LONG-TERM SOCIAL TRENDS
By Roland Watson
To close this series, I want to examine a number of social trends that I believe are now evident, and what their potential consequences might be. I intend to proceed institution by institution, and will then conclude with a set of projections for human society as a whole.
Our first institution is the family. As we have seen, the traditional structure of the family has been undermined by our increasing mobility - and rising individual freedom in general, and also by the decline in support for organized religion. These trends will continue, certainly the former - including greater personal freedom, but the latter as well. However, barring the large-scale introduction of germ-line genetic engineering, we should not write the family off completely or even largely. As long as we have our present form, as homo sapiens, we will have families. The need for love, and the importance of the support that is given by parents to their children, and, subsequently, by children to their parents, will remain. We will see, though, an increasing diversity in types of family organization, but this is not in and of itself bad. The family will adapt to increasing individualism, but it will continue to fulfill an essential role.
For education, the big change will be the availability of formal education to everyone, worldwide, and for an extended period: at least all of childhood. Indeed, this should occur even with the forecast population increases. In addition, a new educational topic should arise, that of behavioral form as a distinct social phenomenon, and this will be coupled with a reversal of the present trend towards educational specialization. I believe that in the future the importance of having a general education, about all aspects of life, will again achieve prominence.
For organized religion, we can see that as an institution it is mature. The decline in faith, at least in the major systems of religious belief, is the result of a number of factors. First, it reflects the prevailing view that the times are good. There are many opportunities available for people to improve their lives, and these draw their attention away from the stars and the afterlife. Secondly, there is great skepticism in, as a result of increased education, and hence reduced ignorance, and therefore less acceptance of, such established superstitions. Indeed, the maturity of religion can be seen in the rise of "interfaith" chapels. Previously hostile faiths - to each other - are now finding common ground. Us versus them, which used to be applied against other religions, has now been transmuted to "believer" versus "non-believer."
Nevertheless, religion, the need for an "all-encompassing" belief, will survive. The fight against idols never ends. Like dictatorship, it is evolving to new forms, including the religions of materialism, sports, and science.
In addition, the source of its power remains intact. I described in another article how the underlying principle of organized religion is that it does not have faith in us, in people, hence the need for supernatural explanations and remedies - including saviors and salvation. But, if religion does not have faith in us, why should it expect us to have faith in it? The answer to this is that it knows we are afraid of the unknown. Organized religion understands that it can always use this fear against us, that at least for some people, or in some circumstances, we will be unable to resist its persuasion.
Religion may be mature, but we shouldn't expect it to die anytime soon. The difficulty of life, and of philosophical speculation, guarantees that many people will continue to take the easy way out.
Nations and government - conflict and democracy
The future of the next institution, of nations and their governments, is in many ways much more complex. The first question is, to what extent will we have more armed conflict, and here the trends are generally positive. In the present day such conflict has largely been eliminated from the Americas, and all of Europe as well.
For the Middle East, though, Israel and Palestine remain a hot spot, and will continue to be a hot spot until the United States recognizes the humanity of the Palestinians, and that they have rights, too. Certainly Israel has the right to exist, and Palestinians - all Palestinians - must openly acknowledge this. Israel has existed in one form or another for thousands of years, and Jewish people, having suffered the Nazi Holocaust, and other systematic forms of repression going back centuries, have the right to protect themselves in the strongest possible way. But, the right of protection does not justify abuse. The three main problems in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are: repression of the Palestinians by Israel; acceptance by the United States of this; and Palestinian and broader Muslim terrorism. Nonetheless, it really does rest with the U.S. As Israel's principal ally, it can force Jerusalem's card, and get it not only to end its different forms of abuse, but moreover to recognize the Palestinian right to exist, just as Israel demands its own.
Were the U.S. to do this, and with long and no doubt arduous negotiation, and some backsliding into force, the conflict should be resolved. Palestine, with - at least initially - some limits on its sovereignty, will become a true separate state. The Palestinians will achieve their right of self-determination.
However, for other areas in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, there are still significant probabilities of conflict. This will certainly be the case in Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves, as the Taleban is in no way defeated.
Iran is also a risk, but not only because of its nuclear program; more importantly, because of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. They will continue to look for new opportunities to rise up, and this could lead to significant internal conflict, as is now underway in Syria and Iraq.
North Korea of course remains a risk as well, but given the importance of regional stability to its neighbor, China, Pyongyang bluster should remain just words. On the other hand, if a popular uprising is ever triggered in China, this could easily degenerate into civil conflict, and not only for China but for North Korea and perhaps regionally as well, from follow-on effects.
Of course, what this illustrates is that with conflict accurate predictions are extremely difficult. The underlying reason for this is that these regions are still trapped in the legacies of autocracy. Many political dictatorships remain in power, and conflict for them is a tactic of choice, both externally against neighbors and internally for the purposes of repression. They are further still actively teaching their citizens to hate. Therefore, most such nations will be dictatorial for a long time to come. The case of democracies physically confronting autocracies, as occurred with Libya, will be the exception. Moreover, it can take decades to bring about democracy via other means, including through internal rebellion, particularly now that most dictatorships have international corporate partners and funding.
In any case, though, these conflicts should be localized, and democracy will continue to prevail. One by one the remaining dictatorships will be eliminated. In other words, we are unlikely to see the development of a global network of criminal states, of dictatorships and nominally democratic kleptocracies, supported by unethical multinational corporations.
The main risk of a wider conflict derives from an act of terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction, particularly if it is directed against the U.S. or one of its allies. The greatest probability in such a case is that there would be massive retaliation, and following this conditions could become so chaotic that society would degenerate completely.
Finally, the only other significant risks of catastrophic conflict relate to war that might result from environmental collapse; nuclear war, such as between India and Pakistan, particularly if China became involved; and from the spreading of a China/Taiwan conflict. For example, North Korea has threatened to attack the United States with a nuclear weapon. As another example, in July 1999, during that summer's escalation in the Kashmir border conflict, Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister called on the government to attack India with nuclear bombs.
These are extraordinary cases of promoting war for your own purposes, and without regard to the larger consequences. And, while they are, for the moment, wholly for show, one cannot discount completely the possibility that someday a madman will get his hand on the nuclear trigger, and pull it.
In the next article, I will consider the future of nations.
© Roland Watson 2015