U.S. intelligence officials have little comfort to offer a pandemic-weary planet about where the world is heading in the next 20 years. Short answer: It looks pretty bleak.
— The Washington Post, April 8, 2021
There is supposed to be some cold satisfaction in being able to say “I told you so.” I’m not feeling that, and I’m pretty sure Rullman isn’t either. After all, this is our daughters’ future we’re looking at.
We are well and truly in The Crash, and there is no way the United States — and maybe Western Civilization as a whole — can muster the gumption to weather it and come out stronger as we have previous crises.
A culture that valorizes victimhood and seeks status through grievance is not a culture that can take a punch.
A culture that no longer trusts its institutions — and whose institutions are proving unworthy of trust — cannot take a punch.
A culture fragmenting along the most base lines of identity cannot take a punch…
And we’re going to get punched. Hard. Repeatedly.
The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued in March is titled “A More Contested World.”
Anybody who thinks we’re in shape for a serious contest is smoking some of that good, legal Oregon weed.
Here’s the abstract:
DURING THE PAST YEAR, THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS REMINDED THE WORLD OF ITS FRAGILITY AND DEMONSTRATED THE INHERENT RISKS OF HIGH LEVELS OF INTERDEPENDENCE. IN COMING YEARS AND DECADES, THE WORLD WILL FACE MORE INTENSE AND CASCADING GLOBAL CHALLENGES RANGING FROM DISEASE TO CLIMATE CHANGE TO THE DISRUPTIONS FROM NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND FINANCIAL CRISES.These challenges will repeatedly test the resilience and adaptability of communities, states, and the international system, often exceeding the capacity of existing systems and models. This looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond is likely to grow and produce greater contestation at every level.
In this more contested world, communities are increasingly fractured as people seek security with like-minded groups based on established and newly prominent identities; states of all types and in all regions are struggling to meet the needs and expectations of more connected, more urban, and more empowered populations; and the international system is more competitive—shaped in part by challenges from a rising China—and at greater risk of conflict as states and nonstate actors exploit new sources of power and erode longstanding norms and institutions that have provided some stability in past decades.
These dynamics are not fixed in perpetuity, however, and we envision a variety of plausible scenarios for the world of 2040—from a democratic renaissance to a transformation in global cooperation spurred by shared tragedy—depending on how these dynamics interact and human choices along the way.
That last bit is lined out in a set of well-crafted, intriguing scenarios, described thus:
Three of the scenarios portray futures in which international challenges become incrementally more severe, and interactions are largely de ned by the US-China rivalry.
In Renaissance of Democracies, the United States leads a resurgence of democracies. In A World Adrift, China is the leading but not globally dominant state, and in Com-petitive Coexistence, the United States and China prosper and compete for leadership in a bifurcated world.
Two other scenarios depict more radical change. Both arise from particularly severe global discontinuities, and both defy assumptions about the global system. The US-China rivalry is less central in these scenarios because both states are forced to contend with larger, more severe global challenges and nd that current structures are not matched to these challenges.
Separate Silos portrays a world in which globalization has broken down, and economic and security blocs emerge to protect states from mounting threats.
Tragedy and Mobilization is a story of bottom-up, revolutionary change on the heels of devastating global environmental crises.
The rosier scenarios clearly defy the weight of the data and analysis of the preceding pages. The Renaissance of Democracies scenario seems to me to be conjured out of the smoke of that good, legal Oregon weed. My money is on A — such as it is — is on A World Adrift.
Lest you think I am succumbing to despair, fear not. I remain the most optimistic of pessimists. It’s always worthwhile to foreground one of my favorite statements from Dougald Hine, co-Founder of the Dark Mountain Project:
It’s not the apocalypse, of course, it’s just history, but if you thought the shape of history was meant to be an upward curve of progress, then this feels like the apocalypse.
One of the founding themes of The Running Iron Report is that a Reset will follow the Crash. It won’t be easy; it won’t be easy, and it won’t be Utopia. But we will endeavor to persevere…
And, as always, mind your topknot and keep your powder dry.
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