Predictions new year 2010
By Agner Fog, January 2010
Ten years ago, I made a series of predictions for the future world situation in order to demonstrate the predictive power of cultural selection theory. Even though the timeframe was far more than a decade, it is now time to catch up and see if trends are going the way I predicted, and to update my predictions based on the world situation today.
Let me explain my method. First, I am trying to identify the most important selective factors or moving forces. These are predicted by extrapolating known trends or by other simple means. Then I am making predictions for social, cultural and political changes based on the effects that these factors are expected to have according to cultural selection theory, including the cultural r/k theory. The causality is often circular and self-amplifying so that an effect is also a factor. The cultural r/k theory, and the corresponding concepts of regal (authoritarian or warlike) and kalyptic (peaceful or tolerant) are explained in my book on Cultural Selection.
Evaluation of my predictions from new year 2000
I predicted that the world would be more peaceful and that international war would be rare due to international pressure for peace. Indeed, there have not been any large territorial wars or conquests. I didn't predict the present wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars, however, have less regalizing effect because they do not aim at conquering territory.
I predicted that civil wars and rebellions would occur in relatively regal parts of the world, such as Arabia and China. At present, there are rebellious movements in various parts of the Middle East as well as in Africa and elsewhere. Based on r/k theory, I predicted riots and modernization in the Arab countries. Apart from the Palestinian conflict, we are not yet seeing any strong insurgent movements on the Arabian Peninsula. But close by, in Iran, there are currently strong attempts to overthrow the rulers. It is not surprising that this process should start in Iran, considering the discrepancy between the authoritarian theocratic government and the western orientation and high level of education of large parts of the young generation. Similar developments on the Arabian Peninsula may have been impeded by the regalizing effects of the war in Iraq and the Palestinian conflict.
We have not yet seen any strong signs of "glasnost" or system change in China, but this country is indeed on the road to becoming an economic superpower, as I predicted.
I predicted that international terrorism and hostage taking would be rampant, and that this would cause media panic. This has certainly come true. In fact, it came earlier and stronger than I expected. The September 11 attacks in 2001 as well as later terrorism events have caused a lot of media panic, which have had considerable regal effects in many countries. Without this, we wouldn't have had the war in Afghanistan and probably not the Iraq war either. Another regal consequence is strict "anti-terror" laws that have been used against many people who had nothing to do with terrorism. We have not seen much hostage taking, however. Instead the terrorists have changed their tactics to suicide bombing.
I assumed that immigration into Europe would continue to be a regal factor, and this has held true.
I predicted that an economic crisis due to a limit to economic growth would occur only in a distant future. The present economic crisis is not a consequence of hitting any roof, but a consequence of inherent instability in the system. This crisis has not had any strong regal effect because of a widespread confidence that politicians were able to control the situation.
I also assumed that an exhaustion of world resources would be so far ahead that there is time for remedy. The present climate crisis seems to indicate, however, that the planet is more sensitive to overexploitation than previously thought. We have not yet seen any environmental disaster with strong regal consequences, but natural disasters are indeed becoming a real threat. We have not yet seen any ecological disaster caused by genetically engineered organisms.
I predicted that the rate of population growth would go down. Indeed, the relative growth rate has decreased in many parts of the world. In some countries the death rate is higher than the birth rate.
I predicted that religion will be less strict. Actually, there are still strict religious leaders here and there, but the opposition against them is growing.
I assumed that the news media in USA, Europe and elsewhere would have a strong focus on dangers and horror for reasons of economic competition. This has held true due to economic liberalism on the media market, and this has had significant regal effects as expected. It also held true that media exposure would continue to be a contested resource and that people would do crazy stunts to attract media attention. We have not yet seen any strong attempts at regulation of the media market or strong movements in favor of making news media independent of economic interests. I predicted that the intense media focus on danger would result in more prisons, bigger hospitals, more spending on traffic safety and all other kinds of safety, more restrictions and control of food quality, severe restrictions on tobacco and alcohol, restrictions on dangerous sports, more policemen, psychologists, physicians, lawyers, etc. Most of this has come true in many Western countries. However, this has not always led to higher taxes as I predicted it would. I also predicted automatic transportation and synthetic foods. We have in fact seen this, but mainly for economic reasons rather than for safety reasons.
I predicted witch hunts and moral panics in the media. We have indeed seen this, with terrorists, radical Islamists, and all sorts of criminals as the favorite scapegoats. We have not seen the imaginary scapegoats I envisaged.
In conclusion, I can proudly say that many of my predictions have already come true. My time horizon was far more than ten years, however, and I believe that the trends I predicted will continue for several more decades. Most of the predicted developments that we have not yet seen are still likely to occur in the future.
Updated predictions by new year 2010
The selective factors that I built my year 2000 predictions on have not changed much. Hence, those trends that I predicted in 2000 are likely to continue, and those predictions that have not yet come true, are likely to come true in the future.
The time of large territorial wars is almost over for a number of reasons: (1) the spread of democracy, (2) increased economic and technical interdependence between countries, and (3) international agreements and international intervention against aggressors. The more peaceful part of the world will make the most regal cultures drift in the kalyptic direction. For example, the Gulf War in 1990-1991 has demonstrated that territorial aggression can be prevented or sanctioned against by international intervention. The mere knowledge that a country is protected against aggression from neighbors and that an expansionist policy doesn't pay has an important psychological effect. The prospect for peace tells the population that a strict and authoritarian government is unnecessary, and the support for tyrannical rulers will dwindle. We can therefore expect that authoritarian governments everywhere in the world will either be overturned or gradually move in a more democratic direction. In China, for example, there is a large discrepancy between the authoritarian government and the peaceful situation of the country. Furthermore, large parts of the population are well educated and not inclined to accept the status quo. The government knows that the current situation is unstable, but they are doing what they can to stay in power despite international pressure. My prediction is that the Chinese political system will eventually collapse, the country will become more democratic, and parts of the country will gain full or partial independence. Likewise, the North Korean government will be overturned sooner or later. The political system in Iran will be replaced by a more democratic and secular system. Other countries in the Middle East will gradually move in the same direction, but this process cannot run its full course as long as the Palestinian conflict persists. World leaders know that the Palestinian conflict is a strong rallying point for radical Islamists, and the international pressure towards a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict will be intensified. The importance of international peace-making and peace-keeping efforts will increase, not only in the Middle East but also in other parts of Asia as well as in Africa and elsewhere.
We will still see civil wars, riots, violent rebellions as well as peaceful revolutions in many parts of the world. Many of these conflicts are asymmetric. One part in the conflict has strong weapons while the other part has little or none. Terror is the poor man's weapon, and we are likely to see national as well as international terrorism for at least several more decades. However, terrorism is unlikely to give the revolting groups the influence they want. On the contrary, terrorism has a strong regalizing effect which can lead to a spiral of violence that prevents a solution to the conflict. Thus, those conflicts that involve terrorism are likely to be long lasting. The terrorism is likely to be international, as we have already seen, and this will have a regalizing effect on large parts of the world.
Mass migration will continue to be a regal factor for many years. People will migrate for reasons of local conflicts, persecution of minorities, climate change, natural disasters, and poverty. Mass migration from regal areas will lead to hostility in many parts of the world, including areas that have little or no ethnic conflicts today.
Economic competition is a strong selective factor. Globalization leads to increased competition, not only between private companies but also between countries. Production is moving to the countries where labor is cheap, where working conditions are poor, where taxes are low, and where regulation of pollution and other externalities is lax. Rich and poor countries alike will be forced to lower their standards of welfare in order to attract industries. This will lead to considerable social unrest, calls for national protectionism, and protests against the economic world order.
The ongoing climate change has profound effects in many parts of the world. People will be displaced and there will be conflicts over who should receive the many climate refugees. Mass migration and natural disasters will have some regalizing effect, though the regal effect can be diminished when people have confidence that political solutions can be found.
The global climate problems require global solutions. This requires a strengthening and reorganization of the United Nations and other international organizations. The current climate negotiations are just the beginning of a long and difficult process. There will be struggles over who should have the most influence in a new world order where international organizations have more power. Such power struggles and fights over special interests will delay the implementation of efficient means to mitigate climate change.
The pressing need to implement global solutions to climate problems will have an important side effect, however, in strengthening international organizations and heightening the respect for international agreements. This will give international organizations more power to prevent, mediate or intervene in local conflicts. The long-term result will be a more peaceful world.
The mass media will continue to be a key factor in shaping people's opinions and worldviews. Since most mass media are commercial and dependent on advertising money, the news content is still selected by its ability to attract advertisements. The continued media focus on the big attention-catchers - crime and disaster - will still make people perceive the world as more dangerous than it is. This is called the mean world syndrome. It has a significant regal effect today, and this effect will continue as long as economic competition forces the media to focus on danger.
Media exposure and access to public attention is for everybody a key to political and economic influence. Public attention is a limited resource and the competition for attention will become even fiercer. Absurd ways of getting attention will be more common. Terrorists will continue to use murder and mayhem to get media exposure. Political activist groups will use crazy performances, artistic innovations, dangerous stunts, self-mutilation, and sexual excesses to get media attention. Some will even attempt to steal television time or advertising space.
Many countries have state sponsored non-commercial television channels. Completely independent non-commercial television channels will be more common due to the decreasing technical costs of broadcasting, but they will have only limited momentum in competition with the commercial channels. Commercial mass media will still have sufficient dominance to maintain a mean world syndrome, even if this is not their intention.
However, the new social and participatory Internet media that have emerged in recent years are going to reshape the political landscape. News and political messages of any kind can spread through a social network, and members of the network can express their agreement or disagreement or supply additional information. To predict the effect of the new social networks, we need to analyze the factors that govern the spread of messages in these networks:
- Everybody can send and receive messages at very low costs
- People can choose what kind of messages they want to receive
- Network owners and advertisers have little or no influence on message content
- Totalitarian regimes have attempted censorship, but their citizens have often found ways to evade the censorship
- Representatives of commercial, political or religious interests can pose as independent individuals when voicing an opinion
- Messages are likely to spread if they have memetic fitness, i.e. psychological appeal, practical value, or if they appeal to personal interests, but the need for immediate attention-catching is no longer an economic necessity
- Unlike rumors that spread by word of mouth, messages that spread in an electronic network can be falsified, confirmed or supplemented with additional detail by any member of the network who has access to first hand information. False rumors are therefore more likely to be disproved and retracted
- The networks can support a broad agenda with an unlimited number of issues
- People with particular interests can find and connect with others with similar interests regardless of geographical distance
- Minority interests will be served better
- All members of an interest group can contribute information. Information gathering is therefore very efficient, and it is difficult to hide information
- People are likely to communicate with others who have similar opinions. Members of the same political discussion group are therefore likely to approach consensus and confirm each others opinions. However, the tendency to sectarianism is lower than in groups where people meet face to face, because a person can be member of many different groups in a social network and this person is therefore more likely to meet divergent opinions
- Serious discussions are disturbed by noise from people who want to be heard but have nothing important to say
- Special interest groups can fail to reach a sufficient size when potential members are divided between multiple groups with the same purpose
- Political activity is visible to everybody. People may refrain from controversial political discussions for fear that their friends, family, colleagues or the government will disapprove of their activities
The consequence of these factors is that entertainment and gossip will spread on the social media just as well as on the traditional news media. Issues about health and security will be no less important on the social media than on the traditional news media. Messages about crime and disaster will also spread on the social media, but less so than on the traditional news media. Commercial messages will spread if they are sufficiently entertaining or catchy. We will see advertisements hidden as personal messages. The social media are efficient platforms for political discussions because they allow more deep-going analyses where the traditional news media often treat political debates in a very superficial way. Social issues can be analyzed in dept in special interest groups or people can link to thorough investigations published elsewhere.
The most efficient form of political debate in social media has not yet been found. These media will develop further in the coming years and more people will make use of the new possibilities. The traditional media will be influenced by trends in the new social media.
This will lead to increased political awareness and involvement for ordinary people. There will be many single-issue movements, some of them international, and members of these movements will be so well-informed that they become important political factors. We will also see more single-issue parties trying to get elected into parliaments, but the present democratic system is not suited for single-issue parties. However, politicians cannot afford to ignore the social networks. Regardless of party color, the politicians have to get involved in the social networks and in the political discussions that are going on there. Politicians will seek support from voters by getting involved in social groups, and many single-issue groups will gain influence by involving politicians in their discussions and by supplying information to the politicians.
Traditional television news will continue to be a dominant source of information for many years to come, and consequently, we will still see a high political focus on danger and suffering of all kinds, with the consequences I listed in my year 2000 predictions. However, the new social media with their capacity for deeper analysis and information gathering will bring new issues to the agenda. Issues that have hitherto been neglected because they are too complex or because they have been suppressed by the commercial media, will gradually come to the surface. This may include issues that require deeper understanding of physical, technical, economic, political or ecological structures and mechanisms.
To make a conclusion, let's summarize the predicted developments in regal factors in the world:
- International wars: Decreasing.
- Terrorism: Constant.
- Mass migration: War refugees, decreasing. People fleeing from climate problems, increasing.
- Economic crises, welfare loss and conflicts because of competition between countries: Increasing.
- Environmental disasters: Increasing.
- Mean world syndrome: Still contributed by traditional news media, but decreasing because of new social media.
Weighing the pluses against the minuses, I think that the sum of regal factors is slightly decreasing. The result will be a more peaceful and tolerant world, lower population growth rates, and less strict religions. Especially, the most totalitarian and undemocratic states are likely to change slowly or, in a few cases, abruptly. However, it only takes a single unpredicted disaster to turn the balance in the regal direction, at least for a period. Whether a disaster has a significant regal effect depends on whether people have confidence that their politicians can control the crisis.