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Ten Trends Reshaping the Global Landscapeby Van Wishard, World Trends Research
First, the modernization, urbanization and globalization of China, India and other Asian nations will be the most dynamic and convulsive event of the coming decades. Millions of people will have their personal and collective lives transformed to a greater degree, in a shorter space of time, than has been experienced by any people ever before.
Second, the world is still seeking a new geopolitical configuration. We are at the end of a 500-year period when the Atlantic-centered nations dominated world economic, political and military affairs. For the first time in modern history, China and Japan both have economies larger than any European national economy, and, along with India, may become the world’s center of technological innovation and production.
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Third, the accelerating tempo of life has now become a critical issue in mental health. The emphasis on constant change has created a clash of different time scales. The time scales created by technology clash with the time scale required by natural life. Unhurried time is essential for natural growth. Yet speed, which is the forced compression of time, is increasingly necessary for the modern economy. Some suggest that we’ve moved beyond the age of speed and have entered the era of “real time.” There is now, they say, only a single “world time.”
Fourth, the information environment in which the individual lives has been radically altered. Throughout history, the transmission of information, ideas and images took place slowly, taking weeks, even months, to move around the world. Such a slow pace of information travel gave people time to adjust psychologically to a new information environment. Today, we zap information, ideas and images across the globe in nanoseconds. People have no time to adjust, no time to assimilate the new information and shape it into coherent meaning. The result is uncertainty and disorientation.
Fifth, the Eurasian landmass will continue to be a source of uncertainty, and even possible instability, for some time to come. Russia has not yet truly entered a “post-Communist” era, as most of its political and industrial leadership was shaped by the influence of Communism. Even the Moscow Times noted, “There can be no denying that contemporary Russia is in its very essence a product of the Soviet legacy. Our whole life is still shaped by the influence of Soviet-style expectations. We are still governed by Soviet-reared rulers.” Recently, Russian officials met with the elite of Russian “rock” to ensure that a situation such as Kiev, where many Ukrainian rock stars supported the Orange Revolution, would not be repeated in Moscow. Such activity only underscores that it may be a generation before the psychology of Russia is truly free of the influence of seventy-four years of Communist rule.
Sixth, a destabilizing threat facing the world is potential violent political turmoil that, if not avoided, could produce global anarchy. The arena for this possibility is not only the Middle East, but also the nations of the former Soviet Union, which form a belt stretching from Ukraine across southern Russia, to Kazakhstan, to Kyrghyzstan, to Tajikistan, and including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The peoples of this entire stretch of the world are being awakened to the deprivations caused by archaic economic and political systems, as well as to the realization that such denials need not continue. How the U.S., Europe and other major powers together help ameliorate this situation, while not yet commanding our primary attention, is nonetheless vital to future world security.
Seventh, science is in the process of redefining our understanding of terms first given us at the dawn of human consciousness: such terms as “life,” “nature” and “human.” Increasingly, scientists are subordinating humans to technology. In essence, we may be abdicating our own psychological center of being and handing it over to the computer. Scientists tell us that when artificial and human intelligence are eventually merged, we will enter the “Post-human” era. Thus by 2030, we may have reached the point where the primary question will be, “What are humans for in a world of self-replicating technological capability completely independent of human control?” We thus face a policy and human crisis without historical precedent.
Eighth, globalization has moved far beyond economics and finance, and has now moved to a stage where western political, social, cultural and philosophical ideas are gradually seeping into the fabric of the rest of the world. While we Americans believe what works for America will work for all nations, we sometimes forget that cultural differences between the U.S. and other nations represent profound psychological differences. The critical question for globalizing nations is, “How can we modernize without losing our traditions, which represent our psychic roots?” Thus we Americans need to be far more sensitive to the acute emotional trauma nations are experiencing as they confront the varied effects of globalization.
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Ninth, the largest migration in history is changing the face of nations. In China, one hundred million people are moving from the country to the city. In the West, the European Union needs 180 million immigrants in the next three decades simply to keep its population at 1995 levels, as well as to keep the current ratio of retirees to workers. In Brussels, over fifty percent of the babies born are Muslim. In Germany, the death rate has exceeded the birth rate for decades, so the government now has to fly in planeloads of technicians from India just to maintain the German high tech structure. In England, there are now more practicing Muslims than Anglicans. The Catholic Church is facing the distinct possibility (probability?) that in coming years, Islam will become the largest European faith. In coming years, what it means to be French, German, Italian or English is going to change just as radically as what it means to be American has changed in the past four decades. Such changes suggest an increased inward European orientation at a time when just the opposite is needed.
Tenth, the world is in the midst of a long-term spiritual and psychological reorientation that is increasingly generating uncertainty and instability. This trend is best exemplified not by public opinion polls stating what percentage of the population believes in God, but by the character of the Western world’s postmodern culture. To understand the extent of this spiritual reorientation, look at the section on religion in any American bookstore. As well as books on Christianity, there are books on New Age spirituality, Buddhism, Nostradamus, yoga, fundamentalism, channeling, angels, miracles, Eastern philosophy, addiction, psychic health, mysticism, or finding meaning in life. All evidence of a massive spiritual uncertainty, and a search for some new spiritual dispensation.
The psychological reorientation can be seen in the breakup of our collective symbols and inner images of wholeness. For example, we once talked about “heaven,” which denoted the transcendent realm, eternity, the dwelling place of the gods. Now we just speak of “space,” which implies no spiritual connotation. It used to be that when we looked up in the sky at nighttime we saw the moon in heaven. Now we stand on the moon and see the earth in heaven. Heaven and earth have become one, and so our system of symbolic images has been jumbled. As the function of symbols and mythic images is to link our consciousness to the roots of our being, to our unconscious, this loss of historic symbols leaves little to sustain the inner life of the individual. So we turn to all sorts of chemical substitutes and pseudo religions.
These are just some of the forces reshaping the global landscape in the coming decades.