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  • Writer's picturePete Jonson

Ruminations about the Future

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

For some reason I cannot avoid having a go at some thoughts about the future of humanity and Australia's future contribution. I shall avoid suggesting there will be major wars, though in case of need I believe that Australia should spend substantially more on defence.

Invasions or mere visits from different intelligent species from elsewhere in the cosmos are other extreme possibilities that could create large potential differences to the future of earthlings. Making sense within the current earthly frame will be taxing enough. I have found inspiration from a book Edited and Introduced by Yorwick Blumenfeld in 1999. Title Scanning the Future, provided by '20 Eminent thinkers', my favourite essay being written by W. Warren Wagar, 'The Next Three Futures'.

Courtesy Johannes Leak, The Australian

Mr Wagar casts his main futures into three categories, which he sees as likely to be sequential. Two are already here, so I will discuss the three futures without stating whether they are simultaneous or sequential. 'Either capitalism and bourgeois democracy will prove victorious, or democratic socialism, or the Ectopian New Age'. Wagar thinks it is more likely to find these three options more or less sequential, but perhaps differences maintained for a long period are more likely. Perhaps 'Democratic Socialism' will gradually expand at some cost to what Wagar calls 'Technoliberal Capitalism'.

Capitalism has prevailed for several centuries, makingmost of its citizens enormously wealthy by the standards of merely 100 years ago. Nevertheless areas of Democratic Socialism have evolved, including Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Indeed, I can see modern capitalism becoming more socialistic, and the Covid-19 experience has made many capitalist nations more interfering with their economies. Whether their governments will succeed in restoring capitalism red in tooth and claw is doubtful, and Mr Wagar's sequential analysis will be upon us more quickly than imagined even a year ago.

The mighty USA is the test case. Will it follow President Trump and maintain Republican ways, or elect Mr Biden and follow his far more Socialist path. In my judgment, the European Economic Union (EU) is already Socialistic, and to keep Capitalism alive may require the EU to break up, into Capitalist Northern Europe and Socialistic Southern and Eastern Europe. Australia, Canada and perhaps the United Kingdom will keep the Capitalist model but if the USA breaks up as suggested, these outposts of 'Technoliberalism' are likely to struggle. Provided President Trump wins in November 2020 and is succeeded by a Republican or a Democrat who basically likes capitalism the status quo may survive. And then there is China, at this stage a definitely non-democratic Socialist hegamon.

'Breakthroughs in technology (such as fusion power or the perfection of artificial intelligence), the exploitation of new markets in the former Second and Third Worlds, and the fresh energies of political democracy will keep the system humming for many years. But eventually, for some or all the reasons adduced by radical critics of the capitalist world system, it will begin to disintegrate from within'. The newly Socialistic nations may team up with a potentially democratic China so that the weight of Democratic Socialism emerges earlier than Wagar's 2030s. But I would be astounded if the powerful core of the current democratic Capitalist nations did not continue to form a powerful free enterprise group, provided the USA does not splinter.

'It is hardly possible at this time to anticipate just which of the many shortcomings of technoliberal capitalism, or which combination of shortcomings, will play the greatest part in its collapse' says Wagar. In his view the anger of people who can never reach positions in the Capitalist heartland or the anger of 'whole populations that lose the game of high-stakes, high-tech, high-speed economic growth' may boil over. In any case, Liberal Capitalism is likely to face high costs of servicing deficits, paying for military adventures, co-opting workers with benefit packages, caring for increasing numbers of the elderly, fighting urban crime, and safeguarding deteriorating environments. Spending by governments may be just be too expensive to allow the richest Liberal nations to continue. Clearly the cost of borrowing to fight the invisible enemy of Covid-19 will weigh on all types of government.

Nothing lasts forever, and no system. Mr Wagar sees the 'technoliberal capitalist' system as enormously powerful but also 'top heavy, overcentralised, and insolvent'. Democratic socialism will expand, hopefully in a peaceful manner. Perhaps there will be a 'calamitous system-wide war'. Another trigger for changing weights in types of nations is 'difficult times, when the prevailing system has lost much of its credibility'. Right now both the USA and China governments are fighting to restore their credibility.

China is trying to re-educate its Muslims, bring citizens of Hong Kong to heel and bully Taiwan, not to mention Australia and other smaller nations that irritate China's leaders. China is trying to cover up its initial knowledge of the pandemic that arose in one of its laboratories or in a so-called 'wet market'. This secrecy has cost the world many elderly citizens and stands out as a dishonest socialist mismanager of matters concerning the health of its citizens and those of many other nations.

The USA has an odd President and is in my view almost as divided as it was during its Civil War. The pandemic was at first laughed away by President Trump and then became the subject of his 'humour', so that failure to attend to the pandemic meant American deaths have rapidly exceeded 100,000 with many more to come. Instead of the USA becoming a Democratic Socialist haven, it is more likely to break into Socialist 'States' and Libertarian 'States'. Surely China will have at some stage to allow its citizens to vote, even if at first the choices are limited to different types of communists.

In the longer run, Mr Wagar sees even the democratic socialist system being eaten away. He asks 'What would be the purpose of a world state after its task of renovating the planet has been completed? If inequalities of wealth and opportunity were removed, the environment restored, national armies dissolved, and worker democracy ensconsed, what need would there be for a world republic?' He sees, perhaps late in the twenty-first century or well into the twenty-second, it may be the turn of 'the future beyond liberal capitalism and democratic socialism'.

'People may decide, first here, then there, then somewhere else, that they no longer need the services of public officials'. Mr Wagar sees such a future as without vast differences of wealth and opportunity, a revived planet, no machinery of warfare, indeed a world of peace and private management. This is a great vision, and it may work in nations such as Switzerland that is approaching such a status already. But I can also imagine warfare among small cities, vicious takeover battles, legal battles over patents and so on and so forth. I find it hard to see a planet with, say, 15 billion people living in happy amity and continuing to advance technology and maintain a pristine planet. And there is likely to be plenty of challenges even in such a world.

Even now, rich private individuals are dreaming of expanding into the wider universe, which Mr Wagar sees as the forth future for humanity. He quotes Arthur C. Clarke imagining vast migration to exploration of Space as providing people with a sense of participation in a vast enterprise 'that transcends all local divisions and petty terrestrial quarrels'. Clarke said in 1962 and again in 1984 this forth age may "trigger a new Renaissance and break the pattern into which our society, and our arts, must otherwise freeze".

What of Australia in all this? We can slump into lives of hedonism, of footy, horse racing, drinking and eating ever finer and finer comestibles. Lives like this cannot last, and we would eventually be taken over by (I suspect) a non-democratic, powerful socialistic nation. Or we can recast our civilisation to be somewhat like an oriental Israel, living in a largely hostile part of the globe and becoming known as scary military nation determined to live as we choose, not as other nations choose.

In my view we shall only survive as an independent nation if we devote far more of our wealth to producing a powerful military machine, far more effective than at present, and training our young people seriously in matters of national defence. With another large chunk of wealth devoted to producing weapons that we keep to ourselves to be brought out only if another nation decides it could manage the Australians better than they can themselves.


And you mustn't miss Fiona Prior's attempt to put the country back into the city. More here.

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