Beyond 2009

Bruce Sterling summing up the future. He’s done it every year for ten years:

There’s no visible other space. There’s no liberated territory. It’s like rebelling against a funhouse mirror because it makes you look so fat and stupid.

But dude, this is not just a bad vibe happening. Merrill Lynch is gone. Enron is long gone. Madoff is a crook. The big boys are hurting. Cities are broke, states are broke, the feds are a laughingstock. The Congress and the former Administration have fully earned the public’s contempt. You can’t “blame the media” for that. Even the media’s broke — ESPECIALLY the media. You can’t pull a Reagan, triple the national debt and pretend that everything’s jolly.

I agree that there’s an irrational panic now. There are also a large crowd of severe, real-world, fully rational, deeply structural problems that have gone unconfronted for years. These problems are not directly responsible for the money panic, but the blatant neglect there has created an atmosphere of crisis.

The Iraq War was a harebrained adventure that wrecked the international community. And to what end? The War on Terror is a bust: stateless terror is the new status quo.

Huge demographic changes in the world have not been confronted. Why are the victors of World War II still the so-called Security Council? What real security are they providing most living people today?

The planet’s population is aging. Contemporary Italy looks like a Florida retirement city. And it’s not just the rich white guys who forgot to have kids — Mexico is also rapidly aging, and China has one-child families. We lack the financial capacity to allow retirement funds to run the world. We can’t have ninety-year-olds who are rich when young people can’t go to college. That doesn’t compute.

Then there’s energy. I’m not a Peak Oil guy, but of course wild turbulence in energy prices is gonna put people on edge. How can any person of reasonable prudence invest, plan and build with that kind of uncertainty?

Last, and slowest, and worst, there’s the climate. The planet’s entire atmosphere is polluted. Practically everything we do in our civilization is directly predicated on setting fire to dead stuff. Climate change is a major evil. It’s vast in scope and it’s everywhere.

Communism, capitalism, socialism, whatever: we’ve never yet had any economic system that recognizes that we have to live on a living planet. Plankton and jungles make the air we breathe, but they have no place at our counting-house. National regulations do nothing much for that situation. New global regulations seem about as plausible as a new global religion.

None of this a counsel of despair. Seriously. We dare not despair because in any real crisis, the pessimists die fast.

This is a frank recognition of the stakes.

It’s aimed at the adults in the room.

Let me put it this way. People don’t have to solve every problem in the world in order to be happy. People will always have problems. People ARE problems. People become happy when they have something coherent to be enthusiastic about. People need to LOOK AND FEEL they’re solving some of mankind’s many problems. People can’t stumble around in public like blacked-out alcoholics, then have some jerk like Phil Gramm tell them to buck up.

When you can’t imagine how things are going to change, that doesn’t mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable.