Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer

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Major Change Is Upon Us

 

Bill Frayer 2010Just as the fish is unaware of the water she swims in, we may be unaware of the sea changes occurring around us.  Change is often gradual and difficult to identify when we are in the midst of it. When did people begin to realize that World War I was fundamentally changing the scale of international conflict? When did people realize that the industrialization of the world would have huge sociological and environmental consequences? When did we understand the magnitude of the change that electronic computers would have on all aspect of our lives? It’s almost impossible to see historical trends when we are in their midst.

How will historians look back on the early twenty-first century?  What will be the legacy left by us to future generations?  How will human life change on our planet?  It’s very interesting to read the predictions people made in the past.  Sometimes they were uncanny in their accuracy, but often they were just dead wrong.  I wonder about a number of big changes we may be witnessing now. 

I am interested in the future of democratic forms of government.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, several scholars concluded that democracy had finally been firmly established as the most successful democratic system.  In 1992, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama even wrote a book with the preposterous title, The End of History

Well, today it looks a bit different.  Democratic values have failed to take hold in Russia and China.  The Middle East, after its hopeful “Arab Spring,” is dominated by extreme theocracies and brutal military regimes.  Western democracies are buffeted by right-wing xenophobic demagogues who prey on the fear of immigration and diversity. The democratic system in the United States is threatened by gridlock.  Bitter partisanship between the two parties is making it impossible to effectively govern in an environment of permanent stalemate.  Multinational corporations are increasingly controlling the political class as money becomes the lifeblood of elections. 

The balance of power is shifting in many ways.  We are now witnessing the mass migration of Islamic people to the West as the Muslim faith is undergoing its own reformation.  As radical Islam is a rising force, many traditional Muslims are being forced to leave their homes or face violence and persecution. Although many countries desperately need young people to do the work and create families, the large number of migrants has upset the ethnic balance in the United States, Europe, and Israel.  What does the future hold in a world with such major population and ethnic shifts?  Will the world really become more tolerant and diverse?

Technology continues to accelerate and make it possible for the work of the world to be done with less human labor.  How will societies adapt to the dominance of artificial intelligence, smart machines, and genetic and medical breakthroughs?  How will people of the future spend their time?  Will the population explosion in the third world lead to a Malthusian disaster?  Will those of us in wealthy lands be able to maintain our comfortable standard of living?

As the people of the world become more aware and tolerant of social change and are free to live alternate lifestyles, will they be able to coexist with radical theocratic regimes?  It is impossible to see the outcome of these large trends, and many unexpected shifts will come.  What would Aristotle, Galileo, and Ben Franklin think if they could see today’s world.  What would we think of tomorrow’s?

Some futurists are optimistic; some predict disaster.  What do you think?

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