformity.
But the precise qualities of this future are not at all guaranteed. There are choices ahead, and the creation of an artificial society with deep cleavages between those with access to wealth, information and genetic technology is quite likely. They will be older, and will be able to extend their life span by thirty to fifty years. Outside the walls of technocracy, will be the others. In this scenario, other structural possibilities are quite possible – a world empire (the rise of new Napolean) or even a world church (a religion of perfection with gene doctors becoming the holders of life and liberty).
How the new technologies develop, who controls them, how they are used, the amount of pressure social movements place on elite science becoming more public and responsible are as of yet unanswered questions.
Copyright The author 2011