The Next 100 Years

The Next 100 Years is the attempt by a leading strategist to imagine the events of the next 100 years. To do so, he employs a method that most people seem intent to ignore, yet is the most realistic - that the things that seem most obvious, never happen. And when you look at history, this is very true.

So what does the future old? Greying baby boomers mean fewer jobs than available people, inflation, lower house prices once the boomers begin to die out and a change in immigration policy. On the global front, Russia will lose more influence, China will fragment, and Poland, Japan and Turkey will be regional, if not global, players.

This is a very well-reasoned and argued book, and it is refreshing to read something other than "China and India, China and India". Let's face it, in all honesty, India does not have the resources to be a global player and is over-populated. The argument against China too seems very well-thought, that the coast is getting rich whilst the country is poor, and that problems will most likely escalate. I also found that this book got less certain as time went on - what was being foretold for 2020 and 2040 seemed feasible, but the longer time goes on, the more variables can change, and I think this is reflected in this work.

It is not just refreshing opinions that this book offers, but also several passages that are worth quoting in polite company:

  • The United States responded by invading the Islamic world. But its goal wasn't victory. It wasn't even clear what victory would mean. Its goal was simply to disrupt the Islamic world and set it against itself, so that an Islamic empire could not emerge.
  • The United States doesn't need to win wars. It needs to simply disrupt things so the other side can't build up sufficient strength to challenge it.
  • It is the delight of all societies to belittle their political leaders, and leaders surely do make mistakes. But the mistakes they make, when carefully examined, are rarely stupid. Most likely, mistakes are forced upon them by circumstance.
  • Cultures live in one of three states. The first state is barbarism. Barbarians believe that the customs of their village are the laws of nature and that anyone who doesn't live the way they live is beneath contempt and requiring redemption or destruction. The third state is decadence. Decadents cynically believe that nothing is better than anything else. If they hold anyone in contempt, it is those who believe in anything. Nothing is worth fighting for.
  • Civilization is the second and most rare state. Civilized people are able to balance two contradictory thoughts in their minds. They believe that there are truths and that their cultures approximate those truths. At the same time, they hold open in their mind the possibility that they are in error. The combination of belief and skepticism is inherently unstable. Cultures pass through barbarism to civilization and then to decadence, as skepticism undermines self-certainty.

Brave New World Revisited

Brave New World Revisited is Aldous Huxley's attempt, via a series of essays, of measuring the world up to the world that he imagined in Brave New World. He wrote this piece in the 1950s, and it is surprising how accurate some of his predictions for the world of today were. Of course, there are some where he was wrong - it made me smile to see the prediction for the death of motion pictures for instance. But on the whole, this is a very interesting, thought-provoking book that has provided me with a wealth of quotes and notable passages. If you want to challenge your thinking about the world and the nature of humanity, this is certainly a good book to read.

Notable quotes and passages:
  • Physically and mentally, each one of us is unique. Any culture which, in the interests of efficiency or in the name of some political or religious dogma, seeks to standardize the human individual, commits an outrage against man's biological nature.
  • Biologically speaking, man is a moderately gregarious, not completely social animal - a creature more like a wolf, let us say, or an elephant, than like a bee or an ant. In their original form human societies bore no resemblance to the hive or the ant heap; they were merely packs. Civilisation is, among other things, the process by which primitive packs are`transformed into an analogue, crude and mechanical, of the social insects' organic communities... However hard they try, men cannot create a social organism, they can only create an organization. In the process of trying to create an organism they will merely create a totalitarian despotism.
  • Alas, higher education is not necessarily a guarantee of higher virtue, or higher political wisdom.
  • The power to respond to reason and truth exists in all of us. But so, unfortunately, does the tendency to respond to unreason and falsehood - particularly in those cases where the falsehood evokes some enjoyable emotion, or where the appeal to unreason strikes some answering chord in the primitive, subhuman depths of our being.
  • The other world of religion is different from the other world of entertainment; but they resemble one another in being most decidedly "not of this world." Both are distractions and, if lived in too continuously, both can become, in Marx's phrase, "the opium of the people" and so a threat to freedom.
  • "Hitler," wrote Hermann Rauschning in 1939, "has a deep respect for the Catholic church and the Jesuit order; not because of their Christian doctrine, but because of the 'machinery' they have elaborated and controlled, their hierarchical system, their extremely clever tactics, their knowledge of human nature and their wise use of human weaknesses in ruling over believers."
  • A man or woman makes direct contact with society in two way: as a member of some familial, professional or religious group, or as a member of a crowd. Groups are capable of being as moral and intelligent as the individuals who form them; a crowd is chaotic, as no purpose of its own, and its capable of anything except intelligent action and realistic thinking. Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and capacity for moral choice. Their suggestibility is increased to the point where they cease to have any judgement or will of their own. They become very excitable, they lose all sense of collective responsibility, they are subject to sudden accesses of rage, enthusiasm, and panic. In a word, man in crowd behaves as though he had swallowed a large dose of some powerful intoxicant.
  • Unlike the masses, intellectual have a taste for rationality and facts. They critical habit of mind makes them resistant to the kind of propaganda that works so well in the majority. Intellectuals are the kind of people who demand evidence and are shocked my logical inconsistencies and fallacies. They regard oversimplification as the real sin of the mind and have no use for the slogans, unqualified assertion and sweeping generalizations which are the propagandist stock and trade.
  • Philosophy teaches us to feel uncertain about the things that seem to us self evident. Propaganda, on the other hand, teaches us to accept as self evident matters about which it will be reasonable to suspend our judgement and feel doubt.
  • The task of the commercial propagandist in a democracy is in some ways easier and in some ways more difficult that that of a political propagandist employed by an established dictator or dictator in the making. It is easier inasmuch as almost everyone starts out with a prejudice in favour of beer, cigarettes and iceboxes, whereas almost nobody starts out with a prejudice in favour of tyrants. It is more difficult inasmuch as the commercial propagandist is not permitted, by the rules of his particular game, to appeal to the more savage instincts of his public. The advertiser of dairy products would dearly love to tell his readers and listeners that all their troubles are caused by the machinations of a gang of godless international margarine manufacturers, and that it is their patriotic duty to march out and burn the oppressors' factories. This sort of thing, however, is ruled out, and he must be content with a milder approach. But the mild approach is less exciting than the approach through verbal and physical violence. In the long run, anger and hatred are self-defeating emotions. But in the short run they pay high dividends in the form of psychological and even (since they release large quantities of adrenalin and noradrenalin) physiological satisfaction. People may start out with an initial prejudice against tyrants; but when tyrants or would-be tyrants treat them to adrenalin-releasing propaganda about the wickedness of their enemies - particularly enemies weak enough to be persecuted - they are ready to follow him with enthusiasm.
  • Every man, like every dog, has his own individual limit of endurance. Most men reach their limit after about thirty days of more or less continuous stress under the conditions of modern combat. The more than averagely susceptible succumb in only fifteen days. The more than averagely tough can resist for forty-five or even fifty days. Strong or weak, in the long run all of them break down. All, that is to say, of those who are initially sane. For, ironically enough, the only people who can hold up indefinitely under the stress of modern war are psychotics.
  • Hitler was quite right in maintaining that mass meetings at night were more effective than mass meetings in the daytime. During the day, he wrote, "man's will power revolts with highest energy against any attempt at being forced under another's will and another's opinion. In the evening, however, they succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will."
Pavlov would have agreed with him; fatigue increases suggestibility. (That is why, among other reasons, the commercial sponsors of television programs prefer the evening hours and are ready to back their preference with hard cash.)

Illness is even more effective than fatigue as an intensifier of suggestibility. In the past, sickrooms were the scene of countless religious conversions.
  • Religion, Karl Marx declared, is the opium of the people. In the Brave New World this situation was reversed. Opium, or rather soma, was the people's religion. Like religion, the drug had the power to console and compensate, it called up visions of another, better world, it offered hope, strengthened faith and promoted charity. Beer, a poet has written, ...does more than Milton can To justify God's ways to man.
  • Genetically, every human being is unique and in many ways unlike every other human being. The range of individual variation from the statistical norm is amazingly wide. And the statistical norm, let us remember, is useful only in actuarial calculations, not in real life. In real life there is no such person as the average man.
  • They were also much more religious, much more active in the affairs of their church and much more preoccupied, on a subconscious level, with their pelvic and abdominal organs.
  • The erroneous view that ours is a fully social species, that human infants are born uniform and that individuals are the product of conditioning by and within the collective environment. If these views were correct, if human beings were in fact the members of a truly social species, and if their individual differences were trifling and could be completely ironed out by appropriate conditioning, then, obviously, there would be no need for liberty and the State would be justified in persecuting the heretics who demanded it. For the individual termite, service to the termitary is perfect freedom. But human beings are not completely social; they are only moderately gregarious. Their societies are not organisms, like the hive or the anthill; they are organizations, in other words ad hoc machines for collective living.
  • Consider the backward societies that are now trying to industrialize. If they succeed, who is to prevent them, in their desperate efforts to catch up and keep up, from squandering the planet's irreplaceable resources as stupidly and wantonly as was done, and is still being done, by their forerunners in the race.

Lord of the Flies

Stark. Grim. Disturbing. And yet, eerily, one could imagine the events portrayed in Lord of the Flies unfolding in real life. The real beauty of this book is that it can be read on many levels - damning the ease of which 'civilised' folk can lose their minds and become almost the same as savage beasts, the frailties of humanity, what one ought to expect of the British... this is certainly a book to re-read in the future.

In essence, this is a haunting story. I'm sad that in England, we never read this in school as this would have been a great thing to read during English class. Be so as it may, I'm glad that I saw this in Strand Bookstore and plumped for it, because it certainly is a very good book. The most haunting thing about it for me is that I could see what happened in this happening often in the world if circumstances permit - and indeed, they have and will do again. The ease of the break down of humanity is scary but perhaps quite what makes us human - at least we can recognise such things. Although it would seem that there are too few Ralph's in this world, and too many Jack's.

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