Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A self-unfulfilling prophecy

The Next 100 Years by George Friedman

My friend Luke Isham recommended this book to me, knowing that I would like it, which I did.

The Next 100 Years predicts what the 21st century will be like. It really only goes up to 2090, and so really ought to be called The Next 80 Years, but the further one prognosticates, the less likely one is to hit the target.

As he acknowledges in the epilogue, George Friedman makes virtually no mention of climate change. Instead, he focuses more on geopolitics. Yet the does posit a scenario in which solar energy is collected by satellite cells, and beamed down to the earth's surface via microwaves.

In fact, much of the material in this book is bordering on science fiction. But it is in the context of telling the story of World War III. It makes for a great story, and I suspect it will be made into a movie. Friedman suggests that that the US will set up "Battle Stars": satellite systems that can fire missiles are the surface of the earth. But then the Japanese will launch a surprise attack from the far side of the moon, and knock out all the Battle Stars. This will occur at 5pm, November 24, 2050. The US will then go to war against a Turkish-Japanese coalition.

Of course, the secret's out now. This book is, in fact, a self-unfulfilling prophecy. The very fact that the order of battle has been written down will take away its surprise value.

But obviously the details are unimportant. Friedman is clearly concentrating on the big picture. And that is a century dominated by the USA. Russia and China, he says, are not going to be major players. Instead, we will see a military resurgence of Turkey and Japan, with Poland and Mexico also featuring prominently. Sadly, Australia is not mentioned in this book at all.

Friedman's predictions are not mere speculation. This is a well-argued book, based on past history and current politics. Perhaps the most interesting argument is that US history follows 50-year cycles, beginning with a successful presidency and ending with an unsuccessful one. The first cycle started with George Washington, the second with Andrew Jackson, the third with Rutherford Hayes and the fourth with Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are currently halfway through a fifth cycle, which began with Ronald Reagan. Thus, argues Friedman, the presidential election in either 2028 or 2032 will be the significant one, probably focusing on issues of immigration, except that now the US will be trying to attract immigrants to overcome its labour shortfall.

My question in reading this book concerns the place of Christianity in all this. Friedman argues that there will be a battle regarding the status of the family, including the role of women and sexual ethics. Friedman says it is a battle the conservatives will lose. He argues that it will not make economic sense to have large families, and as a result there will be a significant population decline: "Women are having fewer children because supporting a lot of children in industrial, urban society is economic suicide" (p. 59). He notes that religious traditionalists argue for, and often have, large families, but he doesn't seem to think this will have much of a political or sociological impact. But if traditionalists are the only ones having lots of kids, that will presumably skew the population. Which is why some Christian conservatives advocate large families as a way of winning the world for Christ.

And maybe Friedman doesn't realise the power of the gospel. Perhaps this will be the century where the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

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