Brave New Crystal Ball
Expanded from the 10-23-2005 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Societies and civilizations whose cities stagnate don't develop and flourish. They deteriorate.
— Jane Jacobs

The first rule of forecasting and sci-fi writing is don't depart too far from what is already known. A couple of years down the road, you can look like a genius and get a book deal – or at least impress girls at a saloon.

Given where we are and what we know today, what does our future look like? What kind of brave new world awaits us a few decades down the road? Get out your trend charts and polish your crystal balls, we're in for a bumpy ride.

THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA. The country has always been divided, but the wallpaper over longstanding fault lines will completely fall away. President Richard the Rotten originated the racist "southern strategy" in his razor-thin win of 1968. His predecessor's landmark civil rights and voting rights acts permanently delivered the south into the hands of those who saw to it that the Civil War kept going well into the 21st Century.

The economic devastation brought on by perpetual war and the government's parallel neglect of social and environmental needs will slowly erode the union.

The nation will break into regions of interest which will slowly evolve into city-states.

That means short-term pain but perhaps long-run benefit, to which the great economist John Maynard Keynes might respond with his most famous line: "In the long run, we are all dead."

In the mystical year of 1984, futurist Jane Jacobs wrote that devolution into smaller economic units seems to be the only solution to the eventual decay of every complex society. (1)

To put it plainly, Yogi Berra was right.

WHEN YOU GET TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT. The bedrock premise of the dismal science of economics asserts that societies must make choices between guns and butter, better known as military and domestic spending.

The great Jacobs would have none of it. She made a helluva case that whether we spend huge sums on a military-industrial complex or "a national retirement plan," we end up in the same damned place: busted flat in Baton Rouge.

Comptroller of the United States David M. Walker (2) has recently been pumping up the volume of his warnings that "a Category 6 hurricane is threatening our shores — it's the federal budget deficit," made worse by the looming retirement of the 1946-64 Baby Boom.

Jacobs noted that only economies which had broken off from larger nations showed promise of going against the tide of thousands of years of human folly. She used the vibrancy of Singapore and Norway as perhaps pointing the way to the future
as economically successful spinoffs from larger countries (Sweden and Malaysia, respectively). (3) I suggest that prosperous Taiwan provides an even better example. All three have flourished regardless of their political systems. Norway and Taiwan are democracies, while Singapore is still run as a feudal fiefdom.

Viewed in this light, the Bush family's longrunning campaign to make the world a U.S. colony constitutes the single worst thing to do. Jacobs convincingly shows how empire building inevitably leads to decline.

The U.S. economy has recently been performing like a starving farm family having nothing to plant in the spring after eating its seed corn during winter.

The revolution toward devolution won't come with a bang, but a whimper as a suffering public abandons unity for whatever works.

That will mean new alliances based on necessity and commonality of interest.

As we increasingly witness today, the law or the Constitution won't much matter.

The congress and the administration of Bush the Lesser have already shown that the basic rights we assume we have can be violated at will by a government ruthless enough to do so. Dubya's Dastards have already set up a shadow justice system capable of indefinitely imprisoning anyone – citizen or not — without due process of law.

Contempt will breed contempt. When the central government has so weakened itself that it cannot convincingly act militarily or domestically, the states and regions will take the bull by the horns and create new de facto countries, much as an obscure congressional candidate predicted more than 20 years ago.

This devolution toward democracy will not come without pain. As Jacobs predicted, Singapore today remains an economic bellweather, but is also a cruel dictatorship.

Some of the new retro nations of North America will implement policies from the dark ages: Execution of sassy children under Old Testament law; execution of abortionists and the mothers who patronize them, all in the name of (rimshot) saving the children.

THE BUZZ. Non-melodic hip-hop music and single-draft e-mail will prove to be the precursors of a colorless, unpunctuated, monotonal and monochromatic language of the future. In a few decades, the mumbling teens of today and their electronic shorthand will evolve into a universal idiom as unrecognizable as pre-Shakespearean Middle English is for us today. LOL.

In order to control the increasing and increasingly unintelligible cacophony, governments will mandate that all public expression first be reviewed by censors charged with protecting the sensibilities of the body politic.

LIGHTS OUT FOR THE BODY ELECTRIC. Because of abject failure to control pollution, electric generation will find itself in a death spiral with little left to burn. Centuries of combusting organic material will make solar energy unfeasible. The computers which now run the world will not have enough power to operate. The growth industries of the smoggy future will be manual typewriters and courier services – all of which will have to queue up at the censorship office before delivering their messages.

Statements such as the following will become a bitter memory.

Beware. Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns...

1. Jacobs, Jane; "Cities and the Wealth of Nations"; The Atlantic, March, 1984; and "The Dynamic of Decline"; The Atlantic, April, 1984. "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" was also published in book form by Random House of Canada in 1984 and as a Vintage trade paperback in 1985.

2. Mitchell, Dan; "Warning, Spying and Hectoring"; The New York Times; 10-22-2005

3. Jacobs, Jane; "The Dynamic of Decline"; The Atlantic, April, 1984; page 110.

4. The text in brown was imported in the web edition from the Barbwire of 12-23-2003.

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Copyright © 1982, 1984, 2003, 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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