[Reader-list] How Is America Going To End?
2tahamehmood at googlemail.com
Sat Sep 12 15:26:04 IST 2009
They say- all that has begin will come to an end, nation states, it
seems, are no exceptions to this form of thinking. Another line of
thinking, which is predicting the doom of nation states is-
futurology. Prognosticating is akin to making memory of a time yet to
come. Even as we are being asked to stand in long queues to get
identified and subsequently get branded as Indians, Americans,
Pakistanis and so on, there are those who are making a quick buck by
re-telling the collective dreams of all anarchists, and repackaging it
with the so called statistical and therefore scientific and objective
garbs, that, it would not be long before national will become post
national. ( -Fractal- according to someone like Jeebesh )
Peter Schwartz seems to be one such person out there who is predicting
the collapse of America in grave sounding tones. Peter runs Global
Business Network. Global Business Network is a part of the Monitor
group. Monitor group specializes in scenario-based forecasting.
Monitor also happens to be a place where, according to a wiki entry,
Rahul Gandhi spent considerable time while interning in London. Since
India is one of just eleven select countries where Monitor has an
office, therefore I wonder, whether Rahul takes the word of senior
thought leaders like Peter seriously while thinking about India!!
I however, do not know why these so called futurologists like Peter
Schwartz are urging us to think about doom of nation states, as we
know it; I do not know how much of this calculated and systematic fear
of collapse of the world most powerful country is true nor am I
convinced by all the arguments which Peter and his colleague, put
forward to make their case, however I do wonder what will happen, even
if a small, tini-mini proportion of policy people start taking these
arguments earnestly? What is it about future anyways that people all
over, especially those who are in power are always afraid of?The
question, it seems has moved away from Will America end or when will
America end to How will it end? (-:
Please read this rather delightfully 'gloomy' article below for more,
How Is America Going To End?The world's leading futurologists have
By Josh LevinPosted Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, at 2:33 PM ET
The Global Business Network answers the same question for all its
corporate and government clients: What happens next? GBN handles a lot
of different whats, and even the occasional what-in-the-hell. In 2003,
the group's chairman, Peter Schwartz, and his colleague Doug Randall
whipped up a not-so-rosy, 22-page report on "abrupt climate change"
for the Department of Defense ("The United States and Australia are
likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries"). Last
year, the municipality of Amsterdam asked the firm to help figure out
how it might deal with immigration. GBN has also loaned out its
brainpower to Hollywood, advising Minority Report director Steven
Spielberg on whether Congress and the Constitution would still exist
in 2054. (The answer: yes, with a few buts.)
GBN, which since 2000 has been a part of the management-consulting
firm the Monitor Group, specializes in scenario-based forecasting.
Professional futurologists have long used complex computer models to
prognosticate, say, what the Middle East will look like in 2050. The
Global Business Network comes up with stories. Schwartz, the group's
lead philosopher, argues that "scenario planning"—coming up with a
broad array of yarns, "good and bad, expected and surprising"—brings
rigor to the inevitably imprecise art of forecasting. "It is critical
to push people's imagination out to the very edges of believability to
see the full range of the possible," Schwartz and Randall explain in
the book Blindside. The best way to reach the outer limits of the
imagination, they believe, is to tell a good tale.
Today, I've asked the world's leading provider of futuristic
consulting to help me think about America's downfall. I'm at a
conference table in the group's San Francisco office with six
forecasters, including GBN founders Schwartz, Napier Collyns, and
Stewart Brand. Our mission: plot scenarios by which the United
States could end in the next 100 years. GBN's head of marketing and
communications, Nancy Murphy, suggested the time limit. "Beyond 100
years it gets so science fiction-y," she explains.
Before my meeting, I collect some pointers from Schwartz's
foundational scenario-planning text, 1991's The Art of the Long View.
He suggests that wannabe futurists inhale science and tech news,
embrace fringe cultures (though Schwartz admits that his chats with
UFO aficionados "offered no insight about the future"), and look for
social trends in nascent cultural phenomena such as gangsta rap and
America's Funniest Home Videos. (Forgive him: The book was written 20
years ago.) The big picture: If you want to glimpse the future, seek
out remarkable people and open your mind to loony-sounding ideas.
I also learn from Schwartz's book that the sensible futurist prefaces
everything by saying This is not a prediction of the future—the
professional forecaster is not an oracle. That said, Schwartz has made
his share of good calls. When Schwartz was the head of scenario
planning for Royal Dutch/Shell in the 1980s, his team told the
company's higher-ups to watch out for an unknown Soviet pol named
Gorbachev. If Gorby were to assume a leadership position, Schwartz
said, it would be a strong indication that the USSR would open to the
West and oil and natural gas prices would drop. When the price plunge
came, Shell execs—having anticipated this eventuality—swooped in and
bought oil reserves at a discounted rate.
This morning, in a conference room full of fellow forecasters,
Schwartz happily plays the emcee for the end of America. He speaks
more quickly and authoritatively than anyone else, and he's the one
patrolling the line between what's crazy enough to destroy the United
States and what's just plain crazy. His first idea: racial warfare. By
2050, whites will no longer be a majority in the United States and
Hispanics will make up an estimated 29 percent of the population.
"Most violence is committed by males 18 to 35," Schwartz explains.
"Now picture a very large, low-employed Hispanic population of males
not too pleased with their lot or their ability to control a
white-dominated world. … That population then becomes violent and
disruptive. And now you get into racial and identity politics—it's all
those illegal immigrants we let across the border." Add in a flailing
economy, mega-droughts in the Southwest, and the "Colombianization" of
Mexico and you've got The Road Warrior crossed with an unusually rabid
episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight.
This is just the beginning. For nearly three hours, we run through
America-killers that range from the believable to the science
fiction-y: rising sea levels, a collapse of entitlement programs, an
attack by a foreign power on American soil, a pandemic 10 times worse
than the 1918 flu, global domination by a space-faring nation that
uses geo-engineering to "turn off" climate change, and the emergence
of a transnational class of biologically enhanced supermen and women
("They're all about 6-2—and that's the girls," Schwartz says) who
identify more with one another than with any particular nation.
Despite the fun of imagining America succumbing to the Super Friends,
Schwartz believes the most likely scenario for the next 100 years is
"that the city of Washington will still be a capital of a nation-state
on this continent." America has abundant natural resources, relatively
low population density, and—with oceans on both coasts—a built-in
security system. The collapse of a country with those inherent
advantages sometime in the next century would require a
low-probability series of events. But low probability isn't no
probability. Schwartz ends our exercise by sketching out the
possibilities in a two-by-two box.
Most scenario-planning sessions end with the world stuffed inside a
grid. The "scenario matrix" is a means of transforming everything
we've learned into a range of credible stories—four futures that are
as different as you can possibly make them, covering the broadest
range of possible outcomes. Joel Garreau, a longtime Washington Post
writer and editor who regularly works with GBN, explains that the
scenario matrix is a framework for thinking logically about an
illogical subject—a way to minimize the "oogabooga" that's inherent in
futurism. When he was contemplating whether to buy a generator in the
run-up to Y2K, for example, Garreau drew a matrix of four possible
post-Y2K worlds. The generator, he found, would come in handy in only
one of his four futures; he didn't buy it.
Ultimately, the American collapse probably won't occur in the next
century. If it does, though, it might take one of these four forms.
Without any further oogabooga, here's Peter Schwartz's matrix for the
end of America:
Collapse: In this scenario, the country has devolved after a series of
catastrophes: unchecked climate change, a pandemic, nuclear war—the
stuff that Jared Diamond books and disaster movies are made of. A
catastrophe that breeds internal division, Schwartz argues, is more
likely to eradicate America than any kind of external threat. A
country is like a family, he theorizes. If you feel threatened from
the outside, you band together—rather than tear the United States
apart, 9/11 galvanized us against a common enemy. The laggard response
to Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, meant that our own government
became the common enemy. A long, uninterrupted series of nationwide
Katrinas—and a concomitant series of bungled federal responses—is the
recipe for collapse.
Schwartz submits that government incompetence might not be enough to
trigger America's implosion. After all, we could always just vote out
the bozos who let us down. What we need to destroy the country, he
argues, is Zimbabwe-sized corruption: a succession of executives who
pilfer the national treasury and refuse to hold free elections. In
that case, the country could fall apart as our national creeds of
freedom, democracy, and openness are gradually abandoned.
Friendly breakup: In future No. 2, the country dissolves peacefully
because the overhead of running a large nation becomes unmanageable.
Schwartz likens this to the breakup of the Soviet Union, a case where
the cost of holding the country together proved too great and the
advantages too small.
While Igor Panarin—the Russian who forecasts America's demise for
2010—would certainly agree with that idea, making parallels with the
USSR seems a bit dubious. Unlike the Eastern bloc, the United States
isn't an agglomeration of states with strong ethnic identities. It was
foreseeable that a socialist republic like Lithuania, which had its
own long-standing culture and language, might someday become an
independent nation. In modern America, where English predominates and
a highly mobile population flits from place to place, is it possible
that some state or region could develop enough distinctiveness to
split from the union? GBN's Michael Costigan suggests that
self-segregation could lead to an amicable parting of the ways. If
Democrats migrate to Democratic cities and Republicans cluster in GOP
strongholds, we could reach a point where the redder-than-red states
and the bluer-than-blue states decide to go it on their own. Hey, it's
the future—it could happen!
Global governance: In our third future, the national government
declines in importance relative to the world community. Barack Obama's
recent brief in defense of American exceptionalism is just one
indicator among many that the United States is nowhere near willing to
cede its position as the greatest of the world's great powers. But
Slate contributor Robert Wright argues in his book Nonzero that
humankind must come together to head off the challenges of the
"non-zero-sum," globalized world: climate change, biological weapons,
pandemics. While Wright tells me that "you wouldn't need something so
centralized" as a souped-up United Nations, he believes that if in the
next 100 years "America's identity has not dissolved into some sort of
larger body of global governance, then chaos will reign."
Global conquest: The final scenario and the grimmest of all: a figure
described variously as a "global Napoleon," "a much more empowered
Hitler," and "a super-Mao" conquers America and the rest of the world
via brute force. This idea, which Schwartz classifies as the least
likely of the four, leads us to debate whether it's harder to
subjugate the world than it used to be—Schwartz believes it is, as
there are "more people with military competence spread across the
world." That's followed by a discussion of the best method to exercise
dominion over the globe. "I think the way you conquer the world these
days is from space," he says. "You can put weapons up there and shut
down the world."
A real GBN client would use this scenario matrix to initiate a change
in behavior—a shift in corporate strategy perhaps, or a call for new
public policy. For me, the end-of-America scenarios are the stopping
point. I'm trying to foresee our pathways to societal upheaval, not
prevent it from happening.
Futurologists are generally fairly sanguine about man's ability to
save himself, even if they do delight in thinking up dystopias. Jamais
Cascio, a former GBN employee who now consults for the Palo Alto,
Calif.-based Institute for the Future, is a connoisseur of disaster
scenarios—worlds torn asunder by ocean acidification and nanoscale
weapons—that you weren't aware you should be terrified of. For IFTF's
Ten-Year Forecast spring retreat—attended by corporations like Kraft,
Procter & Gamble, Nokia, and Wells Fargo—Cascio went beyond the
program's usual decadelong timeframe to write up three 50-year
forecasts, each laying out a distinct vision of the next half-century.
One of the timelines, the "Long Crisis," begins with "global
storming," a run of catastrophic weather events around the world. By
2023, the United States has defaulted on its debts to China.
Eventually, in the aftermath of Global Famine II, the U.S. breaks into
eight pieces. On the plus side, African biohackers find a cure for
AIDS in 2026. Yippee! (You can read Cascio's whole "Long Crisis"
Cascio insists that the "Long Crisis" isn't merely a scary story.
Rather, his goal is to goad policymakers into dealing with the
century's biggest challenges: climate change, Sino-American relations,
the global food supply. "What futurists and scenario planners provide
is a wind tunnel of sorts," Cascio says. "The scenarios we construct
allow organizations to test their strategies, to test their decisions,
to say, If we follow Course X, what kinds of outcomes might we expect
as the world around us changes?"
For more of Cascio's thoughts on futurology—why it doesn't matter that
every detail he comes up with will be wrong, his belief that the
United States could break apart in the next 50 years, and how America
and China might forge a partnership to fight off an asteroid
strike—watch the video below.
Cascio clearly believes that humanity has the ingenuity and the smarts
to beat back threats to its continued existence. He doesn't, however,
assume that the persistence of the United States is necessarily the
most-desirable outcome. It's possible America will collapse as we try
desperately to save it—or perhaps the country will shrivel up and go
away when its time has come and gone. "It's not necessarily how
America will survive," Cascio says, "but how do the values we hold
dear … survive even if some of the institutions don't?"
You've seen what the professional forecasters think. Now we want your
thoughts on America's demise. With our "Choose Your Own Apocalypse"
tool, you can pick the scenarios you think are most likely to
terminate the United States and compare your selections with those
made by the rest of the Slate audience. At the end of the week, I'll
file a report on the most popular choices and investigate what clues
your favorite scenarios give us about the American psyche.
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